Dana Lam on Cartoons, Animations and ‘Neighcromancy’

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Still from Neighcromancy, courtesy of Dana Lam.
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By Sára Molčan

Posted on October 08, 2021 | Updated June 06, 2023, 11:40am

The 2021 grad created a film where a young championship-winning jockey resurrects her old racehorse to win one last race.

Dana Lam (BMA 2021) has always been enthralled with cartoons, ever since they were very young. This love for animation brought Dana to Emily Carr University to study 2D Animation, culminating in their grad film, Neighcromancy, a film about a girl using dark magic to bring her horse back to life.

“I love to make people laugh and cringe,” said Dana. “Going with that, the film plays with the occult, dark humour and comedy, as well as the dark side of human behaviour. I focused on the power relationship between rider and animal and how it would play out if the animal was gifted supernatural power.”

Neighcromancy follows a jockey named Pesto, whose horse, Hollandaise, has died. With an upcoming derby race, Pesto does the unthinkable and resurrects Hollandaise.

The horse, imbued with supernatural power, is less than enthused about this turn of events. Highlighting the power relationship between horse and rider along with the cruelty present in horse racing, Neighcromancy has the audience rooting for the antagonist’s comeuppance.

“I was inspired by that spoiled brat character archetype. I just gravitate to those kinds of characters,” explained Dana. “Characters that the audience isn’t supposed to root for and who get punished at the end of the story. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching an antagonist get what’s coming to them.”

Dana goes on to explain that the cruelty they were highlighting in the film is a secret that is kept in plain sight. “Horses are treated as commodities that can be reproduced, broken, and replaced when they become injured on the racetrack,” said Dana. “The storyline was inspired by connecting necromancy and selfishly trying to achieve glory together.”

The other inspiration behind the film was a screen-capped Tumblr thread that read: “TEEN HORSE GIRL MOVIE WHERE THE HORSE DIES AN HOUR IN AND THE SECOND HALF IS THE GIRL LEARNING OCCULT SCIENCE TO REANIMATE IT SO SHE CAN WIN THE BIG DERBY” – normal-horoscopes

Before coming across this thread, Dana had an entirely different film planned for grad. “I instantly became inspired,” said Dana. “I love animals and occult things, so I saved my other film idea for another day to work on Neighcromancy.

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Still from Neighcromancy. (Image courtesy Dana Lam)

The film itself has a sense of nostalgia for those who grew up with cartoons in the early aughts. “I’ve been heavily influenced by early 2000s and internet cartoons,” explained Dana. “I drew a lot of inspiration from Genndy Tartakovsky’s backgrounds and character designs. I just really love how striking his shape language is.”

The animator goes on to explain that when they designed the characters, the process began by painting them from silhouette. “I would set a canvas to a grey colour and try to create interesting shapes using just one colour,” continued Dana. “I go for that extra step in my process because I really enjoy creating and just looking at interestingly designed characters.”

The attention to detail in Dana’s characters goes beyond striking silhouettes and extends to complementary colours. In the case of Neighcromancy, a fiery orange-red embodies Pesto and a magical blue embodies Hollandaise.

“I went through quite a few iterations of the film’s colour palette,” said Dana. “I decided to pick red and blue because I really liked the colour language both colours have with each other.”

Dana explains that they love the colour red and often use it outside the film to symbolize violence and power.

“Red forces your eyes to pay attention to it, kind of like how Pesto tries so hard to win,” said Dana. “Blue is easy to look at, but in nature things that are blue are either rare or vast; kind of like the ocean. I think of blue being that colour that only highly specialized animals get to use like morpho butterflies and dart frogs. To get bright blue you have to be a very coveted thing.”

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Still from Neighcromancy. (Image courtesy Dana Lam)

While Neighcromancy certainly has a piece of Dana’s heart, their favourite film they’ve created (so far) is The Gull’s Groceries.

“It was my third fully realized film I made during school,” explained Dana. “I have a lot of fond memories of working on it in the animation studio on campus, getting my friends to voice the characters, doing in person critiques and screenings. On top of that I quite like the little characters in that film. In contrast to Neighcromancy, which only features two characters, The Gull’s Groceries has several characters. I really enjoyed watching and animating all the different birds.”

A love of cartoons runs strong with Dana, so we had to ask what their favourite cartoon is.

“That’s a hard question,” said Dana. “For the longest time I was obsessed with Invader ZIM and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. In middle school I would draw fan art of the characters in my workbooks. If My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic didn’t end, then I would have loved to work on that show! WildBrain is here in Vancouver so I’d love to work with them someday and maybe I could meet some of the animators who worked on it.”