Andrew Thomas Huang: nature, aliens and the resurrection of FKA Twigs

An interview with American-Chinese director Andrew Thomas Huang on collaborating with artists such as Björk and FKA Twigs, connecting to his heritage and finding inspiration within nature.

Andrew Thomas Huang is someone that has never been just regular, proving himself time and time again that he is a creative force within the art world and beyond. Expressing his passion and interests through a deep immersion of digitally-rendered figures, puppetry, fine prints and surreal live action performance; Andrew has cemented his mark as a truly unique and pioneering individual who is definitely worth keeping on your radar. Just ask J.J. Abrams. Seriously.

I actually reached out to Andrew a few days after a very recent and special project of his became popular, in which to my surprise he responded almost instantly with great enthusiasm!! But due to exams, planning my 3-month trip to America and other errands, I’ve had to unfortunately delay the publishing of this interview. However, we are finally here and this feature is something that I have been looking forward to getting out for such long time as I couldn’t get enough of his saturated and phantasmagoric visions; and so with that in mind, I spoke with the artist about the creative process behind Cellophane, reconnecting to his roots and finding inspiration within nature.

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Since graduating from the University of Southern California in Fine Art and Animation, he has become a master at intertwining futuristic elements of future folklore, ultramodern queer cyborg and mystical surrealism; ultimately creating a universe of his own. Andrew’s imagination began to run wild through elementary and middle school when he was first introduced to puppeteer Jim Henson and his iconic 80’s films such as The Muppets (duh!), The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; which originally inspired him to begin playing with his video camcorder where he would start creating stop motion. As he got older he got more into the fantasy adventure franchise of Star Wars which then further inspired his work “I would watch the behind-the-scenes making of those movies and try and replicate the process on my own. I started learning Maya and After Effects in high school and got hooked on building my own worlds!” Being such a diverse creative who works across an array of mediums, his catalogue of pieces and instalments stretches far and wide, however, when it comes to his favourite type to work with, he tells me “I think puppetry is the best combination of everything – performance, dance, bringing inanimate things to life, while also being sculptural and craft-driven”.

After his successful debut Doll Face in 2007, he has brought forth many other moving pieces; from his nine-part video series titled Flesh Nest, which explores and constructs a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by digital immortals “It is essentially my sci-fi Fraggle-Rock inspired trash opera, and so I built this project around the concept of afterlife. I wanted instead to construct imagery that had the same efficiency, weirdness and mythic vastness as a Hieronymus Bosch painting in which a multiplicity of characters and edifices are building up and crumbling down in the same hellish scrolling tapestry-like space. It was important for me that there is an honesty about the artifice of this universe”. To his newly short feature Kiss of the Rabbit God which premiered just a few weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Huang explores his own personal identity, cultural heritage and queerness to which he proclaims to be a form of personal revelation.

The film follows a young Chinese restaurant worker’s journey of self-discovery through a sexual awakening, after falling in love with an 18th century Qing dynasty God named the Tu’er Shen (兔兒神) “This is my first narrative short in 10 years and also my most personal film to date! I started out directing narrative films, but left to pursue more art and experimental video-making. Rabbit God is my attempt now to return to narrative but more on my terms. The film is really a love story and I’ve never been brave enough until now to create a romantic film between two queer Asian men. So, this film in a way is a confession as much as it is a love letter to my LGBTQ+ Asian community”.

Everything about Andrew’s work opens up a portal to illustration of a digital multiverse- which hasn’t gone by unnoticed. He has championed a collection of awards and honours for his creative work, becoming more popular through music videos that he’s directed for the likes of Björk, Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms For PeaceKelela, Perfume GeniusSigur Ròs and many more; emerging through the mist. He tells me, Music videos are a wonderful medium to experiment and build worlds and draw people into the emotional message of a piece of music. I’ve learned nearly everything I know about directing from creating music videos: how to collaborate, delegate, communicate with a team of people. But, I would also say it’s my own personal work that has informed my videos. Doing the work on music videos has helped build my vocabulary of techniques to bring to my own work as well as my own practice that has fed the ideas that I bring to the music videos. It’s a two-way conversation! I need to know what each artist is trying to say and where they’re coming from in order for me to formulate a clear concept. I prefer to have personal conversations with each artist and really get to know them as people. I don’t like to go into a collaboration guessing what they’re going to like or what they’re going to respond to. Making videos with artists, in the best scenario, is building a relationship with them and dreaming the same dream together.”

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Back to the recent and special project that I mentioned earlier, just last month he collaborated with FKA Twigs on her emotionally charged single; Cellophane. A video that is filled with vivid mechanical creatures and bionic figures, accompanied by a blend of renaissance imagery and dystopian scenes, showcasing a contrast of life and death, birth and destruction. An idea that embodies a new chapter, to start anew and welcome a path-breaking world that hums with possibility; Andrew also added that it is an “miraculous Icarus tale: a dance-of-death striving towards unattainable perfection, the fall from grace and the fragility of putting yourself back together”. Alongside him and Twigs graced production designer Fiona Crombie, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her work on The Favourite. “We really did have the perfect team come together on this. Cinematographer Dani Abello came on board who shot beautiful videos for Rosalía, and pole choreographer Kelly Yvonne, too! I actually started to develop the story with Twigs in June 2018, and then Twigs, Kelly and I would rehearse together in a dance studio in Los Angeles where we brainstormed to create some of the emotional and physical beats of the performance”

Since it’s release, Andrew has been extremely candid about the inspiration behind Cellophane, admitting to outlets that the concepts of the video stemmed from Twigs’ own personal struggles; from laparoscopic surgery that she underwent to have six fibroid tumours removed from her uterus, to public scrutiny and blatant attacks regarding her ex-fiancé Robert Pattinson. Yet, the formation of the video did not arise as naturally as the ideas behind it seemed to, the process to creating such a visually compelling film was complex as it was enjoyable. “I drafted my own visualisation and storyboard for a couple months before we shot the film in Kiev, Ukraine for two days. Fiona also worked with the Ukrainian team to build some beautiful sets, namely the 360° curtain world and the large clay pit. I edited the video myself and then worked closely for four months afterwards along with Analog Studio in London to create the visual effects”.

Taken from ‘Cellophane’.
FKA Twigs in ‘Cellophane’.

Despite the constant use of extraterrestrial figures in his art, it isn’t always deliberate, confessing “I actually always thought that Martians were kind of boring! (with the exception of the Martians from Mars Attacks). Extraterrestrials aren’t though, alien life is always fascinating…like the aliens in The Abyss or The X-files”.  yet, with everything that’s been going on in Andrew’s life, I concluded the interview by asking him what he does to unwind and how he finds new creative energy “Hmm. Detaching from society, for sure! And going into nature are the most nourishing things for me. My most vivid and connected moments in life have occurred when I’m hiking or by the ocean, or just spending time with my grandmother! I’m eternally working on the challenge of being present in the moment”.

Keep up with Andrew and his work;

Website- http://www.andrewthomashuang.com/Art.htm

Facebook Page- www.facebook.com/AndrewThomasHuangAndrewThomasHuang

Instagram: www.instagram.com/andrewthomashuang/

Twitter: @Andrew_T_Huang

Youtube Channel- http://www.youtube.com/andrewhu

Vimeo Channel- https://vimeo.com/user1293099

Tumblr- andrewthomashuang.tumblr.com

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Calvin the II on working with Donald Glover and making music video history

Calvin the II gives an insight on being apart of this years most talked about music video and updates us on what’s next in store.

This year, Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino dropped the mesmerising “This is America”, an emotive, powerful conversation piece that gives us a haunting take on the United States’ toxic cycle of violence. The video is an expression of America’s chaotic past and its disastrous effects on the present, using the ambivalent reception of black art to represent the tightrope of being black, Donald Glover has become a real force to be reckoned with. Once again, proving that he is the only Donald that is making America great again.

Since its May 7 release, “This Is America” has reeled in more than 147 million track streams and 216 million video streams, along with over 1.3 million track equivalents sold in the U.S. and 2.6 million track equivalents sold worldwide.

Before his rapping, striding and brutal murder scenes- Gambino dances towards a man who is initially seen playing the guitar while sitting on a chair but is later found with white linen covering his head before eventually getting shot.

People on Twitter theorised that the man during that open sequence was Trayvon Martin’s father, Trayvon was an African-American teenage boy who was savagely murdered in Florida in 2012 by a neighbourhood watch community member. That is not the case here, however, the man was not Trayvon Martin but a music artist who goes by the name Calvin the Second. And a rather talented one at that, so we caught up with him and asked him everything you wanted to know about the video.

First off, can you explain to the readers who you are and what you do?

My name is Calvin C Winbush II, my stage name is “Calvin The II” (Calvin the Second) I’m a recording artist and actor from Detroit, MI, and I was on Childish Gambino’s most recent music video ‘This is America’. As an actor, I’ve appeared in a bunch of commercials, voice-overs, television shows such as “Nashville” and Movies such as “Whiplash”. For my music, I usually sing, rap and play guitar with or without a band. My music style is a combination of R&B, Folk, Hip Hop with Pop sensibilities. Think Gym Class Heroes with more soul, haha!

 

How did you get involved with the project?

One of my agents, Jennifer Walton, books me on projects where I’m playing instruments a lot. I play piano, guitar, saxophone (my first instrument), drums and bass guitar, and from time to time, different productions need real musicians for that. I was up at Coachella for the second weekend and she called me out of the blue. She let me know that the content matter was pretty graphic, and wanted to know if I was familiar with Childish Gambino. I was, of course and told her to submit me. One of the producers contacted me to let me know I was in the running and then I got it!

Had you ever done anything like that before?

I’ve been in a bunch of music videos before (Diary by Wale, Free by Hailey Reinhart, Nathan Sykes – Kiss me quick, and many others) but I’ve never been in a music video that went viral to this degree before or that had any type of violent storyline.

Did you get a script prior to the ‘This Is America’? And if so, what was your reaction the script?

I didn’t get a script, but I did get a call from one of the producers who worked on the project to let me know about the graphic nature of the video. I was a little shocked at first until they told me who the artist was! I’m familiar with Donald’s work and knew that he wouldn’t be shooting me on camera for no reason, there had to be more too it. I was definitely right about that!

When you agreed to do the project, did you know that it was going to be as controversial and as talked about as it is?

Given the graphic nature, I was able to guess that it was going to ruffle some feathers. My prayer was that not only did it get people’s attention, but it made people think and converse with one another about race and violence in America. My prayer came true.


 What was the set like?

The set was very warm and friendly, but also very professional. Everyone knew exactly what they needed to do and got to work! It was like everyone was solving a puzzle together and doing their best to contribute to something bigger than themselves, for sure.

How many hours of rehearsal did you have to go through?

For my part, I didn’t need much rehearsal. I heard the track over the phone and figured out how match it on guitar earlier that morning. We did practice the first shot which is done in one take several times though so that it seems a seamless as it did. I was amazed at how many takes of dancing everyone was doing. But as you can tell, it really paid off.

What to you is the most significant part about the video personally and what do you hope for people to get out of it?

For me, the most significant part of the video is all of the conversation and thought that it’s creating. It’s making people wake up and think, even if they don’t agree with the imagery. I took it as someone holding up a mirror and having the viewer judge for themselves how they look instead of berating them to behave the way we want them to. I hope that it continues to make people think, question, then resolve and move in a positive direction.

What did it feel like to work with a director like Hiro Murai? Knowing that he’d also worked with the likes of Sia, David Guetta, Earl Sweatshirt, and a Tribe Called Quest.

Oh my God, Mr. Murai is incredible and extremely humble! He has a vision and knows how to make it happen. He was also very jovial and down to earth.

There was loads of speculation on Twitter claiming that you look like Trayvon Martin’s dad – was that a deliberate choice they were making because you’re an actor or a coincidence? Was it weird?

To this day, I swear I have NO IDEA how that rumor started. I in NO way believe I was cast because of any resemblance to Tracey Martin and hope that this video hasn’t caused him any more distress than he’s already experienced. That man’s life has been severely altered by gun violence, and now he gets to see more? It was weird hearing the rumor, but so many people have come out to let everyone else know that it wasn’t me, which is cool.

And lastly, do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on?

As a musician, I’m writing original music for myself and other artist just about every day. I place music on TV shows and Film. I’m also currently meeting with record labels and music publishers. Several reps have heard my music on my website at and have reached out. We’re currently fielding offers and preparing to make the choice that helps establish my brand. My first single and video for the song “Keepa” will be coming out in June. We’ll be shooting the video in a week and I’m extremely excited! After being in all of those other music videos, I’m finally getting the opportunity to be in my own J.

Keep up with Calvin The II and find his social media on-

https://calvintheii.com/

http://www.instagram.com/calvintheii

http://www.twitter.com/calvintheii

http://www.soundcloud.com/calvintheii