Tag Archives: sightseeing

Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation exhibition @ Hong Kong Heritage Museum review

Every so often, I do try and escape the confines of my nail polish packed bedroom and see the real world. Previous escapes have included seeing a waterfall, a load of beautiful qipao, a load of quirky lanterns, a silent Hitchcock film and most recently, a stunning array of Spring flowers. My latest venture – a trip to Hong Kong Heritage Museum’s special exhibition, Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation.

The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is quite a trek away, up in Sha Tin near the Shing Mun river (get off at Che Kung Temple Station on the brown KCR line for a shorter walk), so any exhibition that has me making the long slog up there had better be a good one! The last time I visited was for the Golden Age Of Couture dress exhibition, held in conjunction with London’s V&A Museum, which was utterly spectacular (and which I will get around to writing about some time, promise!). Meanwhile, the fact that I am a Disney/Pixar geek of the highest order – prone to parroting facts learnt from audio commentaries whilst my boyfriend tries to watch and breaking into Under The Sea on public transport are specialities – meant the omens seemed good.

The Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation exhibition showcases various types of conceptual and character art done by the studio’s artists for all of Pixar’s work, giving some artistic insight into the painstaking process that goes into making their much-loved CGI films. Taking in over 400 items, from early pencil sketches to storyboards, maquettes (small scale models) and exclusive specially-designed media installations, it features some never-before-seen-outside-the-studio artwork, with Hong Kong’s Heritage Museum the first stop on a global tour. A similar exhibition toured five years ago (including a stop in Singapore) but it has been refreshed and reinvigorated with the addition of new items, such as a large and extremely popular section dedicated to Toy Story 3. There’s also the amazing Toy Story Zoetrope (which you can also see at Hong Kong Disneyland), featuring rotating sculptures of characters that seem to magically come to life before your eyes.

We arrived early afternoon on a non-school holiday weekday and the queue was the biggest I have ever seen for a museum in HK. Having seen some photos taken by people who went on Easter Holiday weekend showing 300-strong queues, thank God we went when we did! Much of the artwork shown was obviously never intended to be displayed in a gallery and as such, there’s a limit on how huge a crowd can cluster around an A4 sized drawing and get much out of the experience.

Picture from Pixar artist Lou Romano’s blog, where you can also see his entire colour script for Up

There are two galleries devoted to the exhibition, the first dealing with character and the second with environment and scene-setting. The huge number of children visiting will obviously enjoy the Woody, Buzz, Sully and Mike models that greet you at the museum’s entrance, yet whether they have much appreciation for conceptual artwork of, say, Parisian landscapes in Ratatouille remains to be seen. Sure enough, the first exhibition gallery, which boasts the large Toy Story 3 section, a fairly big selection of Monsters Inc stuff (poor old Wall-E, one of my favourite Pixar films, sadly only gets about a quarter of a wall!) and lots of maquettes of characters, is the more family-friendly and consequently, much busier and noisier. Meanwhile, the second gallery is a much more tranquil and sedate experience!

As a full-blown Disney geek who exhaustively watches all the making-of features on her DVDs (or did before they started moving them to Blu-Ray only), some of the artwork was familiar to me already, especially for the earlier films, and I’m not entirely sure you garner that much more from looking at the originals rather than digital copies. Some art (particularly storyboards and colour scripts) have even been enlarged to suit the gallery experience more, in which case you’re looking at reprints anyway!

[By the way, you’re not meant to take photos inside the exhibition galleries. Not that this stops many HK folk. But I play fair, meaning the photos in this post are either taken outside or by scouring the net to find the pictures I’m referring to! (Further proof, incidentally, that lots of it may already be familiar to us geeks.)]

Pictures from Hong Kong Heritage Museum and Oakland Museum Of California

Nevertheless, the artwork itself is brilliant. What part of the exhibition you enjoy the most is strictly down to taste but my favourites were the wistful colourful designs for Up and its dreamy South American landscapes (you get to see a life-size version of the Paradise Falls mural that Ellie and Carl paint above their fireplace in the film) and the spiky dynamic work by Lou Romano for The Incredibles (the style seen in the film’s credits) – looking at the art, I could practically hear that exhilarating thrilling score pumping into my head!

A few interesting titbits to note: some character studies are annotated with comprehensive notes seemingly from John Lasseter himself (‘Dot is not so cute with 4 arms!’, ‘No antenna here’), with some Finding Nemo sketches stamped with a fish bearing John Lasseter’s head saying ‘I guess it’s alright’, whilst others are marked as checked by the man himself with a doodle-like representation of Lasseter’s face!

I’m also in awe of the fact that so much life comes out of these pencil sketches alone. Just a few lines manage to create a sense of motion and vitality even before the mammoth digitalisation process begins. I love this one of Russell, above, which totally captures his bustling sense of movement – Disney geek-dom ahoy, the character’s original name was changed to the onomatopoeic Russell to reflect his inquisitive nature. There’s also two maquettes of Russell where each and every Explorer Badge has been sculpted, with different designs on every single one!

The Up storyboards and colour scripts are also fascinating. There’s one storyboard just of that first 10-minute dialogue-free segment ‘Married Life’ and, in just a few small still-life pictures, it still managed to make me well up! Truly powerful stuff.

The second ‘environment’ gallery feels a lot more abstract in comparison to the ‘character’ one. You enter a room where the walls are covered with animations of the doors from Monsters Inc and the effect is quite hypnotic. I really loved some of the (at times, surprisingly dark) concept art for the settings of Monsters Inc, whilst all the pictures involving those huge cascades of doors are just wildly imaginative and wonderful. This gallery also contains, for me, the absolute highlight: Artscape.

Artscape is a highly-immersive, richly-detailed wide-screen projection that takes you inside the artists’ sketchbooks and experience environments from all the films in first-person. Frankly, it’s more 3D than most 3D movies. It’s indescribable and something you just have to experience for yourself. You feel like you’re swooping through the jungle and dashing across water in the chase sequence from The Incredibles, that you’re ant-size amongst the blades of grass, leaves and army of workers in A Bug’s Life or that you’re hurtling through the galaxies in Wall-E (oh ok, that one did feel a little like a Windows 95 screensaver!). I particularly fell for the Parisian scenes from Ratatouille – one of my least favourite Pixars – which felt like you were flying above the rooftops, looking down and around the city in all its romantic glory. This is all done by some trademark Pixar magic that manages to turn 2D drawings and paintings into a 3D visceral experience. Stunning.

Pictures from The Art Of Ratatouille book, featured on Pixar Talk

Despite the cutesy Pixar characters, Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation was definitely not designed with small children, nor I suspect the HK hoards, in mind (for example, there are kiosks where you can watch interviews with animators that can only be used one person at a time, whilst I struggled to see the small screens showing early Pixar shorts in just the small crowd that day). Whilst I enjoyed it, if I’d have seen queues of hundreds, I’d have definitely turned back round – I just don’t think you can give the artwork the attention it deserves if you’re having to elbow your way in or become absorbed in the detail if you can barely hear yourself think.

Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation is a largely captivating exhibition, although one which requires you to appreciate the animators’ work as art rather than pure entertainment. It makes you recognise the scale of Pixar’s achievements and value the dedication and talent of their artists even more. This is stuff that deserves to be on walls rather than hidden away in dusty backrooms and I would love to see a similar exhibition for Disney films (some of the concept art for their older films, as seen on DVDs, is just stunning). So, yes, worth the trek to Sha Tin. Make it on a week day, though!

Check out some more fun Pixar artwork here

Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation, 28 March-11 July 2011, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin, 2180 8188

$20 admission, $10 on Weds, including free memo gift pad containing money-off vouchers. Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 7pm on Sunday and public holidays. Closed Tuesdays.

Hong Kong Flower Show 2011: It’s all coming up roses (and tulips… and orchids…)

Forget the Botanical Gardens. Forget the overpriced, increasingly tat-filled Chinese New Year Flower Market. Forget the Chelsea Flower Show. Because for technicolour horticultural goodness, the Hong Kong Flower Show 2011 beats them all. (Well, it beats watching Chelsea on television anyhow).

The Hong Kong Flower Show is apparently an annual event held in Victoria Park that my auntie only piped up about this year, my third in HK. Thanks a lot! Oh well, at least she piped up eventually, as this was a sight I’m definitely glad I didn’t miss out on.

I love flowers – I love them even more when I don’t have to put in the hard work of maintaining them – so the Flower Show was absolutely perfect for those who want to feast on the visual delights of plants in all colours, shapes and sizes without getting your green fingers dirty! As someone who quite often misses her garden in the UK, this happily quelled any longings in some serious style!

For just $14 entry, you can wander around the countless show gardens, exhibits, displays and gardening stalls that take over the entire grounds to your heart’s content. It’s also free for the over 60s on weekdays; my auntie wasn’t sure whether she should be happy she saved money or upset that she looked old enough for no-one to check her ID!

This year’s theme was Symphony of Spring Flowers, hence all the floral pianos, harps and music notes you see scattered around – a bit cheesy in places, but generally too beautiful and immaculately-executed for you to care. There were also special displays by some of HK’s botanical societies (the orchid ones are always amazing enough to warrant a gander) whilst there were also some more modern, edgy and striking displays to cut through the cutesiness of the giant instrument-playing animals (oh who am I kidding, they were my favourite part!).

I also loved the numerous stalls selling plants and gardening supplies; if you can get past the crowds who mill around treating these as further photo opportunities, there are some really reasonable deals to be had on stuff that can be more difficult to unearth in HK. I bought a fuchsia for $30 and two violas for $10 each (and would have bought many more if I didn’t have to think about carrying it all home), whilst many orchids were only around $100. Basically, screw you CNY Flower Market, I’ll never be buying your overpriced tat again!

Anyway, enough of my rambling, I think the photos are gorgeous enough to speak for themselves. So fire up your monitor, click for enlargements so huge you can practically smell them and enjoy!

My favourite photo, taken at one of the show displays

How cute are the baby chicks?!

Ocean Park Garden

Love the creativity of these two, designed to look like music staves

Some of the more contemporary displays

Macau Garden

I think these ghostly pianos look like they were made from a skeleton’s bones!

Just can’t resist me some orchids!

Some of the more structural displays – note the number of OAPS enjoying a sit-down in the branch dome!

Mini gardens! Love the hydrangea tree and the cute little chicks and bunnies made from flowers!

After all that, I think we need a rest…

Hong Kong Flower Show 2011, Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, 11-20 March 2011. $14 entry fee, free for over-60s on weekdays ($7 on weekends). See their website for further details.


Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence – Escape to Waichow Exhibition: I’m talking bout a whole lotta history…

Boys will be boys…

One of the downsides of having a boyfriend with a history degree is that he is prone to parroting “interesting” history facts whenever we’re out and about town (to be fair, I do the same with Disney trivia and Girls Aloud lyrics, so I shouldn’t complain). Having put off a trip to the dryly-named Museum of Coastal Defence for practically as long as we’ve been going out, I finally capitulated last week.

Someone in HK’s marketing department is clearly missing a trick, as the place would much better (if not entirely politically correctly) be named Hong Kong’s Wartime museum, hence instantly snagging an instant demographic of 7-14 year old boys (or just boys in general… the two twentysomethings I went with loved it). Built around Lei Yue Mun fortifications, the museum details how Hong Kong has defended itself from various attacks, invaders and general baddies over the years. It’s a little short on actual exhibits because the exhibition is the place itself; get your walking boots on if you plan on exploring every caponier, ditch, underground magazine, battery, gun, jeep, cannon and ruined wall with visible bullet holes in. (The torpedo station is well worth a look though and the views, as seen below, over Lei Yue Mun and across the harbour are stunning).

What did strike me is that, despite HK’s frequent attempts to make itself ever newer and shinier (as evidenced by the many front page stories of the government trying to tear down historical buildings), history really is all around. The museum details the remains and ruins of all the other fortifications around Hong Kong that are around if you care to look. OK, it’s not the palaces, country houses and spectacular cathedrals that Britain excels at and exist even in some of the sleepiest of villages but seeing and touching the bullet holes in that wall still sent a shiver down my spine. A 19th century hand-drawn map of Hong Kong is also startling in revealing how history exists in what’s not there – coastlines in today’s HK have been entirely redrawn as land has been reclaimed.

Photo Copyright © Marion Udall

After a couple of less-interesting rooms about how Hong Kong defended itself from pirates in ye olden days (with an exhibit of embroidered armour made from silk and reinforced with ummm… cotton – looked beautiful, can’t imagine it keeping the arrows out), you hit the good stuff – World War II and the Japanese occupation (if by good stuff, you mean rivettingly horrifying). Connected to this is a special exhibition called Escape to Waichow, a truly amazing story that I knew nothing about and which more than justified the visit.

It’s a story that’s itching for a Band of Brothers television mini-series at least, if not a big screen epic. It’s a tale of the kind of unparalleled courage, bravery, fighting spirit, doggedness and sheer good luck that just doesn’t seem to happen these days. The actual exhibits are by-the-by (newspaper clippings, uniforms, medals) but it’s a story so remarkable that it could be written in Morse code and still remain enthralling. Time for some details (excuse factual inaccuracies, I’m working largely on memory)…

Escape to Waichow – HMS Cornflower survivors

As the Japs were attacking and the surrender of Hong Kong looked inevitable at the end of 1941, an escape plan was put together to smuggle out some senior officers. Even before this party got on the boats, the route was fraught – their car was stopped by Japanese soldiers several times and they were only able to proceed thanks to one Henry Hsu, whom you’ll hear more of later, shouting ‘Banzai! Long live the Emperor!’ in Japanese. On reaching the harbour, they were told the MTBs they were supposed to have taken had left so they then had to rush to get sixteen gallons of petrol to power the ship that they could find (HMS Cornflower). I remember reading that some officers has been told to leave without the Chinese contingent but refused. Once they finally took to the sea, the barrage began – rifles, machine guns, shells.

They had to bail out. One was shot in both legs, another killed outright, another shot and drowned – Admiral Chan Chak only had one leg to start off with! As he handed someone else a lifejacket, he was shot in the wrist. As Henry Hsu removed his artificial leg (where he had HKD$40 000 stashed away) so Chan wouldn’t be weighed down for the swim, Chan shouted, ‘What should we do?!’ Hsu’s answer was ‘Pray to God!’; Buddhist Chan replied, ‘If we make it out of here, I’ll convert to be a Christian!’. Needless to say, one-legged Chan (with the help of Hsu, who was conveniently a champion swimmer too) made it ashore, became known as the Nelson of the East, was awarded a KBE and duly converted. My friend would also like to point out: ‘One leg, one arm = auto badass’. No prizes for spotting him in the photo above.

David MacDougall, of the Ministry of Information, was shot in the shoulder. He practically bellyflopped in, was unable to swim for long on his front, kicked his shoes off after nearly going under twice and managed to reach the shore – fully clothed, with a pistol strapped to his waist – on his back. Another of his colleagues swimming to shore heard one of their colleagues drown noisily behind him. All this while still subjected to ceaseless gunfire from the Japanese. [Another crew member who couldn’t swim and remained drifting on the boat even managed to get rescued – talk about lucky!]

Upon reaching China, they still had an arduous journey aided by guerrilla Chinese – through the jungle, some not wearing shoes, many suffering from injuries and illness, freezing at night. When they reached Waichow, they were treated to a hero’s welcome although it would be four years and many thousands of miles until some of the British finally made it home. The famous photo of the 68 escapees from all the boats (shown below), invaluable in tracking down descendants and piecing together the story of this ‘great escape’, was taken with the photographer’s last glass plate – luck again!

I’ve not even done this incredible story justice. Many of the survivors went onto great things in high office – mayors, governors, Hsu in the International Olympics Committee. Another became arguably the most famous Coastal Forces Commanding Officer of WWII. The majority of the Cornflower party led long lives, with many only dying in the last few years, in their late eighties and early nineties (Hsu in 2009). I’m not a great believer in faith, as can be evidenced by my reluctance in joining in my school’s prayer meetings (they occur in Chinese, I was once told we were praying the air conditioning got fixed – excuse me if I think God has bigger things to worry about) but you can say that someone out there wanted these men to survive. Wonderfully for us, they survived long enough to leave detailed accounts of their amazing lives – some in diaries and letters, others in audios that you can listen to in the museum and others simply by living long enough to procreate and produce sons, daughters and grandchildren who can also share their memories and are keeping their ancestors’ legacy alive (they retraced the journey last Christmas).

I couldn’t help but wonder what would be left of our generation now the paper trail has dried up. Seems unlikely a Google cache of my blog will still be about – will all that’s left of me be the worksheets I’ve made for kindergarten?! Then again, do we have anything worthy enough to write about that could warrant an exhibition?

Anyway, the Museum of Coastal Defence is well worth a visit, especially whilst Escape to Waichow is on (hopefully they will make it permanent). It’s a story too incredible to not learn about. Entry is just $10 (free on Wednesdays) and the whole shebang will take a good 2-3 hours if you read thoroughly and intend on exploring the fortifications (so a nice day would help). The charmingly amateur café would make England’s cultural bods shriek – hand-written signs on scraps of paper, plastic garden chairs, one bloke hand-cooking everything in the kitchen – but everything else is informative, professional and well… not as boring as expected. And at least I can now pre-empt some of boyfriend’s history trivia with a few sneaky facts of my own!

Museum of Coastal Defence, 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, +852 2569 1500. Open 10am-5pm. Entry $10, free on Wednesdays, closed on Thursdays.

Check out this website, run by one of the survivors’ son and from where I got the pictures of the escapees, for more about the incredible (yes, I feel I haven’t used that word enough) Escape to Waichow.

Causeway Bay Flower Market: Feelin’ Floral

Another Chinese custom (yes, keep up, there are many) is to have fresh flowers in the house at CNY for good luck. Every year, there is a big Flower Market in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay for you to purchase your flowers at ridiculously over-inflated prices but it’s become almost as much of a tradition to take a spin round here for luck as it is to have fresh flowers in the first place. And it is spectacular to visit – the perfume of all those blooms is just amazing (indescribable – you have to experience it first-hand) and the flowers themselves…! Wow! Forget the Chelsea Flower Show, there’s nothing quite like seeing the most beautiful perfection of orchids, lilies and gladioli in a rainbow of colours accompanied by squawking Chinese hawkers yelling ‘Good price, lang mui, good price!’ with the smell of curry fish balls hanging acridly in the air.

Nowadays, you’ll find as much CNY tat (giant inflatables, cuddly toys and costumes of whichever animal’s year it is) and dubious street food as you will fresh flowers, yet that’s all part of the appeal. Last year, my auntie and I discovered a stall selling deep-fried ice cream on sticks. We started with one to share between us to try – and five each later, we were hooked. I barely remember if we bought any flowers that year… but alas, battered ice-cream wasn’t there to distract us this time. Novelty windmills also appear to be lucky judging by their prominence at both the fair and the stalls around Chinese temples; we bought this very pretty ribbon-y fish one (pictured installed on our balcony).

We’re savvy sorts so we didn’t actually buy any flowers from here, merely “got inspiration” before getting them cheap at our local wet market. Buying fresh flowers always seems such a silly idea as they’re dead almost before they’re alive but they really do look gorgeous and bring you some sort of unique special feeling and pleasure. These sweet peas were my choice, as they were never strong enough to survive the hardships of British weather in my garden at home. I guess a garden is one of the few things I miss about home – but I never had to look after it did I?! Perhaps the life span of fresh flowers is just about right for my current level of responsibility-taking.