Still from Reunion

Animating SHAPS Research: Collaboration with VCA Animation Students

Reunion (2018) is a short animation by VCA Animation students Jackson Cook and Jenn Tran, in collaboration with History PhD candidate Anh Nguyen. It is the first of three short clips produced by VCA Animation students showcasing the research being done by SHAPS postgrads in 2018 and giving students the opportunity to experiment with communicating their research in different forms, and experience in working collaboratively. To see all the animations, head to our Vimeo page.

Reunion is a creative response to Anh Nguyen’s PhD project on how former refugees from the Vietnam War use Facebook to reconnect, build community, and share and document their memories. Anh Nguyen comments:

“This was a segment of my PhD research about contemporary transnational history of childhood, refugees, and migration. It is about the Facebook communities that refugees have formed in digital diaspora, refugees reconnecting with refugees from the camps and boats that they were at or rescued by as children. The children of refugees have also assisted in reconnecting their parents with lost friends from the camps.

Facebook is a site of memory making for the refugee community. It reinforces positive associations with their identity and experience as refugees. Life does not end in the camp, it is only the beginning. The refugee camp no longer exists. They are well and alive on Facebook. Their lives are proof of survival, self-representation in history, and reunions are a part of living history.”

Still from Reunion
Still from Reunion

Jennifer Tran speaks about the collaboration:

“Working with our researcher Anh Nguyen, was a truly great collaboration. I met with Anh at the beginning of the project which allowed Jackson and I to understand the theme closely and agree on the narrative angle for the animation. Anh gave us sources for images, stories and real interviews we could use for the narrative. Naomi and Nam are real refugees who were a part of Anh’s research and we used their stories as characters in our animation.

Jackson and I brainstormed ideas, wrote the script together and shared the animating between ourselves. As both of our strengths lie within 2D animation, animating was fun and rewarding. In the animation, I see how our animating styles have beautifully come together.

On a personal note too, the topic of Vietnamese refugees was very familiar as I come from a father who was a Vietnamese refugee. Through this, I was able to source my parents as voice actors and get the script translated into Vietnamese easily. I also used actual scanned photographs of my family when they were settling in Australia as well as hand written letters sent to my family as collaged decorations. I felt very lucky to be able to share my part of my family’s historical archive in the animation.”

Still from Reunion
Still from Reunion

“The VCA students were so professional,” says Anh Nguyen, “They sent me a proof of concept based on an oral history transcripts I had sent them. We met to discuss the research, history and images that could be used from Facebook. I had secured permission from the two interviewees featured in the transcripts for an animation and permission for VCA students to use creative license with their life stories.

I wanted something that was not about trauma since my research is about children’s agency, adventure, self-determination in the history of migration. We focused on the tone, and they really just took the history and ran with it. I felt they really captured the spirit of the refugee children. I think they really captured the spirit of adventure, playfulness, intimacy of those friendships from the refugee camp.”

This pilot collaboration was an initiative of the SHAPS Engagement Committee and was coordinated by Julie Fedor, Paul Fletcher, and Fallon Mody. It was generously supported by SHAPS.