Flight of imagination to save bird

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Yang Feiyue
Wednesday 15 December 2021 12:10
<p>The clay figurines of green peafowl become vivid characters in Tao Yang’s animation series</p>

The clay figurines of green peafowl become vivid characters in Tao Yang’s animation series

No matter how tired Tao Yang is at the end of a day, her mood always brightens when the subject of conversation is the green peafowl, a species found in Southeast Asia.

Ms Yang, 45, of Shanghai, seems to like everything about the bird, especially the distinctive feature of the males – colourful long feathers. Tao keeps herself abreast of the birds’ major habitats and their numbers.

Born in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, Tao earlier worked for an investment bank in Shanghai, but she has always had a soft spot for nature. Green peafowls first caught her attention 12 years ago.

“It felt strange that a kind of peafowl is under first-grade national protection when we see the bird in zoos,” she said.

The green peafowl was once widely found in China. However, in recent decades the bird’s numbers in the country have fallen. In 2009 the green peafowl was listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list.

In 2017 the birds were put in the critically endangered category by authorities in Yunnan province. Habitat loss is a main reason behind their disappearance in modern times. Ms Yang said she was shocked to learn online that there are fewer than 600 such birds in China today.

When the pandemic broke out Ms Yang was working on an investment project with an Australian company, but the work came to a halt. That gave her time to do what she had meant to do for the green peafowl. She started to write a story based on her study of the bird, aiming to attract public attention. With experience of developing and publishing a novel about stray cats and dogs in 2018, she finished Green Peafowl Empire last year. She did not stop there and considered turning the novel into a script.

Tao Yang models green peafowl figurines out of clay and features them in a stop-motion animation

Tao settled for clay figurines after studying various approaches that would be viable with her limited resources while meeting her expectations. The idea was to make the figurines on her own and have them featured in a stop-motion animation, a technique to simulate motion of things in photos. The beginning was tough. It took her nearly four months and many attempts to pull off the first episode.

“I often broke them into pieces during the drying process at the beginning,” she said, adding that it usually took her two days to finish a figurine after several steps, including modelling, drying and colouring.

By trial and error she managed to fashion vivid green peafowl figurines out of the clay. She took more than 90,000 photos for about 20 episodes of the first season, and she took time to learn filming, editing, audio-recording and synthesis. Her friends have supported her and taken part in dubbing the animation. They sent Tao their dubbed audios, which she then processed and put in the film.

Tao often has to go without sleep two nights in a row before the release of an episode. Although it has been a lot of work, she has enjoyed the process.

The first episode was released on her social media accounts in July last year and has attracted more than 10,000 views. “Although it had some rough edges, it was something beyond my expectation,” she said.

She has now made more than 20 episodes and said she is getting better at it. About 20 days are now spent on making an episode. Her animation was recommended by friends to be played at a Spring Festival gala for overseas Chinese in North America this year.

Previously published on Chinadaily.com.cn

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