"Life Imitates Art": 'THR Presents' Q&A With 'WiNDUP' Director Yibing Jiang, Animation Supervisor Jason Keane

"Especially now, when the people of the world are isolating, craving for connection and preoccupied with the health and well-being of loved ones, the story of 'WiNDUP' is very relevant," says Jiang.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Carolyn Giardina spoke to Yibing Jiang, director of WiNDUP, and the short's animation supervisor Jason Keane, for a THR Presents Q&A powered by Vision Media.

Written by Jiang, who was born in Wuhan, China, WiNDUP is a story of hope told through the connection of a father and his ailing daughter, Kiki. "It's inspired by my own personal experiences," she says of the short film. "I was often sick when I was a kid. ... My parents told me they spent countless nights taking care of me, fighting their own emotions and trying to stay strong."

Since moving to the U.S. to pursue a career in animation, Jiang says that she's now the one who worries about her family, "especially recently because Wuhan is actually my hometown."

"All I can do is video chat with them as often as possible," she continues. "I remember when we were animating the hospital sequence, ... I could totally sympathize with [the father's] pain. I guess life imitates art. Especially now, when the people of the world are isolating, craving for connection and preoccupied with the health and well-being of loved ones, the story of WiNDUP is very relevant."

The short was produced by Unity and involved use of its Unity engine to produce the animation in real time. "For most of us, this was the first time using a real-time engine to achieve film quality," Jiang explains. "Because we used real-time rendering, everyone on the team can see the final result from their monitor, so that saves a lot of time on unnecessary communication."

Keane (whose credits as an animator include Blue Sky Studios' Ferdinand and Epic) says the 9-minute short was made on an "extremely tight" seven-month schedule, and the technology was new for the team and its handful of animators, who had mostly worked on features. "We're not used to gaming technology, this real-time engine. When we first saw it, it was mind-blowing, a revelation," he says. While the project began before the pandemic, he adds that the artists also worked remotely, underscoring the potential of the workflow.

In the story, the father plays music from a wind-up music box for his daughter, which effectively takes the place of dialog. "Especially without dialog, things like the lighting, the glint in the eyes and how the hair flows becomes an important element to tell the whole story," says Keane.

The style, he says, was about walking "a fine line. To be able to hold the emotional weight, it couldn't be cartoony. You don't want it to feel like a joke, but you wanted the fun and appeal of Kiki to come across." He adds that this is an animation lesson he learned from his uncle, Disney legend Glen Keane, who would say, "Subtlety is key."

THR Presents film screenings are powered by Vision Media; additional Q&As and other supplementary content can be viewed in THR’s new public hub at THRPresents.HollywoodReporter.com.