Third Culture Film Festival is happening in Hong Kong this week! We hope to catch all of you for one or all of the screening sessions at Loft22! In the meantime, we had a chat with Jake Zhang, creator of the disturbingly funny animated short Pokey Pokey. In this film, Jake asks the question “how far would you go to protect your kids?”
Where did you get the idea for this film?
The initial idea was created by two of my classmates, Wang Shangning and Zhou Xu, and myself. We were studying in Beijing, and were thinking of a “funny” world wherein everyone enjoys being poked in the eyes as an extreme consequence of overprotection by parents. When I worked this idea into a narrative, Pokey Pokey was the result. I probably got some inspiration from my own experience in China and the US, but I think the topic is universal.
Can you guide us through the process of making this film? Did you work from drawings of actual Hong Kong scenery?
I spent a lot of time and energy on experimenting with a unique visual design for this world. I was not living in Hong Kong when I was creating Pokey Pokey, but I did get some inspiration from this city. The visual design is kind of a combination of Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. For the strategy of visual design, I got inspiration from the world of Blade Runner. I felt this film was compelling to me and it drove me to create a multi-cultural sin city for Pokey Pokey.
For making the animation, I combine the techniques of digital cut-out and 2D frame-by-frame animation. Compositing was one of my major focuses for this piece of work, and I used After Effects to composite all the elements.
I read that you are a parent yourself, are the worries and concerns of Pokey Pokey taken from your own experience?
When I decided to make this film, I hadn’t become a father yet. The production of my film happened during my wife’s pregnancy. But to be honest, it’s the opposite: rather than conveying worries and concerns, I am more coming up with questions. Is covering the kids’ eyes the best solution to protect them? I’d like to leave this open to the audience.
Hong Kong struggles with an epidemic of teenage depression and suicide. Do you think overprotection influences this?
I haven’t been living in Hong Kong for a long time, but I’ve already felt the intense atmosphere here, both for education and working. Overprotection is possibly one of the factors giving teenagers extra pressure, leading to mental issues or problems. I can’t tell how overprotection influences these issues, but I do believe too much pressure is one of the main factors.
As a teacher at SCAD, are you hopeful about the local filmscene? Animation is not an obvious career choice in Hong Kong, how do you help inspire your students?
I can feel the limitations of the creative industry in Hong Kong, but I also strongly feel the potential here. I would ask my students to consider if they have a strong passion and interest for animation, if not it is better to give up. These kids are too young to worry too much; they should have fun and play hard!