'Zombie' found on the MRT

Ms Kong Yee Rou's animated short film, Need A Hand?!
Ms Kong Yee Rou's animated short film, Need A Hand?! PHOTO: CARTOONS UNDERGROUND

Ms Kong Yee Rou needed a zombie. But no ordinary zombie would do.

The then-student at Lasalle College of the Arts knew her graduation project, an animation short film, had to feature her favourite scary creature, the walking undead.

"I had an artistic block. I knew the style I wanted, but didn't know what face or body to draw," she says.

Ms Kong, 23, is inspired by the sweet-grotesque look of Tim Burton films, as well as the stop- motion style of ParaNorman (2012). She did what art students do when they are blocked creatively: she sketched.

"I sketched around my school, everywhere. I turned people into zombies to get my creative juices flowing," she says. Then she found her zombie on the MRT, in the form of a teenager with "punk rock hair".

"She looked like a unicorn that had spikes in maroon, pink and purple. She was cool," Ms Kong says.

That teen - immortalised as one of the living dead - can be seen in her entry, Need A Hand?!. The fourminute, 42-second short is one of eight animated works screened at Cartoons Underground 2015, this year's edition of what its founders bill as "Singapore's first and largest independent animation festival".

The event, held yearly since 2012, showcases local and foreign short films. Co-founder and festival director Ms Vicky Chen, 24, says that the community-driven event, launched with the help of money from a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, aims to introduce adult- oriented, cutting-edge, hard-to- find works to a Singapore audience.

The visual styles this year range from smooth 3-D, such as in the work of Ms Kong, to flowing, "hand-sketched" compositions (April 21), to those that look like ink block prints (The Swallow) and stop-motion puppetry (IOA).

The surreal IOA by Swiss director Gabriel Mohring features an unnervingly human-looking musical instrument that intones vowel sounds, thanks to its generous assortment of mouths. In the melancholic The Octopus Lady by Singaporean and recent Nanyang Technological University graduate Amanda Wang, an octopus-human hybrid is torn between the city and the sea.

Ms Kong's Need A Hand?!, like several of the works in the programme, relies on visuals, music and sound effects to tell the story, rather than dialogue.

In the horror-comedy skit, told in slapstick, silent movie-era style, a zombie citizen is going about her business when her arm decides to do its own thing. A mischievous pig-bat creature intrudes, with interesting consequences.

The film's 3-D frames were rendered on personal computers in Lasalle. Its final look reflects the compromise between her love of zombies - "I wanted a swarm," she says - and the wishes of her project partner, Liu Wenhao, 25, who prefers cuter characters. The pig- bat creatures and the single zombie woman are the result of the agreement, she says.

The protagonist's love-hate struggle with her disobedient arm is a comment on how, on social media, everyone censors anything about himself that is less than perfect.

"Everyone has something he hates and wants to get rid of. But it's that part of us that makes us who we are," she says.

•Cartoons Underground will be held this Saturday at Kult Kafe at Emily Hill, 11 Upper Wilkie Road, 6 to 10 pm.

•Admission by donation. Details at cartoonsunderground.com

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Zombie' found on the MRT. Subscribe