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Time Spy by Artist Sun Xun - Review of this Interesting 3-D Animated Film

Updated on June 3, 2018
This image shows many of the print blocks on display all together.  They were fascinating.
This image shows many of the print blocks on display all together. They were fascinating. | Source

Time Spy - A Neat 3-D Animated Film - My Thoughts

My husband and I were celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary and going to the St. Louis Art Museum was part of that this year. While on our trip there we came across this temporary exhibit showcasing Sun Xun's Time Spy short film. It sounded quite fascinating really. In a description, I read that it has a haunting soundtrack and enigmatic imagery by this Chinese artist, Sun Xun. Then I heard that it recommends picking up a pair of the 3-D glasses that are free to use at the museum. I was intrigued.

I noticed that the short film was in progress as we arrived and since it was on a loop we would just wait for it to start again. While waiting I learned more about the process and it was quite fascinating to me. The total length was only 9 minutes long.

To make this short film, Sun Xun merged several different techniques. The images you see here are the carved blocks used to create the piece. Woodblock carving as a printmaking technique was usually used on paper.

Carved print blocks that were used to make the movie Time Spy by Sun Xun.
Carved print blocks that were used to make the movie Time Spy by Sun Xun. | Source

More about Sun Xun's Time Spy Film

The woodblock carving as a printmaking technique is about a thousand years old. It is merged into this film with 3-D technologies and modern filmmaking. So I was totally intrigued by this, as what could that produce? I had never heard of anything quite like that before, and I could also hear the film a small bit, playing in the background with its somewhat haunting or creepy music and I couldn't wait to see it.

Evidently, Xun's films don't follow a typical storyline, and this was no different. Thankfully, I was relieved to recall that as I couldn't really make sense of things as I was watching it. I found it interesting watching, as I realized that my mind tries to make logical sense of what I am seeing, even though I was basically forewarned it probably would not make sense! Perhaps that is just something we do automatically, to look for a storyline or meaning in something we are watching. Our minds instinctively try to make sense of the input we are receiving.

Further, I found it interesting the mention that there is like a dreamlike sequence of things going on. That helped as I watched it because I could kind of see what it meant by that. Dreams can be the strangest things if you are lucky enough to recall, remember, or even try to really observe a dream while you are within it.

The film tries to challenge what is typically seen in life and in history in regards to following any kind of traditional narrative. He seems to key in on time, reality, fantasy, history, mythology and Western and Eastern cultural traditions. Honestly, it made me wonder all the more about how each of these items played out in this film, and how each print corresponded and to which part, etc. So you can begin to see just how intriguing this was to watch!

Having watched this film now, I am inspired to look up the artists that Sun Xun was inspired by himself. These include people like German printmaker Albrecht Durer, French filmmaker Georges Melies, and woodblock designer Katsushika Hokusai. When I saw those names and origins, I was intrigued to see the final product all the more. I found it fascinating to take all that you are inspired by and then to recreate your own unique piece, but then many artists do such things. Again, the nature of the borderline absurdity of this was so intriguing, that is why I wanted to learn more of the previously mentioned artists as well.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Flower with leaves inked print block image.Inked Wave Print Block ImageTiger with Wings?  Inked Print Block Image
Flower with leaves inked print block image.
Flower with leaves inked print block image. | Source
Inked Wave Print Block Image
Inked Wave Print Block Image | Source
Tiger with Wings?  Inked Print Block Image
Tiger with Wings? Inked Print Block Image | Source

Final Thoughts on Time Spy

In this exhibit, you learn about the basic parts of what made this film possible. From the woodblocks to the screen. The music was indeed haunting as it said it would be. Over 10,000 woodblocks were used to create the film. So every element in the movie was related to a hand-carved piece. I thought that was incredible!

The woodblock images were scanned then used digitally with 3-D and animation specialists to create this hybrid film. I wish I had the time to watch it again to see if I gleaned anything more from it. The problem though is that it already predicted there wouldn't be much meaning to be found, so that inhibits that desire a little bit.

The woodblock print technique goes way back before Europeans discovered the process as a printmaking technique. It is chiefly an Asian process so it was neat that this Chinese artist used such an ancient process to be mixed with modern day technology in the way that he did.

I did notice some beautiful woodblocks with things such as flowers and owls and waves, but many more were of a mechanical or whimsical nature. All combined into a somewhat creepy compilation, for lack of a better descriptive word, it made for an interesting thing to watch. I have to be honest, my mind didn't really know what to do with it. Also, it made me kind of think of existentialism a little bit, but perhaps that is a bit too extreme of a thought? Still, it is what it closely resembled to me, in more of a visual and auditory format as opposed to a literary one. While not a favorite view of mine, I absolutely respect it and find it fascinating all the same. In part, because of the process that it is, and the work put into it. It makes me wonder more too, about the philosophy that Sun Xun holds on life itself.

Inspiring such curiosities in anyone, to me, is a worthwhile thing in and of itself! So I am all the more thankful for learning of the process too, from the actual process as well as the inspirations that brought it on. I am thankful for having the exposure to it and happy to share a few of the images I captured while at the museum. These print block images were used in the film itself, of which there are over 10,000. I think that is incredible!


© 2018 Paula


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    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Mary, yes, isn't that interesting? Thank you for your thoughts on this. I hope to see more in the future from places like India and Vietnam as you mentioned. Paula

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      That is really amazing. I am glad he is using this traditional method and apply it to more contemporary subjects. We have seen this done in India and Vietnam and it is a very interesting process.

    • oceansnsunsets profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Peggy, it was very interesting indeed. Thank you for the congratulations too! The time really does fly by, that is for sure. Paula :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      The film sounds interesting with the use of those woodcuts. Congratulations on your 26th anniversary!


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