Sitting in her 10-square-meter study decorated with carved stones, Han Dynasty tiles and old-style bookshelves, Bu Hua is absorbed at her computer, accompanied by lullabies. She hardly looks like an avant-garde web animator, or "Shan Ke" in Chinese, who has mastered the latest Macromedia Flash vector graphics software and inspired a huge following on the Internet with her allegoric works.
Bu Hua was born into a painters' family in Beijing and, as a small child, her father asked her to practice drawing each day. This led to an impressive early career: she published a stamp at 10, held a personal art exhibition in Hong Kong at 12, designed postcards for the former Ministry of Post and Telecommunications at 16, entered the Central Academy of Art & Design, went to Holland for further study and had several exhibitions in Germany.
When she was in college, Bu's major was painting. Explaining why she finally turned to animation, Bu said she loved watching films and, "Flash can help people realize their dream of being a filmmaker."
Flash's predecessor, FutureSplash Animator, was introduced to China in 1997 and soon attracted many cartoon lovers with its maneuverable techniques and comparatively low cost. The phrase Shan Ke was coined by Gao Dayong in the winter of 1999 when he founded flashempire.com, the first Chinese personal website to showcase web animations.
At the end of 2001, Bu Hua was busy preparing two screenplays when one of her
classmates suggested using Flash instead of photography. At that time, Bu knew nothing of either web animation or the work of gifted Shan Ke like Lao Jiang and Xiao Xiao. She decided to explore it and became completely fascinated.
Between June and November 2002, a series of print-style works appeared on flashempire.com, including The Heart, Puppet Show, Cat, Unsteadiness and Summer Midnight Dream. Audiences were shocked by the depth of the stories, arrested by the painting style and extremely interested in their creator, Bu Hua.
Cat is a simple story about the love between a cat and her kitten. They depend on each other to eke out a living, but one day the cat is murdered by gangsters and her soul leaves her body for the underworld. The kitten overcomes many obstacles to follow his mother's soul to try to bring her back to life, and finally they are united again.
According to flashempire.com, this 5-minute animation got a record 633,451 clicks and thousands of reviews. It won Bu Hua the Best New Director Award at the 2003 China Qingdao International Animation Week and runner-up prize at the Second Intel Digital Originality Contests, and was short-listed by the 2004 Annecy International Animation Festival in France. The story has also been published on paper this April, the first of its kind in China.
Bu Hua's success has helped popularize animation production. In the past five years, the number of web animators in China soared from dozens to millions. Some signed contracts with advertising companies, whilst some made them just for entertainment. Bu Hua chose to be freelance, spending most of her time on her own creations, but still doing some commercial work.
Today, web animation is widely used in greeting cards, MTV, interactive games, web commercials, even TV ads and e-business, rather than solely as entertainment.
However, it is still in need of new talent. Most Flash animators do it as entertainment and only a few have painting or design backgrounds like Bu Hua. Besides, a lack of originality and diversity in style and subject also hinders the development of the industry. Many have had very short careers.
"Flash has its own advantages that nothing can replace. Some of the effects, you couldn't realize in making films." Bu Hua added, "Maybe people give up because they can't improve on it, or grow weary of it. But for me, I know what I'm doing. Carry on with what you like most until the end."
Summer Midnight Dream
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, November 30, 2004)