Trawling through the internet looking for talented names for the itchysilkLIVE section we came across the name Rui Ting Ji.
Based in Canada and still a student at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema it was her stunning second year film One Day At A Time which enthralled us. Charcoal drawings are juxtaposed by the narration of a reformed homeless alcoholic named Bobby Vaughan. This juxtaposition of the most essentials elements giving this short an emotiveness that is impossible to ignore. The creation and fading of Rui Ting Ji’s drawings representative of Bobby’s life-past and present.
The skill of Rui Ting Ji is to weave the narration and animation in such a way that the human condition is laid out for all to see while avoiding any hint of the contrived or over sensationalised.
Can you tell us firstly about your formative years what was that like and what impact that had on your eventual path into animation and film?
Ever since I was a toddler, I loved to draw and wanted to become a painter. However, being raised in quite a traditional family, my parents were against me pursuing the visual arts, mainly citing financial instability as the reason. Going into animation for university was initially a compromise between them, who saw it as a choice with more job opportunities (Montreal has a rather established video game and film industry), and I, who simply wanted to draw and create. I ended up wholeheartedly loving traditional animation and filmmaking, so I’m glad I made that compromise.
Your work seems to show a person who is quite introspective.
After coming to Canada, I took on the habit of writing diaries, mostly to practice French (the main language of education in Montreal). Slowly, this habit of documenting my life and making summaries expanded to all aspects of my life. When I am looking back, I am able to better understand my choices and find patterns within what drove them. When facing hardships, I found it cathartic to write things out. Rupture, for instance, was a cathartic work for me to make peace with my parents’ divorce. As a filmmaker, I like to find inspiration around me, in real life. I also do my best to often pull back from my works, in order to create them as a cohesive whole.
Can you name an artist, image, moment that made you become interested in art?
I can’t remember what made me become interested in art, but there is a book that changed my way of looking at art and creation. For the longest time, I found myself to be an uncreative person because I was (and still am) unable to come up with ideas out of nothing. After reading Steal Like an Artist (2012) by Austin Kleon, I started to draw a lot more from real life, and from other artists and works I saw. Since then I noted down everything I found inspiring, from personal experiences, to paintings, to films, to random conversations I hear around me, and so on.
Were you always going to study film/moving animation?
I did not know that I liked animation and film until I started university and started working on my first student film, Rupture. I always knew that I liked to draw and to tell stories and was pleasantly surprised to realise that I also liked to study movement in animation. Although there wasn’t a specific moment that I realised this, I remember when I first discovered the joy of people watching and studying passers-by’s movements.
Tell us a bit about studying at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and the impact it has had on your work?
My school is unique in the way that it pushes experimentation and encourages us to find our own voices as filmmakers. My teachers are open to all sorts of ideas, and it is inspiring to see the films that my peers make every year. There is always a wide range of works. Because we are tasked to make at least one film every year.
We are also encouraged to try under camera techniques, such as clay, sand and pencil animation. It was my teacher who introduced me to charcoal animation, and I was able to make One Day at a Time with this material thanks to the available facilities at school.
Can you tell us about the practical aspects of creating your work-is there a favourite medium?
There are 8 to 12 drawings for every second of hand-drawn animation. It is quite a time-consuming task and it is typical that an animated film of a few minutes takes a few months in the making, with a lot of planning time.
It’s hard to pick a favorite medium. I love the rich textures of under-camera techniques and of charcoal. However, it is an unforgiving technique because you cannot go back and fix your mistakes (as the frames are overwritten). Drawing on paper, or with digital software, is nice in that I can always go back and fix things. The perfectionist side of me is usually happier then.
I was particularly interested in his story because of the hope that he embodied in the community.
We think it is amazing you are only in your second year and you have already created two powerful pieces of work-we talk firstly of Rupture a brilliantly emotive short-tell us about that.
Thank you. Yes, Rupture was created two years after my parents’ divorce and was very cathartic to me. It was my way of coming to terms with the push and pull during the divorce, and the hurtful words after it. Rupture is my first film and, looking back, there are many shortcomings to it, and the process of creation was clumsy and immature. I think I was able to bring out some emotion because it is very personal to me.
Talk to us about homelessness and why it seems at present a strong interest?
There are many homeless people on the streets of Montreal, and I’ve always wanted to help them, but did not know how. In summer 2016, I had the opportunity to work at a homeless day center, and met many great people, both from the staff there and from this vulnerable population. I saw generosity, kindness, a lot of strength and resilience, and heard many heartfelt, personal, and surprising stories. It made me realise how much hardship and experience are behind every one of the clients there. I believe that those stories are worth being shared.
One Day At A Time seems a brilliant result of your interest in homelessness. Talk to us about our homeless man Bobby Vaughan and what interested you in particular about his story?
When I was working at the homeless center, Bobby was a well-liked volunteer there. His extraordinary story of successful recovery was well known among the clients and he was an inspiration to many of them. I was particularly interested in his story because of the hope that he embodied in the community. He carried a reassuring and inspiring message, and his lightness of heart was interesting to me.
Talk to us about your use of charcoal in the short is used to stunning effect but talk to us about your reasons for using charcoal.
Charcoal was the chosen medium for this film not only because of its rich texture, but also because of the traces it leaves. Every frame is drawn, then erased. The next frame is on top of the one before, permanently erasing it. I liked how the faint, ghostly trail that this medium leaves echoed Bobby’s relationship with his past.
We also note that you did not employ music in this.
I decided not to add any music because I did not want the work to feel sentimental or trivialized. As it is an animated documentary, I did not want music to tell the audience how to feel. Instead, the audience can focus on Bobby’s voice. This way, when there is a break in his narration, the silence is packed with more tension and anticipation.
It has already won awards-in a way were you aware that this short could have such a powerful impact as a film?
I did not imagine that the film could have a powerful impact as it was my second-year film, and I only had about two months to make it from pre-production to post-production. During the making of this short, I only hoped to finish it on time!
Tell us a bit about the team behind the short and their impact on the finished work?
I am the only person behind this short, and did everything from the interview to the animation, editing, and sound! However, many people have helped me through its making. One Day at a Time is Bobby’s story and I am really thankful that he shared it with me. My teachers and friends have supported me consistently and gave me helpful feedback. And our school mixer, Tim, did the wonderful sound mix for the film.
What new projects might you have coming up?
I am currently working on my final year student film. It is still in very early stages right now, but I am excited to see it come to life.