Peggy Li

Surreal Air

Master of Design Digital Design

An exploration of using surrealist aesthetics to explore a personal visual narrative about air pollution

My masters project, titled “Surreal Air” is a poetic animation short film that incorporates the techniques of motion capture and digital simulation effects. Surreal Air (2020) attempts to portray a personal experience through the use of surrealist aesthetics within the approach of autoethnography. This project aims to answer the research question of “How can I combine motion-capture and digitally simulated effects in a short film to portray a personal experience of air pollution using surrealist aesthetics?”

The Surreal Air (2020) project is based on the study of “Using Surrealist Aesthetics to Explore a Personal Visual Narrative about Air Pollution” which explores the fundamental global issue of air pollution as well as exploring my childhood experience. It employs an autoethnographic methodology to conduct practice-based research and action research. My project utilises the techniques of visual effects with motion capture and animation to create a surrealist aesthetics within a moving image medium.

This project aimed to express my personal experience with air pollution by visualising the feeling of “being trapped in an air-polluted environment” with the incorporation of smoke and nCloth digital simulation effects as well as motion capture. The overarching purpose of this research is to instil awareness of the current global air pollution issue amongst the public as a means for spurring them into action on the issue. My goal is to allow the viewers to experience firsthand the feeling of being trapped in a heavily polluted environment in the hopes that they will develop further insight into the challenging environmental issue of our times.

The film comprises symbols and metaphors to express the theme and message as these are techniques frequently used in animation to emphasise the filmmaker’s intention purposely or subconsciously. Symmetrical framing is a critical visual style in my film as it really helps to immerse the audience into certain scenes. When uncanniness is created via juxtaposition in symmetrical composition, it inevitably creates a sense of perfection and irrationality. The low-poly 3D child model is used as the main character since it is a representation of my childhood. The child model did not require sharp or clearly defined physical features as this was ideal for keeping the characters generic alongside an adaptation of my childhood in my film project. The approach of this research project was to use myself as the primary subject and to engage in self-reflection during the research process. In this way, I could draw from personal childhood experiences and bring them to life through digital expression.

Surreal Air has been through many iterative cycles which have subsequently helped me improve the overall quality of the film, and the feedback gained from such cycles provided me with the means to effect improvements. This was realised by alternating between the use of different techniques, from the initial aim of using live action, then the change to using motion capture techniques, and creating a full 3D animation film to present my surrealist aesthetic. I employed film as a tool and medium to express my personal experience within visual and narrative forms as well as to make a surrealist expression.