The following is an interview with Wolf Smoke Studio, one of the most exciting young animation studios in the world today. Wolf Smoke Studio animated the highly acclaimed Batman of Shanghai shorts for Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block:
You may also recognize them as the creators of the wildly fun and imaginative short film Kung Fu Cooking Girls:
Art-Eater contributor Andy Lee recently caught up with the duo behind Wolf Smoke Studio at their home base in Shanghai. As far as I know, this is their very first English language interview! Thanks for the scoop Andy!
When I first saw Batman of Shanghai I was blown away. ‘This is amazing! Wow that Catwoman’s really cute! Who did this? Is this a Chinese Studio!?’ I had to know, and so I cast a bottle into the ocean of youtube comments. As fate would have it, the animators themselves responded! So we set a date to meet in Shanghai!
Introducing the dynamic duo behind the works:
Wu Yan: Writer, Character Designer, Color Designer; the stories spring fourth from her imagination!
Jin Roh: Director, Lead Animator; he hand draws the keyframes that bring it all to life!
When the two teamed up to form a studio they combined their names; ‘Roh’ means wolf and ‘Yan’ is a homophone for smoke so Wolf Smoke was born! Two people pursuing their dreams and raising the bar of animation in China, and the world. They took the time out of their busy schedule to sit down with me and have a chat.
First, the important stuff. What is your favorite food?
Jin Roh (Wolf): Anything spicy.
Wu Yan (Smoke): And meat, seafood… Too many!
What is your goal at Wolf Smoke Studio?
Jin Roh (Wolf): Make awesome animation and tell great stories.
Wu Yan (Smoke): Let other people see the beautiful scenes in our minds.
What are some of your favorite animated works?
Jin Roh (Wolf): Jin-Roh of course (laughs)! And the one with the white haired protagonist, Mushishi.
Who are your favorite animators?
Wolf: Nishio Tetsuya, Hiroyuki Imaishi, and Yoshihiko Umakoshi etc. Too many. We can use a whole night talking about it. Haha.
Tetsuya Nishio (西尾 鉄也): Ace animator on too many great shows and movies to name here. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen his work before.
Tetsuya Nishio MAD
Hiroyuki Imaishi (今石 洋之): Heir apparent to the legendary Yoshinori Kanada and director of Gurren Lagann, Dead Leaves and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt):
Hiroyuki Imaishi MAD
Yoshihiko Umakoshi(馬越 嘉彦): character designer and animation director on Casshern Sins, Saint Seiya Omega, Precure and much more.
Toonami – Casshern Sins Promo
How did you two, the founding members of Wolf Smoke Studio, first meet each other?
Smoke: A JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Chatroom, we both thought Jotaro was the coolest (laughs)
Awesome! So which is your favorite stand?
Wolf: Hmmm…King Crimson!
[Editor’s Note: there was a nice discussion about King Crimson in the comments section of this post about King of Fighters]
What kind of music do you like?
Oh, anther question which we need one hour to answer, lol. We love different style of music, heavy metal, new ages, Goth metal, old kungfu movie music, etc.
What is your favorite game?
Wolf: Street Fighter III [Andy: Hey that’s mine too!], Final Fantasy VII and XII. Other Capcom’s excellent games are also an inspiration to us. We’re fans of Capcom.
Did you always want to go into animation/How did you get into animation?
Wolf: I initially didn’t think I was any good at animation, so I studied traditional Chinese paper cuts (laughs)
Smoke: I wanted to be a Manga writer and put my manga online. After we met we thought, why not try making an animation? Wolf has a great sense of motion that he conveys in his animation, but he felt like his coloring skills were weak. I have experience with colors through doing manga, so we combined our strengths!
Is it hard finding talent in China?
Smoke: Most people that want to join us are students. They have passions and dreams, but are lacking in experience.
What are the animation schools like in China?
Smoke: Animation schools in china is bullshit, I can say that because I graduated from one! I totally understand what they teach, and they teach you nothing. When they join our studio we have to train them from scratch. Our skills are basically self-taught. This one [Little Big War] was made by two students of ours:
We trained them for about a year. Yes, hard to find talent, hard to hold on to people, people move to videogames cos it pays more. Talent is rare globally, even tried going to Japan to find people. We thought, with China’s huge population, that we’d be able to find enough talented people but we’ve looked for years. We’ve looked in Japan, but the quality of animation today is not as good as they’re in 90’s.
What kind of work do you do for Chinese clients?
Smoke: Companies approach us for animation sample. The (Chinese) Government gives incentives to open/fund studios, so through the high quality samples, the companies can get money from Government. 5:00pm – 8:00pm no foreign shows can play. [Editor's note: this gives home grown shows a competitive edge] But this means many people only want to make very cheap products to get the government funds and that’s it.
What are differences between animation in China, Japan and America?
Smoke: Pixar, Dreamworks animators lead good lives because their movies make money so they can produce good work. Opposite of Japan; in Japan everyone works like a dog, but they produce good animation and are happy with it. But in China, you can get neither money or opportunity to making good animations. Haha. So we have to create the chance by ourselves.
Do you have a message for your American fans?
Smoke: We can animate more than just fight scenes [Andy: which they do incredibly well already!]. We want to do all kinds of styles of animations. We always want to try new things because if you stop running, you die.
As our meeting came to a close, they were also kind enough to leave me a hand drawn sample of their work!
If you enjoy animation, check out this other Art-Eater article on Darkstalkers and the 12 Principles of Animation: