"The Thing Under the Tree" by Lily Fang

The attention to detail in this stop-motion animation by recent RCA grad Lily Fang makes for a visually arresting story.

“You can’t let it see your face” is all the little girl in this animation knows about an imaginary monster her sister talks about. Without knowing why the monster is to be feared, she weaves a web of dark imaginings that come to life.

“The Thing Under the Tree” is the 2013 graduation film of Lily Fang, a New York resident who studied animation at the Royal College of Art in London. Telling a story that is full of the nostalgic feeling of childhood imagination, this ambitious short film develops her stop-motion animation techniques and aesthetic with a longer, more character-driven storyline.

Fang film tells the story of young Gabby, who craves attention and time from her older sister, Tam. However, Tam’s increasing disinterest and annoyance with what she views as child’s play leads to an intersection of fantasy and reality where troubled emotions are acted out.

What makes the animation visually arresting is the use of materials and textures, both modelled and organic, to create a mood that balances realism with a dream-like quality. The characters combine sculpted details with moulded, armature-based puppets for a very expressive face, which is complemented by the excellent voice acting.

Many components in Fang’s world are made out of naturally occurring found objects such as seedpods, which are given a greater scale when paired with the miniature models.

The overall effect oscillates between youthful adventure and adolescent anxiety, creating an uneasy balance.

Using subject matter that evokes symbolism is one facet of Fang’s work, as is keeping ideas somewhat open-ended for the viewer. Her previous films, such as Sunhead and Moth, which tells the story of a fatal attraction between a subterranean insect and a being with a glowing star-like head, use a similar visual style but a darker mood and more interpretive plot.

Delving further back in her production catalogue, you can see the unexpected and distinctly creepy Ossian Dreaming, a short 3D animation that will give you chills, and Shapeshifter, an experimental mixed-media piece with great production values.

“The Thing Under the Tree” has been screened at numerous film festivals around Europe and the US, and was declared a finalist in the Adobe Design Achievement Awards 2013.