Artists don’t chase trends, they establish them. Cheng Guo set a precedent early in his career that finding an appreciative audience was a combination of talent and timing. His work on a number of highly popular animation productions established his exceptionalism in China and led to his eventual procurement for productions in the United States for such household names as Warner Animation Group and others.
Whether as an essential part of award-winning animated films or long running animated series with millions of views, Cheng has attracted attention across the planet by those within the industry hopeful of adding his “special sauce” to their creations. Conceding that Hollywood is a world away from the small town near the Yangzi river in China where he grew up, Cheng Guo notes that Japanese television and Disney both played an early role in ushering his animation dreams into reality. While China may have birthed his creativity, Cheng Guo is truly the product of international influences.
Lu Shidai (translated into English as “Lu’s Time”) capitalized on the popularity of the MOBA League of Legends, creating an incredibly popular series about a group of teenage friends who want to be a professional e-sports team. While the storyline presented the culture that so many e-sports fans were immersed in, it was the visual approach that was the connective tissue for throngs of fans of Lu Shidai.
More than three and a half million views for this animated series provide clear evidence that Cheng Guo’s character designs were an essential part of its success. Zhiqiang Mao and his team members featured in the show were diverse and relatable in a way that e-sport fans could easily access. Penta Studio provided the scripts for each episode as well as the initial verbal descriptions of the personalities and appearance of key characters for Cheng to design.
As the sole character designer for Lu Shidai, Cheng Guo’s artistic vision literally manifested the face of the show. The animation team which collaborated with Cheng was the famed Colored-pencil Animation Design (whose work on The King’s Avatar received fifteen awards including TV Series of the Year at the Tencent Video TV and Movie Awards).
Director and owner of Haoliners Animation League Haolin Li brought Cheng’s character designs to the series Mantou Riji (馒头日记) which aired on the number one Chinese video sharing site Bilibili. Beyond the designs of the main characters Mantou, Huajuan, and other secondary characters, the environment designs of the show received the benefit of Cheng’s attention. Mantou Riji has accumulated 3,647,000 views on Bilibili to date.
The story is centered on a boy who is poor and fending for himself but makes a positive life with the help of his dog, teacher, and friends. The emotional tone is vastly different from that of Lu Shidai and the importance of the characters’ visual identity being congruent with this is paramount. Mr. Guo’s ability to adopt such different styles as an animator and designer vetted him as one of the premier in the industry. Since that time he has seen substantial changes in the tools and process of animating in present day; not all of which are positive.
He relates, “The software available to animators is much more friendly than that of just a few years ago. Improvements in 2d software released the rigging system for 2D character animation and saves a lot of time and expense in the process. Though it’s not that widely used yet, facial/ motion capture technology is certainly updating the way we work. However, there also have a few bad changes.
It is true that improvements to technology increases the speed of animation production but this can also cause the problem of homogeneity. Studios rely on the convenience of the software but may ignore the importance of research. They produce fewer original animation productions than sequels. I think this tendency could harm the future of the animation industry.”
Cheng Guo is doing his own part to contribute to the originality of highly visible productions as in the case of his latest venture as the visual development artist for the feature animations from Warner Brothers. Currently in the preproduction process of several upcoming comedy and adventure films for this legendary company, Cheng is placing his creative fingerprint on productions that will ensure future generations of artists will have inspiration for their careers.
Writer: Arlen Gann