Behind the scenes during production of my latest short film. Photos courtesy of Joanne Garcia Photography.
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When he was 11, Zachary L. Wong ’16 started doing stop-motion animation with Legos. Since then, he has tried a variety of styles, combining both live-action and animation. One of his animations is about a homeless man who dreams of being an airplane pilot.
“More of my recent stuff is very character-based,” Wong says. “I’m very interested in trying to portray things as realistically as possible. I don’t bring in too [many] fantastical elements.”
Creating even short pieces like Wong’s four-to-five minute clip about a homeless man, however, is so labor-intensive that it can be difficult to balance with school work. “Animation is such a tedious and time-consuming process,” Wong says. “During the school year, I usually write and set out the storyboard.” Wong then creates the actual animations during winter and summer break.
While some animators work off an already existing script, Wong fashions his own, generally thinking up the title first. “[The title] serves as the premise, and as soon as I have that, I start animating, and I kind of flesh out the story as I go along,” Wong says, “[It’s] very mercurial…very organic.”
The process of creating an animation also requires an understanding of the many different elements that go into a short clip. Much of Wong’s knowledge is informed by his childhood experimentation. Through stop-motion, Wong learned how to convey mass and gravity. Through painting and drawing, Wong learned how to become a good draftsman. All of these lessons, mixed with an understanding of movement and motion, gave Wong the tools he needs to create his works.
“Animators are the best filmmakers that are out there because on a day-to-day basis, they deal with movement,” Wong says. “If you reduce film to its basic elements, it’s just about capturing movements.”
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For students outside the concentration, the creative aspect is what attracts them to the department as well. One such student is Zachary L. Wong ’16, who is currently concentrating in English. Though he’s been interested in animation since high school, when it was time to select a college, Wong said the choice represented a major decision in how he would pursue his dream. “I wanted to have a college experience that would allow me to experience life as an artist,” Wong said. “A big component of filmmaking requires you to reflect on life experiences. So, I felt that if I went into a conservatory-type program, I would be going into the field with the life experiences of a high schooler. I thought that it might be more interesting if I just went to school, studied something unrelated, and see where that took me.”
For that reason, Wong declined offers of admissions to film schools and also decided against the film track of the VES concentration here at Harvard. “I figured, I turned down conservatory, so it doesn’t really make sense for me to go to Harvard and kind of take a conservatory path program.”
However, Wong does admit that there are downsides to his decision and is currently considering a secondary in VES. "I miss being a part of a creative environment. I haven’t done a lot of creative work, so now [my motivation] is a feeling of restlessness,” he said." Wong’s decision to take part in VES programs through a secondary or individual classes seems to be a popular one. Even though the size of the film track of the VES department is small, Moss notes the abundance of students outside of the concentration taking VES film classes, adding those classes are practically “bursting at the seams.”
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This issue of the A-Profiler, Nelson Wong interviews filmmaker Zac Wong of the web seriesThe Potstickers. This is the final part of a 3-part A-Profiler series featuring the cast and crew of The Potstickers.
You are still in your late-teens and have become an award-winning filmmaker. When did your foray into filmmaking first begin? What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Did you find that your friends and family were supportive of your desire to become a filmmaker?
My interest in filmmaking began way before I had ever touched a camera. Looking back at the first drawings in crayon I did as a child, they were all sequential, like miniature story boards. When I was about twelve, simply out of curiosity, I grabbed the home video camcorder and a couple Lego men and made a stop-motion animation with the camera's start and stop record button. It looked horrible, but it was enough to keep me motivated. I remember how liberating it felt, unlocking this newfound, and completely immature ability to tell stories visually. Films like Annie Hall, Singing in the Rain, and La Dolce Vita inspired me, particularly because I hoped to make films exactly like them one day. From the outset, my family was extremely supportive of my ventures, putting up with the hour long screenings of my "avant-garde" Lego animations. My friends and family have continued to help me ever since, critiquing and even acting in my films.
Your first film, Not Without My Dog, is in the vein of old silent films. What inspired you to write that story? What was it like to have that first film showcased at film festivals?
In my first film, Not Without My Dog, I tried my hand at a film shot in black and white 16mm, without sound. Looking back, I realize that the constraints really forced me to reevaluate narrative and how to effectively convey emotion and tension visually.
I wanted to make a film that harked back to the old Charlie Brown and Dennis the Menace comics I read as a child. I have always been fascinated by the simplicity with which Schulz and Ketcham conveyed stories-- how a single image could have so much movement, emotion, and context. I end up referring to their work constantly when writing or storyboarding my films.