Computer Animation Film VFX

Anerkennung - Honorary Mentions


Lei Lei (CN), Thomas Sauvin (FR)


An Introduction to the Animation

The following images are from negatives salvaged from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing, where they had been sent to be filtered for their silver-nitrate content. Over the years French collector Thomas Sauvin built this archive of more than half a million 35mm negatives, showing the capital and the everyday lives of its inhabitants over the last 30 years. Between 2011 and 2012, the Chinese artist Leilei selected over 3000 photos to create this animation, an almost epic portrait of anonymous humanity.

Commentaries from the Director of Animation

Through a chance encounter I came across French art collector Thomas Sauvin’s Silvermine project when I visited his studio in winter 2011. It was a massive undertaking. Sauvin spent over three years collecting discarded film negatives from recycling sheds around the outskirts of Beijing. Each of the half a million negatives was then painstakingly scanned and archived. These 35mm color negatives from 1980s to early 2000s documented the everyday lives of ordinary people and their particular style of photography. Sauvin will be putting together a selection of these photographs for exhibition and to exchange with other photographers, and might even present them in a photo-book format.

During the scanning process, I noticed how this massive collection of damaged negatives has some unique colors and a totally unexpected sense of beauty. There also seemed to be many interesting connections between all these photographs taken by different people at different times. For instance, many would take group shots in front of Tiananmen Square or McDonald’s. Or they would have specific pose and facial expression for photos at tourist spots or for family portraits on the couch. I thought perhaps I could find some kind of theme to relate these photos and turn them into a movie or an animation. After all, if we had not discovered them, perhaps no one would ever have had a chance to see them again, which is why we called the project Recycled.

When Sauvin and I first started, we met in his studio every week for six months to browse through the massive collection of negative scans on his computer. We picked out pictures according to their thematic background (Tiananmen Square, McDonald’s, the dinner table, the couch, etc.), composition (one person, two people, etc.), or colors (blue, black, etc.). I also wrote down a list of keywords related to the everyday lives captured in these pictures. The preliminary selections were then transferred into my work computer for further categorization and elimination. When these were put together and played back through a speeded up slideshow, we got a series of moving pictures: a walk through the square towards Tiananmen, or from left to right; or a circle around the life-size Ronald McDonald model, or enjoying the movement of waves along the seashore.

After six months working on the project with Sauvin I began to realize that it was simply not enough to just collect and arrange these materials. The method was too rigid, and would only create a boring and monotonous work. As a creator, I lacked the of familiarity with the photos. Even though new photos kept appearing, and I saw these new faces, scenes and stories in the photos, the excitement of seeing them for the first time slowly subsided. The history from the 1980s to the early 21st century felt completely strange to me. China has gone through rapid development in the past two decades, and Beijing had now become a modern and colorful migrant city. The gears keep on turning. And who has time for history anyway? I have grown accustomed to the unrestrained imagination, the rich and detailed paintings of my previous work. I felt completely alien to the historical and literary expressions in Recycle. Since there was no way I could find a quick solution, I thought the best way was to use the simplest method. I went to Kodak Express to develop the negatives I had selected. Six-inch prints for 0.8 kuai each. Then I tried find the places where the photos had been taken. So I went back to Tiananmen Square, the McDonald’s, Beidaihe, etc. and I would hold the picture in one hand and take another picture at the same spot.

After I had the pictures developed and took them back to the places where they were taken, I noticed how they became more familiar: My family, too, would take family portraits on the couch, my friends would also have dinner at a round table, and I, too, took pictures with Ronald McDonald and stood up straight when posing in front of tourist spots. These photos are like a mirror of our own lives: simple, without being imposed as something artistic, revealing how estranged we are even to our own selves.


Thomas Sauvin

Thomas Sauvin (FR) is a French photography collector and editor who lives in Beijing. Since 2006 he has worked exclusively as a consultant for the UK-based Archive of Modern Conflict, for whom he collects Chinese work, from contemporary photography to period publications to anonymous photography. The collection includes thousands of prints and highlights the works of more than fifty contemporary Chinese photographers, particularly the avant-garde works of Moyi, the misty wanderings of Qiu and the audacious snapshots of Liu Yiqing. A glimpse into this collection is presented in the photo book Happy Tonite published by AMC in 2010. Yet the collection is vast, including all sorts of photo books and photo albums produced since the birth of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, ranging from imposing publications celebrating the 10th Anniversary of New China to photo albums with an inventory of herbal medicinal plants to instruction manuals from the late 80s showing breakdance steps. In May 2009, Sauvin started his Beijing Silvermine project. Taken by ordinary, anonymous Chinese, these photos offer us slivers of daily life during the peak period of popular silver-nitrate film usage in China and complete more than half a century of this chain of images.

Lei Lei

Lei Lei (CN) is a 27-year-old up-and-coming Chinese multimedia animation artist involved in
graphic design, illustration, short cartoons, graffiti and music. He got his master’s degree in animation from Tsinghua University in 2009. In 2010 This is LOVE was awarded the 2010 Best Narrative Short at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. In 2013 Recycled was selected by the Annecy Festival and won the Grand Prix for best non-narrative short at at the Dutch International Animation Film Festival.

Animation: Lei Lei and Thomas Sauvin

Sound: Zafka