In his attempts to remind us of our general lack of compassion, Chinese animator and multimedia artist Lei Lei takes us on a chimerical trip with latest short, Missing One Player. Different colored frames show three characters trying hard to find a fourth player to play the board game Mahjong—while planet earth hurtles towards an unknown planet—all in less than five minutes.
The 28-year-old artist grew up playing the game (a Chinese, tile-based version of rummy or solitaire) and used that as a starting point to explore the melancholy within his personal history. Lei Lei’s animated reflection of sadness still manages to end on a satisfying note, complete with captivating sound elements.
It’s hard to even associate China’s indie star animator (and one of the country's best-known) or his works with sadness. He’s a soft-spoken guy who will quickly switch up to a high pitched freestyle rap, while rocking chunky glasses and constant grins. His depth and pragmatism are easily disguised, and he plays it off too: “Naive is the best word to describe me,” he tells The Creators Project, and regarding his latest, he says that he, “Didn't so much tell a story as express a general feeling of melancholy.”
Intentional or not, the absent plot draws even more attention to the general apathy present among humans; and after a second look, his complexity and confusion became more evident. Lei Lei graduated from one of China’s top universities and didn't even try to pursue a career there. Instead he rebelled against a country that struggles to understand independent animation and pushes kids to just get a job to pay bills.
“I studied art for more than ten years, what for? To get an office job doing the same work everyday and miss all the details I’d see traveling? Animation should be free, as a language to show yourself. In China they limit groundbreaking ideas,” he says. He left to go after the international art market through residencies, but remains proud of his nation, and supports the government and social changes.
On the other hand he reminisces about the great independent film festivals Shanghai used to have in the early 90s, and about how there’s no longer money or encouragement from the government. He thinks the government is right in many aspects, but doesn’t want its funds for independent animation (“that’s not independent!”). A Gemini, he knows he’s always seeing things from at least a couple different angles.
Lei Lei, or Ray Lei, as he goes by in The Creators Project's past profile of the artist, delivers Missing One Player by mixing two perspectives as well: pop-art vibes with his characteristic collage techniques inherited from his book designer father—the reason why he got into animation, and the biggest influence over his artistic approaches. Lei animates his feelings, opting for emotions over precision and technicalities. He chooses programs like Flash over fancier animation suites, and most loves those 2D low-tech drawings by Shanghai Animation Studio.
See more of Lei Lei's work on his website.