Five questions with Michael Shiao Chen from Mighty Nice Interview

Jack Thomas Taylor (JTT): You created two animations for the exhibition Breaking News? Was this your first time developing bespoke content to be used in a museum exhibition as storytelling devices? Did you have to alter your process compared to a commercial project?

Michael Shiao Chen (MSC): You normally design content for one screen with animations, especially commercials. This was my first time working directly with a museum, but my experience working on art installation projects had primed me for this opportunity. The processes mainly stayed the same, but we had to adjust our creative approach since the content used multiple screens or an alternative aspect ratio.

JTT: The animations differ in style and interpretation approach. What is journalism? uses animated visuals with an English and Arabic voice-over, while Always Another Side only uses visuals and music. How did the animation process for each film differ?

MSC: The animation process for What is journalism? went through a relatively standard procedure of an explainer animation, with an initial script followed by storyboarding the ideas that finally come alive in animation. There are slight adjustments with the Arabic voice-overs, but most of the visuals are designed to be easily interpreted by both cultures early in the storyboarding process.  

Always Another Side distilled a very complex intertwining storyline to what is essentially a pantomime with a cast of highly simplified stick figure characters. The animation process was straightforward, using Adobe After Effects and Adobe Animate. The storyboard approach had to be heavily adjusted as we adopted a less conventional method of using flowcharts to plan the interweaving story. Once all the narratives and key messages were tied down with the flowcharts, we could craft the script.

Animation available to view on Explore Content.
Flowchart for the animation Always Another Side. Animation available to view on Explore Content.


JTT: What is journalism? does not follow a traditional aspect ratio. What challenges and opportunities did you have when creating an animation in portrait orientation?

MSC: The portrait orientation posed some challenges with the initial brainstorming and the design process. In our usual animation process, we crop or do a straightforward extension of the main 16:9 aspect ratio for social media (usually a square or vertical format). For What is journalism? we had to design directly for the vertical aspect ratio. Once we learned to embrace the limitations, we could come up with some very visually striking imagery and animated transitions that made full use of the vertical space.

Instalation image of animation. Animation available to view on Explore Content.
What is journalism? Instalation image of animation. Animation available to view on Explore Content.

The film, Always Another Side used a central objective reality of a superhero and a tabby cat to tell the story. What inspired you to use these characters to tell this story?

MSC: We bounced back and forth and went through many iterations of central characters that are highly iconic, as well as being able to feature across multiple forms of media. What better represents our current cultural milieu than cat memes and superheroes?

JTT: The story of the tabby cat and superhero unfolded across 12 displays. How complex was this process, and where did you begin from a creative standpoint?

MSC: The planning was quite unconventional. The Media Majlis uses interpretation and storytelling in a way that encourages and empowers audiences to make choices and select content they would like to see. Since we could not control the audience nor where they would look across the 12 screens, we drew on the creative processes used to develop interactive media such as video games. Much inspiration was taken from Patrick Osborne’s strategy for his virtual reality film Pearl, where he relied on flowcharts to work out the emotional arcs of his movie (see This allowed us to understand better how the storylines we developed for this film could weave together and loop.

With our initial flowcharts roughed out, we separated distinct story arcs into color-coded blocks, which we then divided out and storyboarded traditionally. These were then roughly cut into a multi-screen animatic with some temporary music to get a sense of the pacing and rhythm of the finished piece.


___This conversation took place virtually on June 10, 2022.

Both of the animated films discussed here, What is journalism? and Always Another Side, are available to view in the Explore Content section of this website.

Michael Shiao Chen
Michael is an interdisciplinary artist, director and animator at Mighty Nice. His distinct illustrative style embodies a cross-cultural mix of Eastern and Western influences from his time spent living and working abroad in Japan and Vietnam. Fascinated with animation from a young age, Michael made his first film when he was 11 years old from LEGO® and an old webcam. Since then, he has gone on to work on an array of feature films, TV series and commercials before working as a director at Mighty Nice.

Mighty Nice
Mighty Nice is a creative-led BAFTA-winning studio of directors, designers and artists. They aim to convey heartfelt emotion and humor through their work as expert storytellers. A dynamic team passionate about quality, technology, and the craft of animation at every stage, resulting in outstanding, award-winning films.

  • Author credits

    Jack Taylor

    Jack Thomas Taylor is Assistant Curator at The Media Majlis, and curator of Arab Identities, images in film. Recent projects include Mind the Gap hosted at Tashkeel (Dubai, 2017), and collaboration on Heritage: A User’s Manual held at the Southbank Centre Archive Studio, and Inert Matter, Then Live Wire, both in London in 2016.  He has also worked as a strategist and producer for an international creative agency, as a features writer and editor for various magazines, and in 2013 founded Alef Magazine in Qatar. He holds a MA in Culture, Criticism and Curation from Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London (2016).