Ray Lei is an amazingly talented Beijing-based animation artist. Working across multimedia, graphic design, illustration, graffiti and even music, it’s a wonder how this lone ranger gets it all done. Ray founded his own animation studio while still in school in 2005; 4 years later in 2009, he obtained a Masters in Animation from Tsinghua University. In 2010, his short film, This Is Love, was screened at Ottawa International Animation Festival and awarded Best Narrative Short. Bing Jie Fu He of Design China interviewed the young designer about his journey to date.
Where are you originally from, and what brought you to Beijing?
I was born in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. From a young age, I learned art from my father, who was a book designer for Jiangxi Publishing House. In 2003, under his guidance, I was accepted into the School of Art at Tsinghua University, and in 2007, I was accepted into their Masters program. After graduating in 2009, I decided to stay in Beijing. At the moment, I am living with my girlfriend in a one-bedroom apartment in northern Beijing, which is both our home and my studio.
How did you develop an interest in animation and design?
I love music, skateboarding, drama, and comic strips. From my interests I discovered the beauty and expressiveness of animation as an artistic language. It is like a bridge connecting various disciplines thus enabling me to collaborate with other musicians, illustrators, artists, and architects. Some of the most interesting collaborations I have been involved with include working with architect Li Hu for the Red Line Park animation project, and with Ou Ning for the Border Planning art project.
What is the most interesting brief you’ve worked on so far?
There was an interesting collaboration with the photographer, Su Wen, who had been collecting used films from various recycling stations from around Beijing. Eventually, he ended up with 50,000 35mm coloured films documenting the life of average Beijingers for the past 30 years. We selected 3000 films and made a short animation. The process was really fun — different from how I usually work. Through this project, I discovered a whole new horizon for animation.
How does your environment shape your work?
Beijing is a dynamic city with a deep cultural heritage — and I have lots of friends here. My buddies started a band called Hey!!! and we often exchange ideas through this platform. There is a place called China Youth Club in Andingmen, which I frequent too, and we often have shows and workshops there. Their magazine China Youthology (headed by Zafka) is interesting as well. All of these together provide an ideal environment for me to come up with new thoughts and ideas.
What is your single, most proud achievement to date?
I won Best Narrative Short at Ottawa International Animation Festival in 2010, which is a huge encouragement since this is the second time ever in history that a Chinese national has won such an award.
What are your plans for the future?
I am going to make a short animation about my family’s history, which has already been selected by a company in Canada to be one of their in-house projects. I will subsequently go to Quebec to work on this, this November.