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Animated Life

Macromedia Flash animation is one of the most popular computer design platforms of its kind. Flash movies are normally created by high-caliber producers expert not only in painting, but also in music editing and artistic originality.

Tian Tian, a 21-year-old woman paralyzed from the neck down, has become renowned among China's animators for her ability to produce fun, detailed Flash shorts, using nothing but a chopstick held in her mouth.

As a child, Tian, with her long, slinder shape, dreamed of becoming a dancer. She suffered an accident at the age of 12, though, that paralyzed her and snatched away that dream. Bedridden, she struggled through four of the toughest years of her life.

Things changed on her 16th birthday, though, when her parents presented her a computer as gift. The next day, her father refitted a chopstick that, held in her mouth, let her tap the keyboard. After a long period of struggle, she finally sent her first message across the Internet: "I am Tian Tian. Here I come!"
When I interviewed Tian, she had just moved into a new home, her third one in Beijing, which was even farther from the urban districts than the previous two, a move underscoring her unfavorable financial situation. But all through our talk, she was engulfed in her intense aspiration for life, her face shining with smiles.

After her first try, Tian made painstaking efforts to master the computer. In the beginning, she used wooden chopsticks, but those left broken bits in her mouth. She turned to plastic chopsticks, but they were too slippery to hold. Then she tried an ivory chopstick, which worked the best. But every time Tian used it to tap the keyboard, she still needed all her strength, and it wasn't long until her neck hurt terribly.

One day, she was excited to find an interesting animation on the Internet. And more exciting, the author of the animation was an average 'Net bug like her.

"If somebody else can do it," Tian thought, "so can I."

Tian's first Flash work was an animated short based on a photograph of her younger sister and accompanied by a piece of music. Although simple, it gave Tian a sense of accomplishment and encouraged her to produce more works.

To become an outstanding Flash designer is not easy. A designer needs more than a good command of computers, but must also possess aesthetic taste, artistic originality, and programming skills. More importantly, the designer must be an accomplished technical artist. Not only was Tian paralyzed, in the beginning she had no knowledge about line drawing and color application.

Viewing Tian's Flash works, one can imagine how much pain and hardship she has gone through. One day, she worked on an animated bird for an e-card. She tried many times and many methods to draw the bird, and finally got the image that met her expectation. But it was already in the evening, and when her father helped her drink her water, she could not even draw water through a straw. Her mouth and cheeks were numb, having held the chopstick for such a long time.

It was this e-card that became Tian's first paid work. In April 2001, she received a few dozen of yuan. She then began to think she could make a living with Flash.

Tian moved from her home city, Qiqihar, to Beijing to embark on a Flash-supported life. After years of struggle, her animated works have won prizes on many occasions, and she has made herself a name in Chinese Flash circles. Together with her friends, she has established the Tian Animation Studio and opened her own Web site (www.tinaflash.com).

On Chinese New Year's Eve this year, Tian wrote online: "I am spiritually rich. My life in Beijing is going well. I believe that everyone should march forward toward his or her goal, despite all the difficulties and frustrations on the road."

(China Pictorial  July 22, 2004)  

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