Interview with Animation Director Peter Zhaoyu Zhou (KARMA)

Peter’s short film KARMA played to rave reviews at the September 2017 Animation & Family FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?
Peter Zhaoyu Zhou: I always want to be a storyteller that can deliver meaningful messages to my audience through my works. Back to 2013, I read some news and articles about environmental pollution in one of my classes, “air smog pollution” came into my eyes and became my research project. The issue has become very serious which is significantly affecting people’s health especially in China (I am originally from China). Other than that, environmental pollution and climate change have been affecting this world day by day and the consequences are serious. I was thinking the reason and cause of those issues. One major cause is the abuse use of industrial production, which has brought certain cost to use nowadays. A research subject dramatically became the initial idea of this story, and I thought it is such a great idea to make an short animation about environmental pollution to tell people the cost of it and the importance of environmental protection. What motivated me to jump into filmmaking is that I really want to express my thought and get it to be known. This film is a perfect start point. 
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?
I had the story back to early 2013, while I was in school busy on other projects, the actual production started on 2014. KARMA is actually my first year film but it took two years to make. 
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
Oh My…
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Time. Time is the biggest obstacle I faced in making this film. We had a deadline for the 1st version. However, by that time I couldn’t finish the film because the render took so long. Therefore I submitted a previs version with all animation blocked out and shots layout. After that, in summer 2016, I resumed the production by consolidating the character animation and the look of the film with designing stylized forest and water simulation, which were another hard parts. Water is very hard to make and look good so I collaborated with another artist to use Houdini to create real simulation. 
Mentality is another aspect, making animation, especially with large amount of vfx works is hard. Making a good story is the start the point, after having the storyboard, character design, and even blocked animation with shots layout are just a setup for the next step, when we jumped into vfx, lighting, rendering, and compositing, everything became unpredictable. Especially for rendering, we had a lot of shots that have water, and because of the refraction and reflection, it took 2 hours to render a single frame. It was very time consuming and we had to use the whole summer to render the film, by not giving up and keeping focus with strong mentality in those sleepless nights. 
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
Couldn’t be happier. I am very glad to see the audience got my message and thinking deeply into my subject. That’s also my initial vision to make this film. 

WATCH the Audience FEEDBACK Video: 

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I love watching all kinds of films, as long as they inspire me. If I have to choose one film or director that would be James Cameron’s Avatar. Other than his top films Titanic and Avatar, I like him as a director because he is so innovative and ambitious. An ambitious director with strong spirit to keep creating works to another level. I feel these invaluable characteristics are crucial to me when I grow and create. 
8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the new(ish) submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?
FilmFreeway opens a big door for us. It’s such a convenient platform to submit films without searching online for those festivals all around the world. 
9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?
All songs from Coldplay. 
10. What is next for you? A new film?
I just finished my thesis film LAST DANCE, it is an experimental motion visualization film about a romance from ancient China – Farewell My Concubine 霸王別姬, in a way of Peking Opera – a traditional Chinese performing arts. The film has been nominated for the best Alternative film in this year’s Student Academy Awards and doing well in festival-running. Right now I am working as a designer at Imaginary Forces and thinking about a new story for short animation. 



By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival


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