interview | sun haipeng, chinese cg star & creator of super baozi
Sun Haipeng (孙海鹏) is probably the most talked-about computer graphics (CG) designer in China at the moment. His 3D animations Dragon Fist and Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man caught our eye early on and over the past couple of months have received a tremendous response from the Chinese netizentry. But, I mean, honestly, who can resist a singing / dancing / kung fu’ing baozi?
We certainly can’t.
[For those not in-the-know, a baozi (包子) is a steamed, bread-like bun with various meat or vegetable fillings that's common in almost all parts of China.]
We recently caught up with Sun Haipeng to learn more about him, his CG creations, and his thoughts on the Chinese creative community and the domestic animation industry. We’ve also shared Super Baozi vs Sushi Man and Dragon Fist below. If you have trouble loading the Vimeo videos in China, link here and here to view them on Youku. For more from Sun Haipeng on NeochaEDGE, link here. /// CL
Can you tell us when you began doing CG stuff? Is it a full-time job?
I graduated from the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in 2002 and began teaching myself 3D in 2003. Now I’m working full-time at Puzzle Animation Studio in Shenzhen.
You taught yourself? Impressive. Why did you pursue CG and animation?
At the time I thought there really weren’t any good or interesting animations being put out by local Chinese animation companies – a result of the rigid controls / restrictions placed over the industry. I got into the industry because I wanted to change this. I wanted to create something special. I work hard to produce interesting and enjoyable animations that also express my own ideas and thoughts.
“I think animation should be simple and fun, not complicated with too many elements
or too much meaning. A lot of animation work in China is crap because
it’s burdened with too much of this stuff…”
Your Super Baozi series is really fun! Why did you decide to use a baozi as your main character?
Back in 2004 when I was still just learning animation, someone online asked me how to make an animated baozi model. After thinking about it for a while, it seemed quite challenging. I like challenges, so I decided to try to make one myself. I gave the baozi eyes and a mouth and made it sing and dance. The initial creation was really just the result of a practice exercise. When I started getting more serious about animation I dusted off my original baozi character and decided to make him more complete, more alive. That’s the story of Super Baozi’s creation.
Why is Super Baozi fighting a piece of sushi and not a hamburger or pizza? Any special meaning behind this?
Actually, the whole short is just a reenactment of a scene from “Fist of Fury.” There is no special cultural significance or meaning behind it. I think animation should be simple and fun, not complicated with too many elements or too much meaning. A lot of animation work in China is crap because it’s burdened with too much of this stuff.
Is the Super Baozi series specially for Chinese people? Do you think it’s difficult for foreigners to fully understand and appreciate?
Yeah. I pay close attention to adding as many Chinese elements as possible. I’m trying to make it more local, you know, more of a Chinese style and flavor. So yeah, it’s mainly for a Chinese audience. I’m a Chinese animator making animations in China, so I definitely have to give top-priority to appealing to Chinese people’s sensibilities. But yeah, sure, I hope foreign audiences also like my work. I think I need to improve my skills before I can put out stuff that appeals to international audiences.
“It took me about 2 years from initial designs to final product / content. It took such
a long time because I did it all by myself and only in my spare time. If I really pursue it as
a proper series, I think I will need to wait until I get some sort of sponsorship.
Otherwise, it will just be me, and the process is just too slow with one person…”
Do you intend to continue on with the Super Baozi story?
Yeah. I will keep the characters / story alive. While making these two videos, all the elements became more and more complete and I came up with more new ideas about what I could do. The creative process itself is very inspiring. In fact, that’s how Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man came about. It was just something that came out of me playing around with the characters, etc.
How long did it take you make these two videos?
It took me about 2 years from initial designs to final product / content. It took such a long time because I did it all by myself and only in my spare time. If I really pursue it as a proper series, I think I will need to wait until I get some sort of sponsorship. Otherwise, it will just be me, and the process is just too slow with one person.
Have any companies / brands contacted you about sponsorship or co-creation / collaboration?
Yeah. Actually, right now I’m talking with several brands and companies, but I can’t really go into details at this point.
If you were to coorperate with any companies or brands in particular, who would they be?
Haha. I don’t really know actually. No clear idea. But, I am sure I would want to choose some big players, you know, well-known companies with proper financial backing, etc.
Well, it’s difficult to say. For example, maybe Disney? I’m not sure really though. I think there are plenty of options in China, but it really depends on the opportunities that come my way.
“The overall skill level of CG / animation overseas is very high. Especially in Europe and
North America. They have so much freedom to be experimental and the market is mature.
Their designs are incredible no matter how long the segments are. Compared to them I’m
like an elementary student, but we are rich with traditional Chinese culture. We have
great potential if we make good use of our cultural legacy…”
Who are your favorite CG designers / animators? Who inspires you?
What about the local Chinese CD designers / animators? How do they comparing with their foreign counterparts? Where do they fall short? Where do they excel?
The overall skill level of CG / animation overseas is very high. Especially in Europe and North America. They have so much freedom to be experimental and the market is mature. Their designs are incredible no matter how long the segments are. Compared to them I’m like an elementary student, but we are rich with traditional Chinese culture. We have great potential if we make good use of our cultural legacy.
What are your favorite films? Can you share some examples?
I like all the stuff Pixar puts out. I like the works of other designers as well, for example, the Polish director Tomek Baginski. His The Cathedral and Falling Art are both superb.
Are there many CG designers in China？
Yeah, there a lot of people doing CG animation in China. And the overall quality is getting better and better. Most of them are quite professional in what they’re doing.
Are there any local Chinese CG designers / animators that you admire, or that we should be keeping an eye on?
No, not anyone specifically. Usually CG designers work in teams. And the real masters tend to hide themselves. But I’m sure there are plenty in China.
“Money and capital is an issue, but what is more important is the environment created by
government policies. Creators can only produce good work in a proper environment…”
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for the development of the local Chinese CG design / animation industry? Money? Technology?
Yeah. Money and capital is an issue, but what is more important is the environment created by government policies. Creators can only produce good work in a proper environment.
How do you think companies / brands can best cooperate with Chinese creative talents? What should they offer or provide? What are the benefits to brands if they cooperate with Chinese creatives?
Brands / companies should try to provide a more casual and looser environment. Doing this will give creatives more room and will ultimately stimulate better work. The creative work of Chinese people should be more inline with the sensibilities of Chinese people. It should be made easier for them to accept without any sort of cultural gap. Brands can help with this.
What do you think the Chinese government should do to foster and nurture a better creative atmosphere?
I think at this point there are just too many restrictions and regulations in place over the the cg / animation industry. I wish there were fewer. It would be great if the government could help make the creative space more relaxed and open. you know, more like it should be.
Do you want to hold an exhibition with other China CG designers / animators?
Hahah. That’s a good idea. To be honest though, there really aren’t many activities like this in the Chinese CG / animation circle. There is not much we can do about it though, the industry is not entirely mature enough. Everybody is too busy just trying to make a living. We simply don’t have the time.
“The hope of the Chinese CG / animation industry is not up to me. That’s not on my
shoulders. The hope of the industry is really up to government support, commercial
efforts / interest, and the collective efforts of all Chinese CG designers / animations.
The effort of one measly person is insignificant. It won’t have any lasting impact.
If my animations can bring happiness or a smile to the face of an average Chinese
person and help inspire other CG designers / animators,
then that’s enough. I’ve done my job…”
Your animations have garnered a lot of attention on the Internet. Can you estimate how many people have watched them?
The response has gone way beyond my expectations. For Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man about 200,000 views; for Dragon Fist, about 50,000. Oh, and also on Vimeo, both have several tens of thousands of views.
What is some of the most interesting / unforgettable or crazy feedback you’ve received from the online community?
Well, nothing that could be considered too crazy. Some people have been saying that I’m the future / hope of the Chinese animation industry. That has had a deep impression on me. It has even made me feel pressured. The hope of the Chinese CG / animation industry is not up to me. That’s not on my shoulders. The hope of the industry is really up to government support, commercial efforts / interest, and the collective efforts of all Chinese CG designers / animations. The effort of one measly person is insignificant. It won’t have any lasting impact. If my animations can bring happiness or a smile to the face of an average Chinese person and help inspire other CG designers / animators, then that’s enough. I’ve done my job.
Some other random feedback I’ve gotten…let me think. Oh, some people have asked me about Super Baozi’s filling. Some others have suggested giving Super Baozi a girlfriend. It’s really great to see this type of feedback. It makes me quite happy. It’s as if people view my creation, my character as a real person, like a real living creature. That’s flattering.
“I really love painting. I always think about being able to focus more on my painting when
my financial situation is a bit more sound and stable. You know, when life is a bit easier…”
Besides your CG work, what other creative interests do you have?
Painting. I’ve been painting since I was a little kid. At university I actually majored in water coloring, but after graduation I decided to pursue to CG because I could actually make a living at it. I really love painting. I always think about being able to focus more on my painting when my financial situation is a bit more sound and stable. You know, when life is a bit easier.
What are your plan for the next couple of years? Any specific goals you’ve set for yourself, or things you want to pursue?
Yeah, well, I’ll just keep on keepin’ on. Actually, all the attention, feedback, and support I’ve gotten from releasing the Super Baozi shorts has given me a lot of confidence. I’m just hoping I can top myself and put out something more interesting next time. We’ll see. In terms of my life, I just hope I can settle down and have a stable day-to-day as soon as possible.
Your life is not stable now?
Yeah. It’s not easy for us in the CG industry to settle down. We are constantly changing our jobs and places of work. Also, right now, because of my work, my wife and I have to live in separate cities. It’s just not a stable lifestyle.
Oh, sorry for prying into your personal life.
Ha, no worries. We are just chatting.
With your work at Puzzle Animation, can you tell us what projects you’ve been involved with or are currently working on?
Yeah, I’m involved with Storm Rider Clash of Evils (风云决), Zheng Yi Hong Shi (正义红师), and some other TV series projects.
One last question. Judging from your work, it seems you quite like Bruce Lee and Jay Chou. In the future, will you consider adding other Chinese elements, maybe something like Bejing opera and or Chinese style ink painting?
I love Bruce Lee. He’s great. I also like Jay Chou’s Chinese style. Sure I will consider adding more Chinese elements. The reason why I chose Jay Chou’s Dragon Fist song is because I think it’s hilarious. I was able to play off the lyrics and add a lot of silly animated stuff.
Thanks so much Haipeng.
No worries. My pleasure.
Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man ///
Dragon Fist ///