Animation crafted from torn-up newspapers

The fish in short film The Giant, based on artist Tan Swie Hian's poem, are made from newspapers ripped by hand

The film is about a school of fish stranded in a strange land and at the mercy of a god-like figure who controls the world.
The film is about a school of fish stranded in a strange land and at the mercy of a god-like figure who controls the world.PHOTO: HENRY AND HARRY ZHUANG

The Giant might be an achievement in animation, but there is one person who will be less than pleased with how the short film was made: the karung guni man.

The film-making team of twin brothers Henry and Harry Zhuang ripped up four cartons of newsprint to make the landscapes and creatures seen in the film, part of the Utter 2017: SingLit Unearthed omnibus, which opens tonight.

Utter is an annual Singapore Writers Festival initiative that showcases the best of Singapore writing and its potential to be adapted into different media and across languages.

The Giant is based on poetry by Tan Swie Hian about fish washed up on a barren island.

Tan's work, published in 1968, is considered a milestone in modernist Chinese writing.

For their adaptation, Harry and Henry, 35, sorted the paper into piles depending on which colour it had most of: blue, black, green or yellow. Then, with the help of their mother, they tore the paper into piles of confetti using only their hands.

Using scissors or a knife would have made the job quicker, but that was out of the question because the brothers wanted each 50 cent coin-sized piece to have a ragged edge.


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Henry says: "We want every bit to look organic, so we had to do it by hand."

Thus, The Giant - a six-minute reel made from torn-up copies of newspapers The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao and Berita Harian as well as many metres of sticky tape - was born.

Three other works have been adapted from Singapore literature for the omnibus.

Film-maker Jerrold Chong has also given the animation treatment to a short story by late former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam, What Has To Be, about a couple who have to overcome the tragic death of their first-born as they await the arrival of their second.

The other two works in the programme are live-action dramas - K. Rajagopal and Lee Thean-jeen's adaptations of J.M. Sali's Song Of The Waves and Gregory Nalpon's Timepieces.

For the Zhuang brothers' work, because of Tan's open-ended, abstract style, adapting it to a visual medium was tricky.

Harry says that after some debate, he and his brother decided that the words allude to migration and displacement, father figures and the spirit of risk-taking.

In April this year, they had a rough outline of the story, which Tan himself approved of.

Next came the work of making paper models and photographing them in action.

This was done at the brothers' Weaving Clouds production studio, based in their home in Woodlands. It takes about three hours of model manipulation to generate one second of footage.

In the film, a school of fish is stranded in a strange land and at the mercy of a god-like figure who controls the world.

One fish decides to stay and explore while the others return to the safety of the sea. In the sky and on the water, headlines and fragments of photographs of global leaders can be discerned.

Henry says: "The poem talks about important people, making big changes in the world, so we thought the best way to show this was with newspapers."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'Animation crafted from torn-up newspapers'. Subscribe