Art inspires. Animator Chun Chun Chang’s latest grand film Aura gives evidence to how the inspiration which artists have on each other can elevate the level of their work. Chang was moved by famed dance choreographer William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” which mixes modern dance and ballet. An American who spent a great deal of time in Germany during the turbulent 1980’s, it’s unquestionable that Forsythe bore witness to this uneven era and climate which made its way into this dance piece.

Chun Chun confesses, “I was fascinated by the contract between the dancers’ movements- such as push and pull, acceleration and deceleration… I was so inspired by it that I wanted to create a short film about both gentleness and fierceness.”

Utilizing such additional and eclectic influences as Greek Mythology and an Icelandic magical stave called “Wayfinder”, this animator conceived and created the film Aura which recently won the Award of Excellence at the Southern Shorts Awards in addition to becoming an Official Selection at numerous film festivals such as the LA Shorts International Film Festival and Encounters Film Festival. A year and a half in its creation, the grand tale and scale of Aura is effort and talent well placed; an instantly obvious fact to anyone who has seen this transfixing film.

Chun Chun Chang’s Aura

The tale opens with a man, perhaps a sailor, whom is out to sea in a small craft when the overpowering strength of nature results in a perilous journey for him. When things turn dire, it seems that this man will lose his life. It’s then that a woman saves him. Is she a goddess, a dream, or something else? Vacillating between lucidity and a surreal world, the man eventually sees that he has been saved by forces he doesn’t quite understand. The woman who intercedes on behalf of the male traveler in this film is a modern presentation of the Greek Mythological goddess of wind named Aura.

This female being who controls the potential of wind to be either gentle and comforting or fierce and uncontrollable offered the ideal embodiment of that same dichotomy which Chun Chun saw in Forsythe’s dance choreography. The Icelandic “stave” which allowed safe travel through such unyielding weather became the vehicle to propel the story of Aura. The story is compelling but it’s the manner which Chun Chun used to tell it that is so transfixing to the viewer.

The dreamlike state that the male protagonist finds himself in is visually communicated in a style which can best be described as a hazy painting aesthetic. This approach brings the audience into a colorful world whose indefinitive clarity serves to reinforce the absence of a means of controlling or explaining the surroundings. The animation seems to drift into indeterminate locations and melds into a mood rather than a geographic location.

With great precision and creativity, Chun Chun has manifested the headspace of the male character who is unable to make sense of his journey; an astounding feat in visual achievement. Color tones that permeate different scenes offer subtle emotional cues, rebuking the need for dialogue to communicate what these characters are feeling. A riveting score provided by composer/conductor Sturdivant Adams and his orchestra, in addition to the work of sound designer/engineer Dan Blanck, provide the complementary sonic punctuation for the mood of the story.

Unexpectedly, Chun Chun found herself in the post production phase of this film during the Covid lockdown. The idea throughout Aura, which depicts nature’s command of the world despite our efforts to navigate it, had surfaced in the filmmaker’s own reality as she persevered in finalizing Aura. Obvious changes were made due to this but none are evident upon viewing it. The movement and flow of the characters are imbued with all of the grace and lyrical traits of the dance which was an early inspiration for Aura.

Chun Chun taps into the majesty of Aura herself and the fickle temperament of Nature in the visuals she offers in this film. She has created a metaphysical temperature in regards to the emotion of this story and related it with a human’s understanding.

Communicating a full circle moment for her which resulted from her creation of Aura, Chang states, “Michael Patterson [Grammy Award Winning Animation Director] shared Aura with choreographer William Forsythe, the same artist whose work had prompted me to begin my journey on this film. It was exciting to see that connection made and recognize my work as part of this community of artists.”

Writer: Arlen Gann

By Punit