Written by Anna Harrison
It is exceedingly difficult to give a numerical score to a film like Chun Chun Chang’s animated short Aura. Clocking in at under four minutes, the story—if it can be called such—follows a man adrift at sea and then beset by a storm. As the man becomes lost in the storm, he becomes connected with the being or goddess at its center, simultaneously benevolent and violent. The film has no dialogue, only a stirring, string-filled soundtrack to carry us alongside the beautiful animation, full of bright primary colors. Aura is a testament to the power of the filmic medium: it eschews traditional narrative and dialogue, opting instead for a dazzling feast for the eyes and ears that nonetheless conveys an affecting story.
How did the idea for this film come to you? For a film like this that relies entirely on visuals, do you first imagine the scenes visually or did the story/narrative idea come before?
The idea for this film came from different places, such as Greek mythology, Icelandic magical staves, photography, and choreography. I started with a few keywords such as fierce, hidden, and painterly; then, I just had fun trying a few visual designs. Based on the visuals, I then went back to developing a clearer story idea.
How do you write the script for a film like this? Is there even a script, or is it all a storyboard?
There isn’t a script. I made a rough storyboard, then moved everything into an animatic. Most of the modifications in the story were made in the animatic, so I knew the timing and flow of the film.
Did anything change from conception to final product?
Yes, the original plan was to ‘materialize’ the eye of the storm. For example, the eye of the storm would be a structure that would be made from cloud-like sculptures. But later, I figured that I would need to spend time elaborating on this concept in the film, which would slow down the pacing of the story. Therefore, I changed the concept to the current version.
The music was beautiful and so integral to the film—what was the process like to create that? How much collaboration occurred with composer Sturdivant Adams?
It was great working with Sturdivant. I only provided the direction that I wanted the music to be serene every time the goddess Aura showed up and when the two characters were in the eye of the storm. And then he created an amazing score.
How long did the film take to animate?
From the beginning to the end, it took me one and a half years. I spent half of the first year developing ideas and the story.
USC is credited at the end of the film; was this film made as part of your MFA program for animation there?
Yes! This film was my thesis. USC was an amazing experience for me that I received great resources from the program while creating films, and I also got to learn from some of the best in the industry. For this film, I consulted with Candace Reckinger, Michael Patterson, and Bruce Block on refining my concepts for the films
What drew you to animation? How can animation tell stories that live action film cannot?
I’d say the art of timing is what attracted me to the world of animation. There are so many things you can play with in animation. A pacing change in the same movement can tell the story differently.
I think it’s easier and less restrictive to create imaginative worlds in animation than in live-action films. Animation has the luxury of experimenting with different directions efficiently.
What is an underrated animated film everyone should see?
It’s hard to pick one. I think film festivals are a great way for viewers to find some underrated animated films.