29 6 / 2012


Once upon a time, a tiny story with great soul.

10 6 / 2012

Shadow Puppet Animation of War Horse

Unit 9 Self directed college project, based on the story War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, created by Xiu Wei Chen

10 6 / 2012

Unit 9 Presentation

Due to this animation being unlike any other work I have produced which were mainly digital, this one contains many kinds of materials, crafts and props.  So I put some real materials and props on A2 sized black art card paper together with the presentation board.  The props are placed with miniature screen shots to allow the audience to see how the real material goes into the animation. They can realise how the scenes were created and can even feel the material.  Aesthetic wise, I tried to keep the presentation board in the same style as the  animation so that it can look more professional. 

To interface with audience, I also designed a special box for the DVD case, the lid of this box contains a shadow puppet image, when held up to the light shows the shadow puppet idea.

10 6 / 2012

In the early stage I had a voiceover plan in my mind, I was going to have narrative scripts for the horse using voice over.  Due to the difficulty and potential risk with this, I decided to use classical music instead, because it is timeless and suitable for the war theme.

Audio choice for this animation was made by the storyline which is from a peaceful countryside then transferring to the horrors of war, ending with the terrible sacrifice.  Therefore I chose 3 pieces of music to fit each theme.

The first music is from English composer George Butterworth’s most famous orchestral idyll The Banks of Green Willow.  Not only the musical illustration to the countryside theme is perfect, but also the story of Butterworth was related.  He joined the British Army during first world war, sadly he was killed in the battle of the Somme in France, 1916.  I didn’t know this when I heard his music and when I discovered the story I was shocked by the coincidence.

The second music is for the wartime theme which involves travel and battles.  I had a hard decision to make between Beethoven’s or Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7.  They both contain powerful and dramatic movements for the animation effects.  The reason I chose Beethoven eventually is because the tune is more emotional and sad.  The Shostakovich tune sounds more positive, rising to a sort of victory march.

For the final piece of music, I used The Death of Ase, composed by Edvard Grieg.  This is a heartbreaking piece with very slow themes, it suits the ending scene which has a deep sorrowful and memorable sadness.

10 6 / 2012


Project name:

Shadow Puppet Animation of War Horse

Using shadow puppet methods to create an animation based on the story War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.  The story refers to the important part played by ordinary working English horses which were conscripted into the battlefield.


The footage can be used for war or horse exhibition, educational presentation and TV programme.

Target Audience: 

Age 8-14 years young audience 


Emotional, unique, glory, realistic, serious, worn and scared


My first idea was to do an emotional ‘goodbye’ piece of work.  As my previous works were mostly quirky style, I really wanted to do something completely different this time and it is more challenging to create a very moving story.  I thought I needed to find some very sad stories and narrative, it took me a long time to think how can I do it?  

Then I remembered the War Horse show I saw in London which was very moving.  I decided to make my life easier by producing a title sequence for War Horse, so I can use the existing story to do my own style animation.  

But idea was changed again after talking with tutors.  Why do I repeat do the title sequence again? Also, there is an existing War horse advertising video, why do I need to do another version for their website?  Then I really struggled to find an idea for my self-direct project, basically I just want to do a very emotional work but I had no idea what should I do.

Fortunately, I had a talk with Alex, when she looked at my storyboard, something reminded her of  a unique animation by  Jasper Morello.   I fell in love with the steampunk style immediately and said yes, I can make a shadow puppets animation for war horse, that would be distinctive.  Then I started to do the research on steampunk and shadow puppets, eventually I made this animation.

Picture from Imperial War Museum


There are two parts in my primary research.  The first one is the War Horse story and the first world war history, they allowed me to be constructive in my storytelling.  I went to Once Upon a Wartime exhibition in Imperial War Museum, I got inspirations by the War Horse author’s personal object including paintings, props and documentary stories.  The second is the shadow puppet methods including how to set-up equipment for shooting images, then I would be able to find the material and equipment for my own production.

My secondary research still followed these two directions.  For the war horse part, I watch many war period footages to get inspiration, they helped me to develop my storyboard and illustration style.  For shadow puppets, I explored similar style animation and illustrations to find out how to use the light and materials for some special effect, such as flame, wave and fire and so on.

07 6 / 2012

17 5 / 2012

Design diary 7 (Unit 9)

The technical issues have arrived.

After trying to shoot the horse movement frame by frame, I found the result was too static and jerky.  Therefore, I decided to use After Effects to animate the horse walking.

To make a horse walk realistically is not easy.  Unlike people with two legs, the horse not only has four legs but also more joints, so I must first understand the sequence of leg movement.  During my research I found this useful image on the internet.  It’s like an instruction to tell me how to animate the movements of these four legs.

After a few hours to figure out these tiny legs on the computer, here is the test shot of a horse walking sequence.  It’s not perfect and I still need to make the horse come to a stop properly.

01 5 / 2012

Liu Bolin (Chinese刘勃麟pinyinLiú Bólín) is an artist born in China’s Shandong province in 1973, and he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Shandong College of Arts in 1995 and his Master of Fine Arts from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 2001. His work has been exhibited in museums around the world. Also known as “The Invisible Man”, Liu Bolin’s most popular works are from his “Hiding in the City” series; photographic works that began as performance art in 2005.

11 4 / 2012

Design diary 6 (Unit 9)

Now I’m in the process of making test shots for a battlefield on fire.  Initially I made reference to the War Horse original sketches from Rae Smith which help me to make decisions on what kind of scene I want to create.  The gun firing in battlefield can give the audience a very strong and emotional feeling, so I decided to include this scene in the animation. 

Composition wise, I leave more space to the sky to give plenty of room for the mad gun fire.  I found some good examples on Vimeo to make the fire effect.  You can use cut out mountain paper as flames.  Maybe I made too many, but never mind, they are just for the test shooting.  Then I added more props into the scene,  eventually I got the gloomy feeling of war.  

Unfortunately, I can’t stop playing with my kaleidoscope, so there are more funny images on the shelf.

09 4 / 2012

Design diary 5 (unit 9)

My new creation today!  When I placed a kaleidoscope under the camera lens, I got this amazing view.  By twisting the kaleidoscope, the letter fonts generate beautiful patterns and forms of the shadow.  This is the most magical moment since I started to play around the shadow puppet animation!