Andrew Huang’s 10-minute short film “Solipsist” is subdued Technicolor. In “Solipsist,” vivid face paint, synaptic feathers, gathering neon dust, and levitated, beaded jellyfish create a world that’s both naturalistic and surreal.
“Solipsist” won the 2012 Special Jury Prize for Experimental Short Film at Slamdance and was named an Official Selection from the San Francisco International Film Festival. Huang received $8,000 worth of Kickstarter funding to support the short—a remarkable sum for an experimental film without a clear narrative.
Huang’s breakout film, the four-minute media critique “Doll Face,” was nominated for “Best of YouTube” in 2007 and snagged the attention of Lost director J. J. Abrams. Huang met with Abrams the day after graduating art school from USC in Los Angeles, but chose to pursue the short-film medium until a subject inspired him for a feature-length piece. Waiting for the right feature script, Huang has directed commercials for Google, Toshiba, and Lexus and striking music videos for David Sitek’s Maximum Balloon, Delphic, Avi Buffalo, and Ra Ra Riot.
“Solipsist” is an independent project and radiates independence. It boasts an uncanny Terrance Malick-like connection between stunning visuals and heady philosophy. The themes continue a current exploration in fine art between sci-fi and the natural, visible in movements like the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project in Los Angeles or Alyson Shotz’s Ecliptic, large-scale installations of yarn and nails that twist to render perfect solar systems. For “Solipsist,” the film medium keeps it playful and unrelentingly captivating.
NAME: Andrew Huang
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, California
THE ART-SCHOOL BINARY: At art school, there is a divide between kids who want to perfect their trade and make commercial art and the kids interested in theory. I was involved in the conceptual realm, but matter how theoretical or conceptual my work can get, I’m obsessed with the visual and it’s important for me to make my art spectacular. The art world frowns upon spectacle; they dismiss it as being kitsch. Though the topics I was exploring in the film may be heady and philosophical, it was important to balance it out by working in a playful medium. Given the rare opportunity to do my own work, it was important to do something whimsical, playful, indulgent, and earnest in philosophical topics I was interested in.
THE SOLIPSIST QUESTION: The playfulness and philosophy of making artwork can coexist. It’s important to not take itself too seriously. It seems logical to create something without dialogue that didn’t have to explain itself, but could exist in the three-act classical structure. I know that the title “Solipsist” is very loaded, but ultimately the film is about bodies converging into one another. It was important that the title was the opposite of what was happening to pose a question: can we connect with each other?
ON SOFT SCI-FI COSTUMES: I was working with talented costume designer Lindsey Mortensen. We were talking about this as a fantasy film—but do we want to make these girls covered in tentacles? We wanted to strike a balance between this being organic, creature-like and being honest about materials we were using. I wanted to be honest: we were using beads and feathers and vinyl; yes, that is a burlap sack she is wearing. If they were covered with tentacles, it would take it too much into monster body horror film. To concentrate on the material, it because a fashion piece instead. If we didn’t hide seams of costumes or show that they looked like puppets, not CGI creations, kept it more arty. It’s a fine balance, including the fantasy, sci-fi world and keeping a firm foot rooted in reality. It was definitely a contentious relationship.
PUTTING A BAND IN A FOREST AND A FOREST IN AN ALIEN PLANET: For my Avi Buffalo video for SubPop in 2010, we went to Malibu Creek State Park. Avi Buffalo was really young, some were still in high school. They were exploring careers at such a young age. We went to forested area and shot handheld footage of them running around. Then, we shot a dark, psychedelic alien planet. We came up with host of colorful characters as well as keeping it really dark, a lot more fearless playing with materials.
MASKED MOVEMENT: Doing “Solipsist” interested me again to do more fine art. I’m working on these sculptures, these masks and looking for models with shaved heads. I’ve been really inspired by Italian portraiture with strong silhouettes. This portraiture will not make any money at all, but it’s something for myself. I’ve taken this new bold step in a new direction.
SERIOUS PLAY: I’ve been out of school for four years, important to stay hungry and playful in your own time. Serious play is working on something you love and doing it purely because you love it. I do so much of my own time with commercial and music videos, but in order to stay challenged I need to do my own work on the side. “Solipsist” is a huge step in that direction. “Solipsist” is a weird marriage between film and fine art and I think the two can totally live together. I want to continue forward with one foot in both camps.