Young Chinese illustrator’s links with Oscar-winning films

Lu He works on an illustration. Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

Lu He works on an illustration. Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

Oscar-winning animated film
The Boy and the Heron has been performing excellently at the box office in the Chinese mainland this April. During the release, one of the posters featuring almost the entire main cast characters by Japanese mega animator Hayao Miyazaki captured the attention of many Chinese netizens who called it “magical and heartwarming.”

This artwork was drawn by Lu He (pseudonym), a Chinese illustrator who once boasted a reputation abroad from drawing a poster for
The Shape of Water in the traditional Chinese watercolor style. The film went on to win four big awards at the 90th Academy Awards in 2018.

“My hope is that as audiences admire this poster, they not only experience the artistic charm of Miyazaki’s works, but also that it evokes precious moments shared with these characters, reminiscing about dreams and aspirations of the past,” he told the Global Times.

An illustration by Lu He  Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

An illustration by Lu He Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

A great honor

As a die-hard fan of Miyazaki, Lu said it was a great honor to design such a poster after the production company behind
The Boy and the Heron requested him to. However, not having seen the film at the time, Lu’s creative process relied heavily on the provided promotional materials, adding to the pressure of capturing the essence and charm of Miyazaki’s works.

Throughout the creation of the poster, he endeavored to capture the distinctive traits of each character, aspiring to flawlessly present the quintessence and allure of Miyazaki’s oeuvre. 

“With each stroke of my pen, I felt transported back to the innocent days of my youth, reliving the moments of endless fascination before animated screens,” he recalled.

Lu confessed to having watched almost all of Miyazaki’s works, with My Neighbor Totoro holding a special place in his heart, after having viewed it hundreds of times. 

“With each viewing, I discover new layers of meaning and decipher metaphors that Miyazaki subtly embeds within his narratives,” Lu remarked. 

“Miyazaki’s animated works are not merely films to many; they serve as solace for the soul and repositories of cherished memories. I sincerely wish for Miyazaki’s continued health and vitality, trusting in his talent and creativity to bless us with more animated masterpieces.”

An illustration by Lu He  Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

An illustration by Lu He Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

Fancy classic literature

This is not the first time that Lu has created artwork for Oscar award-winning films. In 2018, Lu’s poster for the Oscar-winner
The Shape of Water was highly praised after director Guillermo del Toro posted Lu’s poster on his X (formerly Twitter) account. 

Also done in the traditional Chinese watercolor style, the poster depicts the two main characters of the film, a woman and a monster-like fish man, floating upside down against a white and blue background.

Lu excitedly recalled the memory, and expressed his happiness at traditional Chinese ink-style painting’s ability to win the hearts of so many viewers overseas. 

Lu attributed this honor to his source of inspiration – classic Chinese literature works.

In the intricate tapestry of Lu’s creations, one can often discern the subtle echoes of Chinese culture, where fantastical creatures roam freely, their forms elusive yet captivating.

Lu’s journey into the realm of illustration began while he was studying Chinese literature, weaving his passion for storytelling into his artistic endeavors. After his graduation, he embarked on his journey as an independent illustrator, leaving his mark on publications including Bazaar Art, with his evocative cover art and illustrations.

Delving into the depths of Chinese literary classics, Lu discovered a trove of inspiration that enriched his creative process, granting him a deeper understanding of narrative and the imagery.

An illustration by Lu He  Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

An illustration by Lu He Photo: Courtesy of Lu He

Lu said he really likes reading
Enjoyment in Untroubled Ease by Zhuangzi, one of the most significant early Chinese interpreters of Taoism, and would sometimes imagine that he was roaming between heaven and earth while drawing.

Renowned for his enigmatic and mesmerizing style, Lu’s artwork reflects a harmonious blend of personal expression and cultural heritage. “The harmony between man and nature depicted in
Enjoyment in Untroubled Ease instills a sense of serenity within me, easing my anxieties amidst the stresses of life,” he reflects.

Fascinated by the rich tapestry of Chinese folklore, Lu finds solace in the pages of Classic of Mountains and Seas, where a pantheon of mythical creatures and deities awaits. His artistic odyssey extends beyond the confines of literature, drawing inspiration from the ancient wonders scattered across the land.

In addition, travel also fuels his artistic process. Lu said he likes visiting heritage sites like the Mogao Caves and Dazu Rock Carvings. The murals and sculptures created by the ancient Chinese have stunned him numerous times, and inspired him deeply.

For Lu, staying true to his roots is paramount. Despite embracing modern technology in his craft, he remains steadfast in his commitment to preserving the essence of traditional Chinese painting techniques. 

“With over a decade of experience, I’ve learned to find tranquility within the creative process,” he shares. “By merging traditional techniques with modern tools, I strive to capture the essence of Chinese culture while embracing innovation,” he said.