Victo Ngai On “The Wound And The Gift”


The Wound and The Gift is a documentary exploring the relationship between humans and animals, and how that relationship has been transforming through the growing “Rescue” movement. The film alternates between animations of an ancient fable about a wounded crane (narrated by the legendary Vanessa Redgrave) and live action footage of real stories of rescued animals and their protectors. Since the US premiere will be taking place at DOC NYC on Saturday, November 15th, we chatted with Victo Ngai, the illustrator responsible for the film’s gorgeous artwork, to gain some behind-the-scenes insights:

The Wound and The Gift is such a fantastic title, capturing the seemingly opposing nature of something good coming from something bad. In your opinion, what is the greatest gift that comes as a result of the wounded crane in the fable?

Great question. This is not my opinion but the running theme of the movie, the greatest gift discussed is “trust”. To quote Director Linda Hoaglund (not word for word as I didn’t write it down), “trust is something one has to willingly offer, something that can’t be bought or traded, but to be earned.” Trust is the bond between human and animals.

Wise words from Linda! This was your first time working on a film production. Was there anything about the process that particularly surprised you?

Surprise may not be the right word, but one of the most valuable things that I learnt was how to effectively communicate with my teammates. Being a freelancer illustrator, I am very used to flying solo. It’s true that I work with art directors, but their involvement’s usually limited to making sure I am going in the right direction with respect to the context of the project. Very rarely do I have to work closely with other people. This was my first time playing the role of an art director for the animation. I realized that there’s much to be learnt in terms of how to effectively explain what I envision to others who are not illustrators or artists, as well as where to draw the line between art-directing and micro-managing. It was especially hard as I am also the author of the illustrations which were being animated.

Learning definitely never stops. What was the biggest challenge or the most difficult part of working on animated illustrations as opposed to static ones?

That would be having to think in a 4D way with the extra element of time. While working on a static image, the challenge is to pick the perfect moment to tell the story. Whereas for animated illustrations, I have to consider the camera movement, the rhythms and the reveals. Since The Wound and The Gift travels between the worlds of animation and of live footage, when I compose the illustrations I also need to be mindful of how to best tie the two worlds together and what kind of transitions would be the most seamless.

That is a lot to keep in mind. Say present-day-Victo could go back in time to the moment when Victo-from-two-years-ago first heard about the project. What would present-day-Victo tell her?

“It is really going to happen, you will be able to finish it!”

Animals feature prominently in the documentary. Do you have a favourite animal? Why do you feel so strongly about this one?

I guess that would have to be dogs as having a dog makes me biased. But I love all kinds of animals; they are simply mesmerizing to look at. In my opinion, humans look really bland naked compared to most animals. I recently watched a documentary on honey badgers. Their stubbornness and (sometimes ruthless) bravery is quite respectable.

Bravery is a fantastic quality to possess. Do you have any animal rescue stories of your own to share?

My dog Dawson is my first dog and also a rescue. He’s from Texas and was 3 years old when I got him. I am not sure what happened to him before, but I have noticed that he’s very scared of tall white males. He gets very skittish when he encounters them on his walk, usually trying to run away or hide behind me. I learnt that a dog’s actual memory only lasts for five minutes, but their relative memory (the memory of associating things with emotions) can last for a long time. So I am guessing he must have been badly abused to have such a strong impression left on him. Going back to the topic of trust, Dawson’s story proves that it’s something really hard to be rebuilt once broken.

Fixing anything that’s been broken is very difficult. Let’s be idealists for a moment though. If there were one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?

I would hope for everyone to get the same educational opportunities and worldly exposure. It seems like many things such as mistrust, irrational anger, fear, hatred and violence are often due to ignorance and lack of understanding, and thus empathy of others’ culture.

Do you think that you’ll work on more projects like The Wound and the Gift in the future?

Of course!

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We would definitely love to see more projects like this from Victo (and I suspect that this is a sentiment shared by many)! In the meantime, more information about The Wound and The Gift can be found on the documentary’s website, and tickets can be purchased through DOC NYC. The show takes place at 4:45pm on Saturday, November 15th at the SVA Theatre.

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