For her thesis at USC Cinematic Arts, Shih-Ting Hung‘s thesis film, “VIOLA: The Traveling Rooms of a Little Giant,” is a surreal coming-of-age short that leverages the logic of dreams to tell its story. (We can’t post the full film yet, but Shih has shared the first two minutes with Motionographer.)
Viola has been building steam on the festival circuit and picking up a few nice awards along the way, including the top prize from the Student Academy Awards. Shih was kind enough to answer a few questions about the project for us:
Since we’re only able to share the 2-minute cut down, can you tell us the basic premise of the film?
VIOLA is a meditation on the search for self-knowledge and inner-peace. It’s a bedtime story of a person feeling her way through the inside and outside worlds, which surround her as she goes about finding her way in life. Everything in the film is based on that.
Where did you get the idea for “Viola”?
When I hear a song or walk on the streets, random images come to me. I also have dreams about surreal settings. For VIOLA, all the visuals came out of daydreams.
I collected these visual elements for years and wanted to put them together to see if they could make any sense all together. Because of that I knew exactly how each scene was going to look like before executing it: how wide the walls would be, what kind of colors the settings might have, what the depth of field we should have for each shot, and so on.
Some elements came later, however, in order to fit storytelling needs. For example, the flamingoes appeared in the very middle of the production—I found flamingoes so beautifully annoying, so they fit perfectly for the metaphor I was going for—so here they are.
The film has a strong painterly feel to it. Who were you inspirations for the look of the project?
I started painting at the age of four and had a fine art major from college in Taiwan. I did not look for specific painters to go for, but I am deeply influenced by surrealism. Dali’s ants and Magritte’s hat are my film’s two very humble dedications to those great artists.
Were you a student when you created the film? If so, where were you attending school?
VIOLA was a thesis film created when I was a graduate student at USC Cinematic Arts. I studied both animation and live action.
How long did it take you to create “Viola”? How many people worked on it?
22 months. For budgeting reasons, it took several months to apply for permission to shoot with a SONY F900 camera with a whole package deal.
I had about 25 people in the crew on set for the green screen shoots.
I did not know how to use After Effects before making VIOLA, and I had to do almost all the post-production by myself, which took a while. Though Ting-Ni Chiu built these gorgeous miniature sets, and I am also grateful for the technical support from Hsin-I Tseng, David Bazelon, Jason Gottlieb, and Hao Gu.
So the whole production took a bit longer. But I learned so much out of it, it was worth it.
6. What was the most challenging part of the film?
Honestly, it was the story.
I had great practice on technical aspects of the film, combining multi-media, but there’s still a lot space to improve on the technical side of VIOLA.
But I feel being able to tell a story well is way more crucial and that was and remains a challenge for the making of a good film. I hope we reached the goal of giving the world the enough in the basic structure of VIOLA’s story so people could share the emotional journey with her. For me nothing touches my heart more than knowing my work has moved or connected to the audience.
What are your plans for the future of “Viola”?
VIOLA has been lucky with festivals (35th Student Academy Awards) and requested by companies for distribution. We have not decided which company we want to go with yet, but we did get an invitation to submit an expending draft for a feature film from Sundance Lab, so we are working on that now. :-)
What are your plans for yourself?
Aside from writing the feature for VIOLA, I work as a music video / commercial director. Our current project is combining sculpture and special effects makeup for a Nine Inch Nails song. I am absolutely excited about pitching it.