【Lecture】Made in Shanghai: Animated Films of the Good Old Times 9—Meet A Deer of Nine Colors


Made in Shanghai - Animation Films from the Golden Era



Feng Jiannan

Deer is a meaningful symbol in the Chinese culture; it is favored for its elegance, purity and kindness of nature and thus can be seen widely in Chinese myths and allusions. Because of this preference, the Shanghai Animation Film Studio has produced six animations about deer, including the A Deer of Nine Colors based on the Buddhist story of Ruru Jataka in the Dunhuang Frescoes, the shui-mo animation The Deer’s Bell that tells the story of harmony between man and nature, and Jiazi Saves the Deer derived also from the Buddhist story and the characteristics of Dunhuang Frescoes.
These animated short films enlighten the childishness and are fulfilled with fun. A Deer of Nine Colors impressed people deeply with its simple and heavy style of painting, repressing the evil, the popular storyline, and the gentle and beautiful deer king.

The year 1980 was a turning point for Feng Jiannan. Cultivated in oil painting, and having worked for 16 years at SAFS, he was given the task to participate into A Deer of Nine Colors as a scene designer. He had never done this before. So he was quite nervous but he knew he must face the difficulties.

Ruru Jataka tells a story from Buddhist texts: The prolife of Buddha was a beautiful nine-color deer. It saved a falling water hunter; however, the hunter bit the hand that fed one, and caught the deer. Finally, the king knew about it and did not allow to kill the deer; and the hunter was published by spots covering all over his body. Painted in the west wall of Cave 257 at Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, the story is the best picture-book-story of the Mural painting. It begins from the edges and ends in the middle, with clear clues, prominent center, obvious structure, and rigorous composition.


In order to deepen the artistic style of the Dunhuang murals and western regions, the preparation team led by the director Qian Jiajun headed on the ancient silk road and proceeded for two months. They stayed in the difficult conditions of Dunhuang for total 23 days, when the whole team devoted themselves to studying the murals in the caves, copying and painting sketches in the daytime and exchanging ideas at night, which nourished them for inspiration in the traditional art of painting. One day, Feng Jiannan and the color designer Hu Yongkai found a large number of beautiful murals in the unnoticed caves in the north. They also noticed the small caves alongside just about 2 or 3 square meters. The tiny place covered with dust turned out to be the place where the mural anonymous artists had lived. It is hard to imagine that the creator of such a beautiful and splendid art piece lived in a rough place. On the next day, Feng Jiannan went alone to these caves again, lying in the dust for a while, and then he sighed, ‘the life is finite but the art is eternal.’


During this period, Feng Jiannan have totally drawn 21 copies and 5 books of sketches. Recalling those days, he said: ‘Those 23 days were very hard, but I also felt very fortunate. It had a great inspiration for my life and also my art creation.'

The overall animation style of A Deer of Nine Colors follows the style of Dunhuang murals in the Northern Wei Dynasty, but it is not completely copied. Because many of the scenes cannot be easily translated from the Dunhuang murals and the useful content is very limited, Feng Jiannan tried hard to bring a variety of traditional Chinese elements into the scene design. When designing the imperial city, Feng not only used rugged and strong lines to set the whole construction, but also reference the Jiayuguan architecture to make effort on shape of the palace and the details of the wall material. He chose the Korean paper to use its texture to create the ancient effect; and for the ground color he usd Dunhuang earth red to make it both gorgeous and dignified. He also referenced the Forbidden City to present the layout of the imperial palace and the symmetry of the structure, which made the whole picture seamless, full of color and charm, concise and imposing.

In the scene of the deer forest fairyland, the trees seem to have been endowed with endless vitality. The trunk is thick and powerful, the tree body is in a swirling trend, and the deer king is leaning on it. The color around the tree and the deer is white; against the earth red and the stone green, it impinges on the viewer's heart and gives people a sense of holiness and solemnity. In the endless desert scene, with the far away rolling mountains, the blossoming clouds in sky, a caravan was heading forward ‘to Chang’an’ ...
Many attractive scenes in the animation all reflect the perfect combination of Chinese traditional culture and painting skills.

An excellent animator always has the perfect pursuit of his works. So does Feng Jiannan. He readjusts the characters and the scenes to make them perfect again and again, and tries his best to meet his own demand. It is this professionalism and passion for animation that made A Deer of Nine Colors remain a high standard of art and the unfadable charm. Mitsumasa Anno, a Japanese master of graphic arts and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award for the International Andersen Prize Illustrator, highly commented that ‘Feng Jiannan’s paintings remind us of the origin of culture and give rise to a new respect for it. The color of A Deer of Nine Colors has mastered the classical atmosphere and the painting ideas are bright and daring!’

In his career at Shanghai Animation Film Studio, Feng has worked as director, animator, designer for more than 30 animated films, including Hao Mao Mi Mi and Qian Bao, which weaves wonderful dreams for Chinese children from generation to generation. Based on his animation creation, Feng Jiannan extended his love of Chinese mythology to the illustrated picture book and created the mythical storybooks such as Jiu Se Lu, Shen Yu Tuo Qu Yuan, Qu Huo Zhong, and Shen Nong Bian Yao, which feature traditional art and Feng’s strong personal style. It is his solid character design skills, ability to control the color, and the experience that he engaged in the animation that enables Feng Jiannan to think as a film director. Using romantic, exaggerated techniques, and familiar with children’s taste, Peng has sowed the seeds of traditional culture in the hearts of Chinese children through his paintings, and he is waiting for them to take root in their hearts ......



Feng Jiannan was born in 1940 in Nantong in Jiangsu Province. In 1964 he graduated from the Department of Fine Arts at Nanjing Art Institute majoring oil painting. He is a member of Chinese Artists Association, the Chinese Film Association and the former Shanghai Artists Association. He was the senior color designer and director at Shanghai Animation Film Studio. He has participated in the creation of more than 30 animation films and published more than 50 comic books and children’s books. His works are colorful, simple and elegant; he is praised for his strong Chinese national style and personal artistic characteristics and received many awards.
His representative work includes:
Hao Mao Mi Mi (1979) the Ministry of Culture outstanding film award
A Deer of Nine Colors (1981) the Canadian Hamilton International Animation Film Festival Special Honor Award
Qian Bao (1983) the animation Hundred Flowers Award
Jiu Se Lu (1982) Second Prize of International Children’s Books Contest
Shen Yu Tuo Qu Yuan (1986) Third Prize of Barcelona International Children’s Book Contest1992 Shen Lu (1992) the UNICEF and Boron national book illustration exhibition award
Zhong Guo Chuan Jia Gu Shi Bao Ku— Shen Hua III, IV (1996) third prize of the International Children’s Books Contest
Mei Li De Du Lin (2003) nominated prize of Turin International Art Festival in Italy
In the past two decades, he has been invited to Suzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Shandong Art Academy of Fine Arts, Hebei Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University, Tongji University, Nanjing Arts Institute, Donghua University, Shanghai Film Academy, Shanghai Visual Arts Institute, Shanghai TV Station, Oriental TV Station, Hunan Satellite TV and CCTV to respectively make speeches themed as ‘My Art Life’, ‘My Mind’, ‘I and A Deer of Nine Colors’ and ‘My Love in Chinese Mythology and Love.’