Judgement by Yifan Sun

Judgement by Yifan Sun animation short

Savannah College of Art and Design graduate Yifan Sun has crafted an animation short on cyberbullying and the web spiders that have become our ordinary reality.  'Judgement' is her graduation film.

In recent years, there are increasing news about people committing suicide because of depression, and cyber-bullying is one of the reasons contributing to depression. Every person on the internet is wearing a mask, hiding behind their monitors to comment on anything they want without paying for their actions.

ZF: Why the title 'Judgement' and not 'bullying' or anything relevant to that point?

YS: Just as there are judges in every court who decide on a person's guilt or innocence based on the law, in real life, many ordinary individuals have their own internal courts in their minds, where they assume the role of judges. Via the Internet and armed with their keyboards or phones, they use their own moral standards as their laws to pass judgment on people, their actions, and their attitudes that they do not agree with. Although they only see the surface of things, they still position themselves on the highest moral ground and use words to insult and destroy those they do not agree with. I believe "judgment" is relatively neutral and leans towards a positive connotation compared to "bullying." From the perspective of these perpetrators, they always see themselves as the embodiment of justice, but the reality is far from it. I find this description to be more ironic than directly stating "bullying."

ZF: Cyberbullying is a real threat; but did you have any particular experience that motivated you to do the film? Or you were based on existing research?

YS: I consider myself fortunate to have never personally experienced online violence. However, I believe such incidents are occurring around us and could potentially affect us as either victims or perpetrators. I frequently browse social media for interesting content, and there was a particular experience that left a lasting impression on me, a news article online stirred up intense anger within me. Although I did not express my opinion on the internet, I passionately shared my emotions when discussing it with friends. However, the outcome of that news took an unexpected and surprising turn, leaving everyone astonished. Furthermore, I've encountered numerous news reports highlighting how cyberbullying has led to depression and, tragically, even suicide -heartbreaking stories that have motivated me to create this short film.

ZF: The film has a very noticeable three-act narrative. Did you storyboard/write the whole thing beforehand, and how long did that take you? Any things that you modified toward the process?

YS: In fact, the storyboards I created went through several revisions. Initially, my idea was for the story to begin in a "dream" or "mental realm," where the character would go through a series of complex emotions, leading to the ending in the real world, which is depicted as the conclusion of the film, with the character’s death. However, as I designed the character's "dream" world, I thought about incorporating surreal elements and scenes to convey the progression of his emotions, from confusion and fear to escapism, guilt, and ultimately despair. After integrating these new elements, I realized the need for a beginning in the real world to deepen the connection with the ending. So, the final result is the story as presented in the film.

Watch 'Judgement':

ZF: Did you have any specific influences for the character design and the backgrounds or were you influenced in general by our modern urban environment? Let us know more about the 3D animation specifics, and how did you construct your visual world (especially the middle part of our hero's journey).

YS: The design of the real world portrays ordinary modern city streets and a bedroom. I purposely avoided incorporating specific gender and age features to make the character more symbolic, to make people realize cyberbullying can happen to anyone. In the dream realm, I aimed to portray the character's subconscious using surreal elements, where past memories and encountered objects transform into different entities within the dream. I used a lot of spiders and spiderweb elements, which serve as metaphors for both perpetrators and the online world. 

Technical-wise, most scenes in the film were rendered in 3D and later adjusted for lighting and textures in After Effects to achieve a stylized 2D aesthetic. However, there were also instances where animations were initially created in 3D as a reference and then optimized using cel animation techniques (e.g. in scenes where growing arms appear to reach toward the characters).

ZF: How did you work with the sound design? It registers in the film. 

YS: Shiwen Zu is an outstanding sound designer who also graduated from SCAD. Initially, I made an effort to search for films that had a similar mood to mine as references. Using the existing material, I created a draft audio track to provide to the sound designer. This approach makes it easier for her to understand and capture my vision compared to verbal descriptions alone.

ZF: Do you think that the indie animation world needs more socially conscious films, and do you plan to continue this way?

YS: Yes, I think so. These films have the ability to raise awareness, stimulate thinking, and encourage discussions about important social issues. They can play a significant role in promoting empathy, understanding, and positive change in society.  As for my own plans, yes, if I come across any topics or inspirations that genuinely interest me, I would love to use my skills to create more animations focusing on social issues.

Film Review (Vassilis Kroustallis):

'Judgement' is a finely tuned, geometrically close animation short, whose intentions match its execution. Visualizing our feared 'spider's web', circumscribes a whirl of emotions that will make the film's ending justifiable and inevitable -and at the same time, a showcase itself. More frugal and esoteric than its subject matter would imply, it is intriguing enough, with a pertinent character design and an all-tantalizing sound design. An effective reminder and flag for non-acceptable but all-present web behaviors.

About Yifan Sun

I'm a designer and animator based in Boston. After graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design, I had the incredible opportunity to work at a motion design studio. Currently, my focus is on 2D animation and design, but I'm always excited to explore the world of 3D techniques and combine them with my 2D work. My creative inspiration comes from various aspects of my life, such as my experiences, the magic of music, and my lovely cat. Through animation and illustration, my goal is to capture and express my life and thoughts in a visual way.

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