Andrew Thomas Huang: nature, aliens and the resurrection of FKA Twigs

An interview with American-Chinese director Andrew Thomas Huang on collaborating with artists such as Björk and FKA Twigs, connecting to his heritage and finding inspiration within nature.

Andrew Thomas Huang is someone that has never been just regular, proving himself time and time again that he is a creative force within the art world and beyond. Expressing his passion and interests through a deep immersion of digitally-rendered figures, puppetry, fine prints and surreal live action performance; Andrew has cemented his mark as a truly unique and pioneering individual who is definitely worth keeping on your radar. Just ask J.J. Abrams. Seriously.

I actually reached out to Andrew a few days after a very recent and special project of his became popular, in which to my surprise he responded almost instantly with great enthusiasm!! But due to exams, planning my 3-month trip to America and other errands, I’ve had to unfortunately delay the publishing of this interview. However, we are finally here and this feature is something that I have been looking forward to getting out for such long time as I couldn’t get enough of his saturated and phantasmagoric visions; and so with that in mind, I spoke with the artist about the creative process behind Cellophane, reconnecting to his roots and finding inspiration within nature.

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Since graduating from the University of Southern California in Fine Art and Animation, he has become a master at intertwining futuristic elements of future folklore, ultramodern queer cyborg and mystical surrealism; ultimately creating a universe of his own. Andrew’s imagination began to run wild through elementary and middle school when he was first introduced to puppeteer Jim Henson and his iconic 80’s films such as The Muppets (duh!), The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; which originally inspired him to begin playing with his video camcorder where he would start creating stop motion. As he got older he got more into the fantasy adventure franchise of Star Wars which then further inspired his work “I would watch the behind-the-scenes making of those movies and try and replicate the process on my own. I started learning Maya and After Effects in high school and got hooked on building my own worlds!” Being such a diverse creative who works across an array of mediums, his catalogue of pieces and instalments stretches far and wide, however, when it comes to his favourite type to work with, he tells me “I think puppetry is the best combination of everything – performance, dance, bringing inanimate things to life, while also being sculptural and craft-driven”.

After his successful debut Doll Face in 2007, he has brought forth many other moving pieces; from his nine-part video series titled Flesh Nest, which explores and constructs a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by digital immortals “It is essentially my sci-fi Fraggle-Rock inspired trash opera, and so I built this project around the concept of afterlife. I wanted instead to construct imagery that had the same efficiency, weirdness and mythic vastness as a Hieronymus Bosch painting in which a multiplicity of characters and edifices are building up and crumbling down in the same hellish scrolling tapestry-like space. It was important for me that there is an honesty about the artifice of this universe”. To his newly short feature Kiss of the Rabbit God which premiered just a few weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Huang explores his own personal identity, cultural heritage and queerness to which he proclaims to be a form of personal revelation.

The film follows a young Chinese restaurant worker’s journey of self-discovery through a sexual awakening, after falling in love with an 18th century Qing dynasty God named the Tu’er Shen (兔兒神) “This is my first narrative short in 10 years and also my most personal film to date! I started out directing narrative films, but left to pursue more art and experimental video-making. Rabbit God is my attempt now to return to narrative but more on my terms. The film is really a love story and I’ve never been brave enough until now to create a romantic film between two queer Asian men. So, this film in a way is a confession as much as it is a love letter to my LGBTQ+ Asian community”.

Everything about Andrew’s work opens up a portal to illustration of a digital multiverse- which hasn’t gone by unnoticed. He has championed a collection of awards and honours for his creative work, becoming more popular through music videos that he’s directed for the likes of Björk, Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms For PeaceKelela, Perfume GeniusSigur Ròs and many more; emerging through the mist. He tells me, Music videos are a wonderful medium to experiment and build worlds and draw people into the emotional message of a piece of music. I’ve learned nearly everything I know about directing from creating music videos: how to collaborate, delegate, communicate with a team of people. But, I would also say it’s my own personal work that has informed my videos. Doing the work on music videos has helped build my vocabulary of techniques to bring to my own work as well as my own practice that has fed the ideas that I bring to the music videos. It’s a two-way conversation! I need to know what each artist is trying to say and where they’re coming from in order for me to formulate a clear concept. I prefer to have personal conversations with each artist and really get to know them as people. I don’t like to go into a collaboration guessing what they’re going to like or what they’re going to respond to. Making videos with artists, in the best scenario, is building a relationship with them and dreaming the same dream together.”

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Back to the recent and special project that I mentioned earlier, just last month he collaborated with FKA Twigs on her emotionally charged single; Cellophane. A video that is filled with vivid mechanical creatures and bionic figures, accompanied by a blend of renaissance imagery and dystopian scenes, showcasing a contrast of life and death, birth and destruction. An idea that embodies a new chapter, to start anew and welcome a path-breaking world that hums with possibility; Andrew also added that it is an “miraculous Icarus tale: a dance-of-death striving towards unattainable perfection, the fall from grace and the fragility of putting yourself back together”. Alongside him and Twigs graced production designer Fiona Crombie, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her work on The Favourite. “We really did have the perfect team come together on this. Cinematographer Dani Abello came on board who shot beautiful videos for Rosalía, and pole choreographer Kelly Yvonne, too! I actually started to develop the story with Twigs in June 2018, and then Twigs, Kelly and I would rehearse together in a dance studio in Los Angeles where we brainstormed to create some of the emotional and physical beats of the performance”

Since it’s release, Andrew has been extremely candid about the inspiration behind Cellophane, admitting to outlets that the concepts of the video stemmed from Twigs’ own personal struggles; from laparoscopic surgery that she underwent to have six fibroid tumours removed from her uterus, to public scrutiny and blatant attacks regarding her ex-fiancé Robert Pattinson. Yet, the formation of the video did not arise as naturally as the ideas behind it seemed to, the process to creating such a visually compelling film was complex as it was enjoyable. “I drafted my own visualisation and storyboard for a couple months before we shot the film in Kiev, Ukraine for two days. Fiona also worked with the Ukrainian team to build some beautiful sets, namely the 360° curtain world and the large clay pit. I edited the video myself and then worked closely for four months afterwards along with Analog Studio in London to create the visual effects”.

Taken from ‘Cellophane’.
FKA Twigs in ‘Cellophane’.

Despite the constant use of extraterrestrial figures in his art, it isn’t always deliberate, confessing “I actually always thought that Martians were kind of boring! (with the exception of the Martians from Mars Attacks). Extraterrestrials aren’t though, alien life is always fascinating…like the aliens in The Abyss or The X-files”.  yet, with everything that’s been going on in Andrew’s life, I concluded the interview by asking him what he does to unwind and how he finds new creative energy “Hmm. Detaching from society, for sure! And going into nature are the most nourishing things for me. My most vivid and connected moments in life have occurred when I’m hiking or by the ocean, or just spending time with my grandmother! I’m eternally working on the challenge of being present in the moment”.

Keep up with Andrew and his work;

Website- http://www.andrewthomashuang.com/Art.htm

Facebook Page- www.facebook.com/AndrewThomasHuangAndrewThomasHuang

Instagram: www.instagram.com/andrewthomashuang/

Twitter: @Andrew_T_Huang

Youtube Channel- http://www.youtube.com/andrewhu

Vimeo Channel- https://vimeo.com/user1293099

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