Qianhui Yu’s sugar-coated animations come with a serious message

The animation director and recent RCA graduate uses a pastel colour palette and cutesy characters to address important subjects such as sustainability

It’s hard to tear your eyes away from Qianhui Yu’s alluring animations. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art last year, the animation director, illustrator and visual designer has developed a knack for creating candy-coloured worlds and populating them with intriguing characters.

Born and raised in China, Yu loved to draw as a child. It was while studying new media art at the China Academy of Art as a teenager that she began to realise the power of moving image to express her ideas.

“I had my first chance to approach animation while studying there, which made me realise that that was the kind of thing I wanted to keep working on,” she tells CR.

Yu moved from China to London in 2019 to study animation at the RCA. “It was an enormous culture shock for me to live here by myself, and it is definitely the most creative city I’ve ever lived in. The RCA is full of exceptionally talented students and tutors who are very inspiring,” she says.

“I also had more freedom to work on the things I like, and it was really exciting to have enough time to direct a whole animation project and build up my own imaginary animated worlds.”

Since graduating, Yu has been honing her unique visual language, which is inspired by everything from Cantopop music videos to the traditional Chinese animations she watched as a child, along with the work of individual artists such as Lu Yang.

The animator’s use of sugar-coated colour palettes, ultra-cute characters and a surreal aesthetic is cleverly juxtaposed by the serious topics she addresses in her work – luring the viewer in before getting them to think about their personal responsibilities.

This approach is most evident in her graduate project, Wastopia. The short animated film explores the issues surrounding global attitudes to environmental waste, taking viewers on a visual journey to an otherworldly place inhabited by the products of what humans discard.

The idea for Wastopia came from a deeply personal place for Yu, who started thinking more about the knock on effects of human waste after delving into the internet’s obsession with ‘mukbang’ livestream videos, in which a person eats large quantities of food in front of an audience.

“This whole phenomenon made me realise how little concern I had about food waste,” says the animator. “Then I broadened my approach to investigate the nature damage from the garbage we throw away due to over-consumerism. I started to think, what if the wasted food and garbage had feelings?”

As for what’s next, Yu’s plan is to take on more commissioned work while continue to develop her unique visual style. Most importantly, she is eager to use her creative platform to make work that deals with some of the big issues of our times.

“Global warming isn’t the only thing to worry about, environment pollution and food waste are just a few of mankind’s other harms that are leaving the earth scorched and ruined,” she says.

“However, the devastating effects of the digital age, demanding food production and melting glaciers are something most people don’t see every day. There are still lots of things we need to learn.”