Floaters is the only UK film selected as part of the official competition at the Shanghai International Film Festival this year. This animation short is made by Mo Yuan, who graduated from a UK university is now living in the country. We took an opportunity to learn more about Mo and her previous works.

Cosmic Express is a work that explores the world within and beyond one who suffers from depression. Alienation and a sense of urban malaise permeates the film and it lingers after the end of the world.

Catastrophe is a title that lives up to its name in the best way possible. Who knew Schrödinger’s cat had a third option – transcending time and space. The cat’s rejection of being a subject of experimentation is steeped with irony as the events are expressed in a free flowing style with no reasoning – as it should.

Mo’s latest work Floaters explores floaters – the moving strands that orbit your eyeballs, occasionally seen under the right conditions. In this case, the floaters become so imposing that it could be compared to a visual malady. Should they be removed? If so, how? What then?

These are the questions that are mused upon in this film.

 

Can you outline your journey that’s led you up to here?

So, I studied 2D animation at the School of Visual Arts in New York and graduated in 2019. I was at the crossroads of deciding whether to pursue animation in a commercial context or explore something more experimental.

I had known about the programme at the Royal College of Art in London as one that historically focused on experimental animation and their student work really stood out to me. The idea of further studying the aspects of animation I had yet the opportunity to explore was quite intriguing, so I decided to give it a go and very luckily got accepted into the programme.

But keep in mind this was in 2020 and well… covid happened. I would have had to do everything online, but I really didn’t want to miss the chance to communicate with my professors and peers in person. After discussing it with my head of programme I requested a leave of absence for a year, and with the time I had, I moved to Beijing to work in a production team as a concept artist for a children’s cartoon series

When I moved to London to resume my studies in early 2022, the lockdown had started to ease so it was much more ideal to join my new cohort and immerse myself in an academic environment on campus. I graduated in 2023, made Floaters and here I am!

 

Who inspires you? In the field of animation or elsewhere.

My biggest inspiration is actually my grandfather – a self-taught oil painter. We often check up on each other’s artistic endeavours. Last I heard, he wanted to get back into oil painting, but my grandma complained to him about the smell of the resin indoors. I doubt that will stop him though.

My peers in the animation field are also a source of constant inspiration. We work together and support each other, and I am so grateful to be able to know them. We exchange our understanding of things, both professionally and personally, and it is always inspiring for me to learn new things from them.

 

What is experimental animation? Does the medium of experimental animation help you deliver your message in ways a traditional narrative struggle to?

For me, experimental animation is characterised by non-linear storytelling and narrative ambiguity – though it can be narrative. I find it to be more subjective in comparison to traditional narrative animation and often very personal in nature.

My work still goes around a storyline and is narrative, but studying experimental animation broadens my horizons on the possibility of animation. Personally, I have a tendency to overthink things when I work on a project. The obsession with details, even the trivial ones, leads to an endless circle of hair-splitting, which can be really stressful and not good for my mental health at all. Experimental animation allows me to loosen up, basically to save me from myself, and to help me convey my messages in different ways, through visuals, storytelling, sound and pacing.

 

Your bachelor’s degree film Cosmic Express (2019) was noted for sparking discussion on issues regarding mental health.

Similarly, Floaters, touches on mental health issues, is this a topic you wish to explore in your work?

Definitely yes, and through a personal lens. The mental health issues are not highlighted in Floaters like in Cosmos Express, but the readings and research behind it did involve people dealing with their mental health issues and the corresponding medication.

You may have noticed that I had credited “Floaters Interviewees”; during my primary research, I asked some of my colleagues to share the stories of their eye floaters and let them draw them out on paper. And guess what, everyone left a completely different answer. Thus I left the underlying message of the film open as everyone has different lives and experiences. You could enjoy it just as eye floaters or something else about your body or mind, but the central message would be self-acceptance and reconciliation with yourself.

 

How was your experience at the Shanghai International film festival?

 

There was a press conference! I’ve never been in one before and was so flattered. The scale of the festival was immense, you could walk around the city and there were promotional posters everywhere – almost overwhelming.

Not to mention there was a red carpet… we were on the red carpet! I almost couldn’t believe it.

The most exciting part for me? Talking to the other short film directors in person and bonding over a shared love of film and animation in the span of five days. Plus, watching my film on a big screen with a live audience is always something so surreal and unique to my heart.

If there was anything I would love to see more of, it would be a welcome event before the festival for all the nominees to gather and network. It was not as easy on the festival days where it became too hectic to locate the other directors whom you had never met beforehand.

 

Advice for students?

Be resilient. You will get tons of rejections and that’s okay. For a film to be accepted into a festival, the quality of your work is only one of the many factors; sometimes it is simply not what they are looking for this year. But with that being said, never make films just for festivals – they should be for you and what you want to make. Be yourself and you will shine.

For animation students, look into animation festivals, and attend them in person if possible, even when you don’t have a film to compete in their programmes; the community is so supportive and you never know what kind of inspiration will hit you in between screenings and conversations. Not only that but it’s a great opportunity to make friends and get to know people in the industry.

 

Mocong ‘Mo’ Yuan is a filmmaker, animator and visual development artist currently based in London.

Before coming to the Royal College of Art to pursue her MA degree in Experimental Animation, Mo received a BFA (Hons) degree in 2D Animation from the School of Visual Arts, New York City.

Her bachelor’s degree film Cosmos Express (2019) was made an official selection in film festivals around the world, including London International Animation Festival, Raindance Film Festival and National Film Festival for Talented Youth. It received a prize for Character-based Animation Short at Los Angeles Animation Festival, and was nominated for Best Character Design at Beijing Film Academy Animation Awards. Her first-year film at the Royal College of Art, Catastrophe (2022), has been shortlisted for BFI Future Film Festival in 2023.