An independent animation studio hopes you call your parents or guardians after watching its short, “Let’s Eat.”
Founded in 2016, Anamon Studios started as a dream shared between a trio of artists who wanted to shine a spotlight on authentic and underrepresented stories not yet seen in the animation industry. Its goal was to become an inclusive and diverse space to build camaraderie while serving as an incubator for budding creatives.
Cofounders Amy Kuo and Dixon Wong, who is also the director, conceptualized a bittersweet story of a Chinese American immigrant family starring just two characters, which were loosely based on Wong’s own mother and grandmother: Ma and Luan. The short explores the strained dynamic between a single immigrant mother and her daughter and how there can be “a lot of cultural clashes and misunderstandings in the household.” Generational and cultural differences would push them apart as they grow together. The silver lining, however, is that they will always be connected through food.
On Anamon Studios’ Kickstarter campaign for “Let’s Eat,” Kuo, who is also the short’s producer and rigger, spoke about how her mother would wake up at the crack of dawn to make her meals despite her lack of enjoyment in it.
“Now that I’m older, I realize that she actually didn’t love cooking. She did it because she loved cooking for me,” she said.
Kuo and the team wanted to capture those heart-wrenching moments of growing apart from one’s immigrant parents, and one particular scene nailed that. In a montage of a teen-Luan becoming an adult, she repeatedly walks out on Ma and all the meals she cooks for her as her interests and time are vested elsewhere. To Kuo, that represents the very idea of an immigrant parent’s sacrifice, and in the end, how they are quietly left behind.
“It so poignantly shows one of the biggest sacrifices immigrant parents can go through — raising a child in a place that is foreign to you and potentially risking losing any way of connecting with them as they grow up,” she told NextShark. “In the film, you see as Luan grows up, gets new friends, develops her own sense of self, eats pizza and goes out while her mom stays in. Ma is always at home, always maintaining the house and is in this isolated space where she hasn’t grown and flourished in the U.S.”
The entire endeavor was a colossal undertaking for a small indie team, and they were “ecstatic” to have even finished the short. Roughly 70-90% of animated short films aren’t completed, Kuo explained. A project could be worked on for six years, reach its last stages, but still lose momentum and never see the light of day.
With the Kickstarter’s success, Anamon Studios was equipped with a new, plucky crew of volunteers, students, recent grads and first-timers to the world of animation, and soon grew tenfold in size. Accommodating a rapidly expanding team proved to be a major challenge, according to production coordinator Beverley Abernathy. Having over 30 animators from across the U.S. and the world meant conflicting timezones, technical difficulties and setbacks that would delay schedules. On top of that, inexperienced workers and a strong need for cohesion and leadership demanded team members to constantly step up.
“Dixon and I originally wanted to make this film for our family, friends and community,” Kuo said. “The biggest award that we got from ‘Let’s Eat’ was the team we made, the experiences that we got from working with our peers and watching them grow as artists and getting those dream jobs.”
The animation became a labor of love, as the majority of the team would work around the clock to bring the six-and-a-half-minute film to life, while Kuo and Wong would pull 40- to 80-hour workweeks. Their efforts paid off because after three years of production, “Let’s Eat” received a glowing reception, was selected and nominated for nine film festivals and brought home two awards.
“The outpour of support from our community and people sharing it and telling us how the film reminded them of their mothers and how it let them feel all the emotions has been a wild ride,” Kuo said. “The insight into how film and art can affect people has been so moving and I am always going to cherish that feeling with lots of gratitude.
During the days of the short’s early development, it even caught the eye of veteran animator Rex Grignon, who worked on “Toy Story,” “Shrek” and “Madagascar.”
“When I first saw the rough draft of ‘Let’s Eat’ over a year ago, I was very moved by their authentic portrayal of the characters. ‘Let’s Eat’ is brimming with heart and sincerity,” he said. “Just like the film, Amy and Dixon are very passionate and have pulled together a dedicated and talented team to bring this beautiful story to life.”
Kuo craves to see more films covering Asian stories. Having watched “The Legend of Hei” and “Minari,” she believes there is much more out there to share.
“I want to shout out to Taiko Studios for creating ‘One Small Step’ and ‘Fu,’” the producer said. “The Asian community is a huge one. There are more than 2 billion of us on this planet and movies like ‘Mulan,’ ‘Bao’ and a few other mainstream films only give a glimpse into the experience of a very small fraction of the Asian populace.”
Anamon Studios’ next project hasn’t been decided yet but Kuo and Wong are contemplating a film revolving around mental health and self-worth and want to explore another one that is LGBT+ themed. Most of all, they want to tell more Asian American stories.
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