Artistic Collaboration via Animation with Cassie Shao

There’s something about the challenges and tenacity in pursuing a life as an artist that draws these individuals to each other. Their collaboration bears the benevolent fruit of complementing each other’s talent for the benefit of all. Perhaps the only trait which surpasses talent is vision; when paired together this cocktail is intoxicating to any creative individual. Animator Cassie Shao’s unique productions and style have earned her many accolades from across the world such as Florida (for Synched in the Mixed Media/Experimental category at the Florida Animation Festival), China (There Were Four of Us, winner at the China Independent Animation Film Forum China), and Russia (There Were Four of Us, winner at the Unknown Film Festival Russia). These productions have not only attracted her filmmaking peers but also music artists who recognized her ability to manifest a dreamlike aesthetic. Her contributions to many exciting music videos not only display her exceptional skill but also utilize influences from other artists whom Shao finds aspirational along her creative journey.

Director Kane Wang was already an admirer of Shao’s work when he approached her about the “Black Bird” video by music artist Eddie Beatz. Wang was certain that the ethereal quality he wanted to manifest for this music video would be perfectly supplied by Cassie’s organic approach to animation. Shao’s ease with combining live action and animation was ideally suited for “Black Bird.” Somehow contrasting and complementing the digital sound sources used by Beatz, the animation is blatantly human in the best of ways. Interestingly, the main character’s face is never seen along his journey until the very end, and only partially at the end of the song and video. The birds which accompany him are courtesy of Cassie’s talent and supply the emotional quotient of the visuals. Though his face is mostly hidden, we get a sense that his black bird companions energize him and change his temperament. “Black Bird” was awarded Best Animation at Ibiza Music Video Festival and Best Animated Sequence at BlackBird Film Festival (USA) in addition to the video receiving Best Music Video at California International Shorts Festival USA.

Shao’s animation took front and center for Maggie Dave’s “I’m Not Ready” music video. Sean David Christensen, frontman and vocalist of this LA based music group declares, “Cassie Shao’s delicate and abstract expression of our music made the song new again. To share that experience with another artist was so gratifying.” The band approached Cassie about animating the video after seeing her award-winning film There Were Four of Us” (recipient of awards from the Los Angeles Animation Festival, Unknown Film Festival Russia, and the China Independent Animation Film Forum). Deferring complete creative control and vision to Shao, the group’s only request was that the video be as evocative and as dream-like as the film of her’s they fell in love with. Possessing a truly offbeat sensibility, one obvious influence utilized by the animator is the style of the iconic Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. Cassie confirms that the painter’s approach to color has always reminded her of the flow of music. I’m Not Ready” afforded the perfect opportunity to pair the two.

When presented with the query “What causes an animator of award-winning films to work on music videos?”, Shao points to the benefit of unexpectedness in one’s career as an artist. She relates, “I find that abandoning all sorts of definition that I put upon myself opens up to a world of possibilities. Because I come from the more experimental or ‘artsy side, and those I collaborate with sometimes come from the more commercial and experienced side of film production, I can find myself emphasizing the fact that I am trying to make ‘experimental.’ Simply coming at the project from a personal perspective provides the unique element that many other artists are looking for when they collaborate. Working on these music videos reminded me to always question everything and not place limitations on what I can create.”

Author: Patrick Wilson

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