Thinh Nguyen — The Vietnamese animator on what makes a good story
Unlike her colorful characters, filmmaker and designer Thinh Nguyen’s wardrobe is black, brown and grey. The furniture in her apartment is all white. She does though have a favorite pink turtleneck, which hints at the odd and unexpected slices of humor in her animated shorts.
Originally from Vietnam, Thinh moved to Denmark to study at The Animation Workshop where she’s currently completing a BA in Character Animation.
Whether she’s illustrating a character, a plate of food or a landscape looming large over a tiny house, Thinh’s subjects are reduced to their most basic forms. Her characters begin as straightforward shapes, squares, triangles, circles which then sprout heads, loopy arms and black heeled boots to become the people who inhabit her 2D world.
She plays with proportion, giving them large bodies with long thin limbs, and their mechanical movements add to their humor and charm.
She downplays the artistic brilliance of her simplicity, claiming instead it’s down to sheer laziness. “I don’t like sitting and animating for too long,” she says, “so I always try to find a solution where I don’t have to do it. That’s why my animation style is so simple.”
When she’s working on a short film, most of her time is dedicated to the story behind the images. The movements are the supporting act to the narrative. “To me, good storytelling is when the audience can feel something; they’re either sad, joyful or scared. If they don’t feel anything then it’s probably not good enough.”
Her one-minute film BYE begins as a skit starring a sweet and weird teapot-person, but becomes an insight into fatherhood capturing the mixed emotions felt when a child leaves the family home.
“To me, good storytelling is when the audience can feel something; they’re either sad, joyful or scared. If they don’t feel anything then it’s probably not good enough.”
Thinh’s style morphed gradually over the years from Disney princesses to manga to fashion illustration to modern cartoons as she taught herself to draw from various references. As a child she was into manga and anime, “like most of the Asian kids,” she says. “Then puberty hit and now I like modern art.”
The scenarios in Thinh’s work can seem bizarre – in one animated loop a man jumps hurdles on the back of a yellow dog (also wearing black boots) – but she says she takes inspiration from what happens in her own life. In Zipper, a woman unzips herself to reveal that she’s in fact the man she’s standing next to, he then does the same to show he is her as well. The exchange repeats in a continuous loop.
“I’m interested in exploring human behaviors,” she says. “The relationship between human beings with other human beings, and also with nature. I guess I just make stories about life, but in my own language.”
Words by Alix-Rose Cowie