Animator Spotlight: Cheng Xi Huang

Hey you’se! Wanna learn about a huge Naruto nerd who moved from China to Japan to become one of the best parts of the Boruto sequel show that no one’s watching?

No?

FUCK YOU TOO BAD!
Wait! Please! Don’t close the window!
This’ll be cool! I promise!

So, like a lot of people Cheng Xi Huang grew up watching Dragon Ball Z thinking “Shit, this is fucking rad” (Probably not a direct quote of a ten year old chinese boy). Then getting into Naruto and being blown away by the shows focus on Sakuga (i.e. when the show goes all out and does amazing animation). Usually in Narutos case for a dramatic fight. So he grew up wanting to do that.

And unlike most of us who let our dreams fall by the way side and end up working an office job where you try to keep yourself sane by wasting your time researching and writing an animation spotlight on Chinese animators, he actually followed through with his dreams.

Studying animation and moving to Japan with the goal of working on Naruto. He got brought into the anime industry by Dragon Ball Super, killer animator Tu Yong Ce getting a job at Candybox.

https://youtu.be/TAx9wusIO0Y

Now Candybox are not the people that make Naruto, that’s Studio Pierrot. They’re more of an outsourcing studio that major studios contract when they need extra bodies to throw at productions. One of the studios that outsources to Candybox was Studio Pierrot though.

And of course our boy Huang is gonna be throwing himself at any chance he gets to be on those Naruto cuts. While doing clean up on Naruto (also known as ‘second key animation’) his work caught the eye of Hiroyuki Yamashita.

https://youtu.be/hx3b30tWBNE

Yamashita was a fan favorite sakuga animator on Naruto Shippuden, often putting in the work for a lot of the best fight sequences in the show.  Seeing potential in this kid, he brought Cheng Xi Huang into Pierrot proper as an animator.

So he finally made it, he’s living the dream. Getting to do key animation on his favourite show.

This mother fucker didn’t come to play.

One thing he brought to his animation that a lot of typical animators don’t, is his love for chinese wu-shu movies. In particular a fondness for Wing Chun style.

 

His first notable cut that started to get people’s attention was when he started dropping Wing Chun moves into this short little fight sequence.


 

This was the scene that largely got people to start paying attention to his name. Cheng Xi Huang wasn’t responsible for any super dramatic sakuga cuts on Shippuden. But he was always a solid presence that did a great job of combining emotion with solid forms and just an all around general understanding of great fundamental animation.

And he was given the responsibility for one of the final climax pieces of the entire show in the Naruto vs Sasuke fight.




But unfortunately for his dream, he got onto the show basically as it was starting to wrap up. And then, Shippuden was done.

But also like, fuck Naruto was super popular. You gonna stop this fucking money train? Ha! Get fucked. We’re doing Boruto now mother fuckers! It’s Naruto’s son! His name means ‘Bolt’! (why is every anime character named after something so stupid). We’re doing a new show mother fuckers!

And just who are we gonna get to direct this new show?! If you think it’s the dude that’s done a couple of solid but not super memorable cuts of Shippuden then… no, that would be super weird. They got Cheng Xi Huang’s mentor and killer animator Hiroyukie Yamashito! Cause like… that makes WAY more sense.

But with the extra responsibilities of now being a show director, who is Yamashito gonna be able to rely on? To be his fucking go to guy when he needs those killer shots.

Mother fucking Cheng Xi Huang!

And this show has his finger prints on from minute 1.

The opening shot of the show is this dramatic flash forward showing a confrontation between a much older Boruto and a mysterious character. We also get our first Cheng Xi Huang cut!

 

There isn’t a lot of action in the first episode, but it does show off an impressive amount of movement. Unlike a lot of shows (including Naruto) the characters are rarely standing still while talking, they’re always walking somewhere or doing something while talking. It’s super cool and honestly the thing that got me interested in the show… but that’s kinda a tangent. Fuck off it’s my article.

We did get a hint of what he was capable of with some great, if minor choreography for this bit where Naruto gets caught by a now grown up bad ass Konohomaru.

 

 

But things start to get really interesting with episode 7. Because what makes Cheng Xi Huang stand out so much isn’t that he’s good at cool fights. I mean, like he’s REALLY good at that shit, but he’s so fucking versatile. And Boruto is really giving him a chance to show off what he can do. They corner the villain who then has a breakdown about how unfair life is and Cheng Xi Huang delivers some fantastic character acting. The kind that even my wife (who is nowhere near as obsessed with animation minutia as me) saw and is like “shit, that was really good!”.



Then in the following episode we get more of his grounded physically based fight choreography when Boruto fights his aunt Himawari in a training match. This isn’t entirely him though, with lots of clean up done by Yamashito



But it’s not till episode 13 that we get to really see what Cheng Xi Huang is capable of. With this fucking powerhouse 26 second cut full of amazing choreography, background animation, effects and just… fucking dope shit! This was the moment that I sat up watching this show and needed to find out who was actually responsible for this shit.


This started a trend in Boruto, though the show had shorter arcs, only lasting about 10-12 episodes or so, they would always end with some super impressive animation showcase. And Huang would be there fucking killing it. He was back for episode 23. And while he’s said in interviews that his biggest weakness as an animator is effects heavy animation he was taking on cuts that are just huge explosions and rubble and shit like this.

 

 

While also still proving his versatility by providing subtle character animation shots like this in the same episode.

 

He continues to show off a lot of similarly impressive complex choreography throughout the show. But his next real stand out comes from episode 39 where he starts to flex his versatility even more. As well as show off his fanboyisim for anime and other animators.

While his fight sequences so far have been fairly grounded with a solid basis in real martial arts, in episode 39 he decides to go full anime with this sword fight.


Which if you’re paying attention might look a bit familiar. He’s not only expanding his repertoire to stretch into this more hyper exaggerated fight style, but also directly homaging the Killer bee fight from Shippuden done by his mentor Yamashito.

 
He also provided this cut of Mitsukis transformation with impact frames (The 1-2 frames of harsh white/black) inspired by the legendary animator Yutaka Nakamura.

Some Nakamura impact frames for comparison.

Providing almost a full minute of animation of this quality for a single episode fucking exhausted him, and from as far as I can tell he took kind of a drop back in involvement. Still providing cuts here and there, but not really pushing the show as hard as he had been before. And his absence is sorely felt in the tournament arc of the chunin exams. With none of the fights really having that level of dynamism he constantly brought to the show.


And then episode 65 hit.

Holy fuck.

See while I’m sitting here thinking this dude is having a well deserved break, he’s sitting there like “Nah bitch, I’m a director now”. With his directorial debut, Cheng Xi Huang decided to take on the task of adapting the climactic fight of the Boruto movie on a tv show budget and time table. A movie that was done as the capstone for the entire Naruto series directed by Cheng Xi Huangs mentor himself Hiroyuki Yamashito.

And like…

He fucking killed it.

If you follow animation at all, especially on twitter, this episode was all over the fucking place.

Like I saw clips of this episode posted on twitter with animation nerds praising that they’re glad that anime movies still exist to produce this level of animation, then having their minds blown when they found out it’s a fucking tv show!

 

This episode feels like the culmination of everything Huang had been building to throughout Boruto, super grounded, wing chun influenced fight choreography, hyper stylised anime fights, great character acting, homages to old classic Naruto bits, all brought to life by an all star team of the Webgen animators from across the world.

And they needed it. With an average episode clocking in at 300 cuts (a cut is all the animation from between one cut to the next), while this one balloons out to fucking 510 cuts!


And it starts off with some fairly standard character acting from Cheng Xi Huang. Nothing super dramatic, though he is actually lip synching the dialogue (not using mouth flaps).

Which itself is a call back to a technique used in Naruto to provide extra drama to specific important speeches. It was introduced back in fucking episode 19 of the original Naruto show by director Toshiyuki Tsuru in like fucking 2006.
And then the action breaks out! While the animation isn’t being handled primarily by Huang, his fingerprints are all over it in the way the characters move. Like the movement when Momoshiki (White/black zebra dude) deflects the Tsuchikages’ (Lady in reds) rock punch. It isn’t a flash anime thing, instead it’s more of an actual martial arts move. I also love the general construction of all these dudes being destroyed in the time it takes the tree to fall in the background.

And as the fights get more elaborate the kung fu background really starts to show. Naruto using Wing Chun, while Momoshiki uses Baguazhang (the martial arts that Air Bending in Avatar is based around).

As well as throwing in The one inch punch from Bruce mother fuckin’ Lee in there.

But what would a Cheng Xi Huang directed episode be if it wasn’t full of call backs to Naruto and evidence of his fanboyisim.

Sasuke brings back the micro wire directed knives from his fight with Orochimaru in the Chunin Exams. Which they follow up with a call back to Naruto turning into the giant shuriken that they used in a team up against Zabuza.

And Cheng Xi Huang takes over this shot from Castlevania animator Spencer Wan to throw in a reference to the fucking Pain fight as animated by Shingo Yamashita With Momoshki’s eating shit face.

Honestly I could go on about this episode for ages. There are so many great shots and amazing flourishes and details. But most of all, for an episode that is thematically about a passing of the torch from one generation to the other. To see them then pass the torch from Yamashito to Cheng Xi Huang and a new generation of web gen animators like this. And for those new animators to take that torch and fucking run with it could not be more perfect.

Anyway uh… Cheng Xi Huang’s pretty cool and you should give Boruto a shot.

If you’re interested in more detail on episode 65 and its productions check out the sakuga blog post on it and Anime Jay’s youtube video on it.

https://blog.sakugabooru.com/2018/07/22/the-power-of-international-intergenerational-anime-boruto-65/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8B2_SWg_cs

Also this article wouldn’t at all be possible without the tireless work of the people at

https://www.sakugabooru.com/