Live animation workshop with The Paper cinema

paper cinema workshop

The Paper cinema at work


As a fan of paper, puppetry and animation, I was feeling quite ecstatic when I found out about a one-day live animation workshop with The Paper cinema at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington.

Famed for their charming ‘Odyssey’ show premiered in 2012, The Paper Cinema was founded in 2004 by Nicholas Rawling, Imogen Charleston and Christopher Reed. The company combines illustrations, puppetry, theatre, music and animation for their storytelling performances. The illustrations are manipulated in front of the video camera and projected onto the large screen alongside with live music. I had not seen their show before the workshop, but fortunately I did get the chance to see their one-off fund raising performance a few weeks later.


paper cinema

Nicholas Rawlings amazing illustrations


There were around 30 people at the workshop, which was larger than I expected, and a majority work in the theatre or creative industries. Nicholas and Imogen first performed a short piece of work, followed by an explanation of their techniques and a Q & A session. Afterwards, Nicolas showed us his superb and intricate sketches, and asked us to split into small groups in order to work on our own short animations.


paper puppet workshop  paper puppet workshop

Our team’s illustrated handheld puppets


For the rest of the afternoon, my team of four (including a children’s book illustrator) developed a story line and created our paper puppets based on the advice given by Nicolas and Imogen. Imogen also demonstrated many techniques and ‘tricks’ that helped us to incorporate into our short animation piece.

The most exciting part of the day was when each team performed their short animations in front of each other. The results were fascinating as we all had different illustrated styles and story lines; but all in all, it was fun, entertaining, and we all had a blast!

Workshops like these remind me of being a child – when we were asked to be as creative as possible, but at the same time, we had to divide work equally among team members. Learning to collaborate with others is crucial as four minds are more likely to create unexpected surprises than just one! I often find working solo extremely isolating, and so there is much joy in taking part in workshops like these from time to time.


battersea arts centre  battersea arts centre

battersea arts centre  battersea arts centre

odyssey by paper cinema

Top 2 rows: Battersea arts centre after the fire; Bottom row: The last scene of ‘Odyssey’


A few weeks after the workshop, I attended the special fund-raising performance of ‘Odyssey’ at the Battersea arts centre for Good Chance Calais and Medecins sans Frontieres – two organisations that are helping refugees in Calais.

Coincidentally I saw the show ‘Fiction’ with a friend at the Battersea Arts Centre about a year ago (just days before the fire), so it felt good to return to the theatre and see the progress of the renovation works.

As much as I enjoyed the show, I couldn’t help being captivated by Nicolas and other musicians working in front of the screen. I think the workshop has inspired me to want to learn more about puppetry, and I hope that I will get the opportunity to develop some new skills in the future.


The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey (Trailer) from The Difference Engine on Vimeo.



Hooligan Sparrow

hooligan sparrow

The Chinese human rights activist Ye Haiyan


Last week I attended the opening night of the Human Rights watch film festival to watch a new documentary called ‘Hooligan Sparrow‘ by young Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang.

The filmmaker originally wanted to make a film about the abuse of sex workers in China, but ended up filming and following a group of activists – including the prominent human rights activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a. Hooligan Sparrow) – who were involved in protests over child sex abuse allegations in 2013. Due to the sensitivity of the subject, the filmmaker had to smuggle the film out of China, and she may have to face the possible consequences of not being able to return to her homeland after this.

Most of us living outside of China are aware of their human rights issues, but we are probably unaware of the extend and the acuteness of this issue. This film highlights the injustices that are happening in China today; it is shocking, distressing, and so compelling that I was almost moved to tears at the end. The ghastly tyrant state described in George Orwell‘s famous dystopian novel ‘1984’ is not dissimilar to the current Chinese Government. The secret surveillance, deception, use of power and harassment are all depicted in the film as the filmmaker dwelt deeper into the issue. This film, I suspect, is unlikely to be released in China for obvious reasons.

I have never walked up to a filmmaker at any film screening before, but I did it at the reception after the screening. I wanted to congratulate the courageous young filmmaker for making this significant documentary, which I think needs to be seen by the world and especially by ordinary Chinese citizens. Human tragedies – like the case where young girls were raped by their school’s headmaster in Hainan – could happen to ordinary Chinese citizens at anytime, hence they need to realise that their lives are at stake, and it is unlikely that their government would be on their sides when shit hits the fan!



I am not sure if human rights lawyers like Wang Yu (one of the activists in the film) could predict their future i.e. imprisonment when they first embarked on their career. Instead of prosecuting the criminals, the lawyers are the ones who get arrested by the state; justice in China is such an ironic term.

The filmmaker told me that she is trying her best to get the film screened globally including Hong Kong and Taiwan, and I hope she will succeed. This film is not just about human rights, it is about the bravery and determination of a group of human beings who are willing to sacrifice their lives for justice, equality and freedom of speech. Sometimes fate and circumstances can turn ordinary citizens into ‘accidental heroes’, and when this happens, you have no choice but to keep fighting.