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MA Animation graduate wins award at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Illustrated film still of two hands playing cat's cradle.
  • Written byChloe Murphy
  • Published date 30 September 2022
Illustrated film still of two hands playing cat's cradle.
Still from 'Stay' - Yu Sun, MA Animation (2021).

At London College of Communication (LCC), our MA Animation course provides opportunities to learn about the dynamics of the moving image, and the ways in which evolving technologies have changed how contemporary audiences experience animated content.

With opportunities to explore contextual issues ranging from culture and politics to society and the environment, students are encouraged to push boundaries and experiment as they use multidisciplinary approaches to develop unique portfolios of work.

This emphasis on developing a distinct personal style is evident in the work of recent MA Animation graduate Yu Sun, who was recently recognised at the Edinburgh International Film Festival for her short film, Stay.

Initially developed as a final graduation project, Stay uses the delicate rawness of hand embroidery to chart the relationship between a daughter and her absent father – reminding audiences to spend time with the people they love, regardless of how busy they may be.

Now in its 75th year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival has been connecting audiences with innovative and essential storytellers since 1947, and positions itself as an annual celebration of screen at the heart of a global cultural gathering. Dedicated to championing emerging talent, the Festival has previously helped to establish the careers of iconic filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Bill Forsyth, Danny Boyle and Stephen Frears.

In 2022, Stay was awarded the title of Best British Short Animation by the Norman McLaren Jury, who praised its ability to balance minimalist visuals with tangible emotion. Described as a ‘deceptively simple, multilayered film with a powerful message’, the Jury also commented on its ability to ‘push use of space in a visceral style, clearly communicating the filmmaker’s pain. Stunning in its simplicity…’

We caught up with Yu to discuss the creative process behind her award-winning film, her journey towards studying animation at postgraduate level, and the importance of sound and motion in pacing a compelling narrative.

Stay (Trailer) | Yu Sun

Tell us about your creative practice.

I believe different techniques express different emotions - from Augmented Reality (AR) to hand embroidery. I always seek the most suitable technique and style to make a particular story shine - it's part of my little adventure, but I think line drawing is my favourite medium so far. I love to keep visuals simple and tell stories in a minimalistic way.

Whenever I have a little rewind of my work, it feels like I tell my own story all of the time. I’m not a vivid storyteller in words, but animation is the medium that can do so for me.

In the future, I hope that I can use animation to tell other people’s stories too.

Why did you decide to study animation at Master's level?

Studying animation has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, but I failed the application for a BA in Animation around 8 years ago when I was in China – but I didn’t give up. It remained like a little seed in my heart.

After I’d worked in the Chinese animation industry as a concept artist for around 2 to 3 years, I thought that it was time for me to continue my animation dream.

A selection of embroidered film frames.
As part of the creative process, each frame of the film was stitched by hand. Image credit: Yu Sun.

What inspired Stay, and how did you develop the idea?

Stay is based on my own story, so I guess I'm a muse for myself!

In terms of visual treatment, I chose to sew a film because I found inspiration in a quote from Louise Bourgeois: “I've always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair damage. It's a claim to forgiveness.”

While Stay is very personal, I think the emotion in it is common, so I didn’t want the film to have dialogue. I also tried to make everything simple so people could empathise with it more easily.

Tell us about your creative process.

When I finally decided to tell this particular story, I already had some images in my mind, so I created the storyboard and animatic straight away – I didn’t write a script.

As Stay is a film without dialogue, its music and sound were super important, so I wanted to contact the composer and sound designer in the earlier stages of its development, which also helped me to better understand the film's rhythm. Thanks to our music composer Mickenson Nemorin and sound designer Zoltán Kadnár who brought the film to life!

In terms of post-production, 99% of the film’s frames follow the same process: first, they were digitally animated in Adobe Photoshop and traced onto tracing paper. Then, I translated the traced image to embroidery before scanning it, adding shade in Photoshop, and editing using After Effects and Premier Pro. A lot of work indeed!

I’m so lucky to have been able to work with some fellow UAL students to help me sew the trailer. Huge thanks to Yunnuo Liu, Ruozhang Liao, Urte Karvelyte, Xinya Shi and Despina Markaki!

Stay BTS | Yu Sun

How did you first find out about the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and why did you decide to apply?

I went to a few sessions about film festivals on my course, so I knew that FilmFreeway is one of the biggest platforms that enable you to submit your own work.

When I finished Stay, I started to research potential festivals that I could submit to, and began to understand that each festival had its own preferred style or themes, etc.

Edinburgh international Film Festival is dedicated to presenting the most artistic works in cinema, which made me think that maybe I could have a try - so I decided to send in my submission.

What does winning your category at the Festival mean to you?

I was already over the moon when they announced the nomination. I didn’t expect Stay to win any awards while I was making the film as I believe that I still have many things to learn!

It’s such a huge honour and huge encouragement for me and my filmmaking career, so I feel really humbled and grateful.

An abstract film still.
Still from 'Stay' - Yu Sun, MA Animation (2021).

What did you most enjoy about your time as a student at LCC?

Being able to completely immerse myself in film.

Also, I think having the opportunity to work in our classroom with classmates and tutors after Lockdown was my happiest time!

What tips would you give to prospective students who are interested in animation?

If you find happiness and passion in making animation, that’s enough.

It’s a treasure - don’t let anything ruin that.

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