Student computer animators hope to establish
a 'Thai presence' in the upcoming international
computer graphics and animation festival in San Diego
``To me, computer animation is an art form for storytelling,'' says the contest winner Chaichan Artwichai, a first-year student from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi. ``So, creating a movie that only tells the audience who does what and where is not good enough. The movie must contain enough details to allow the audience to both understand its concept as well as immerse themselves into the story,'' he adds.
As the winner of the competition, Chaichan and the two runners-up are qualified to submit their works under the theme ``Thai Fantasy'' in the upcoming thirty-fourth International Conference and Exhibition by the Special Interest Group in Graphics and Interactive Techniques (Siggraph) 2007.
This international event, which will take place from August 5-9 at the San Diego Convention Centre, USA, is where leading computer graphics and animation experts will convene this year.
``In what is now the third year of the My Portfolio Contest, we have seen an increase in quality and talent shown by student contestants,'' says Accharas Ouysinprasert, country manager of Intel Microeletronics (Thailand), ``which is a very encouraging sign for the future of Thailand's animation industry.'' In addition to Intel, the contest, organised by Art To Com Ltd, is also supported by the Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa) for the third year.
World of Thai Fantasy
To Chaichan, the word ``Thai Fantasy'' conjures up an image of an imaginary world, of the unreal and the impossible. Adding a Thai element into the work, Chaichan's work incorporates cultural symbols that he believes can best represent Thailand through the eyes of foreigners.
In the opening scene, two foreign kids run after a Thai puppet, which soon disappears behind a red wooden door. ``I chose two foreign kids because children signify a world full of fun and curiosity,'' Chaichan explains.
``At the same time, the puppet is associated with a children's toy and makes the story flow smoothly. When it disappears behind the red door, it means that another world of adventure is waiting to be discovered.
Inside the world of adventure, the two foreigners run into statues of a pair of giant guards, similar to those found at the historical landmark Wat Pra Kaew. Then, a tuk-tuk appears to fly them to a grand temple in the clouds.
``I wanted to communicate the idea of Thailand as a land of wonders and amazement, awaiting foreigners to discover,'' he says, adding that the flying tuk-tuk, self-animated puppet, and city in the clouds also reinforce the idea of Thai fantasy.
The wonders of Chaichan's world of Thai Fantasy ends with a monkey from the Ramayana epic, Hanuman, hopping on board one side of the tuk-tuk ``to symbolise every Thai person's warm welcome to foreigners.'' The camera then zooms into Hanuman's left eye, and the end credits are shown just prior to the end of the 60-second movie.
It took Chaichan three months to create this 60-second computer animation. The computerised stage, he says, is the final step that comes after designing characters, laying down the story plot, forming the overall concept, and preparing storyboards. To submit the work for Siggraph, Chaichan acknowledges that he still needs to develop smoother scene transitions and animation techniques.
``Siggraph is a huge event to people in the computer graphics, animation and multimedia industries,'' he says. ``Unlike students overseas, who prepare for the event at least one year in advance, Thai students are new to this event. So, I think it's quite impossible for us to win an award on this first attempt,'' he adds. Instead of winning, the objective is to create a Thai presence in the world of professional computer graphics and animation, he says.
Refining animation techniques
Similar to Chaichan's work, the world of Thai Fantasy for the first runner-up, Juta Manying, draws upon many familiar cultural symbols and figures. But unlike Chaichan's work, Juta emphasises a perfection of such techniques as 2-dimensional (2D) and 3-dimensional (3D) graphic animations, scene transitions, lighting, and colouring.
``I didn't have a clear-cut concept for this movie, other than the focus on Thai culture and the beauty of Thai arts,'' says the fourth-year student from Burapha University. ``This movie is like a canvass for me to experiment with different animation techniques as well as prepare myself for the next stage of the competition,'' he adds.
While Juta's story lacks a finalised plot, it showcases carefully planned lighting and animation techniques that complement the smooth transitions from one scene to the next. ``I use the light as the main transition to create a miracle of Thai art. When light shines through an ancient wall covered with inanimate vines and flowers, for example, these things start to move,'' he explains.
The next stage of the work, Juta says, will include finalising the story's plot, in addition to applying a smoother blend between the 2D and 3D graphics. ``Thai Fantasy is a difficult theme, compared to the previous year's theme `movement,' because it forces us to bring `Thainess' into the work,'' he says, adding that science-fiction or space is a more popular theme in most computer-animated works.
For Siggraph, he plans to create a new movie by using a few of the same characters from this work. ``I will play more with the concept of fantasy, probably by adding a sense of adventure to it,'' Juta says.
Unlike Juta and Chaichan, Palakorn Nawathong, the second runner-up from Rangsit University, applies a frame-by-frame technique to take the audience through some 2,000 years of Thai history in 60 seconds. The movie features a series of black-and-white charcoal paintings, each of which depicts a unique landmark or symbol of each period in Thai history.
``The first scene depicts the moon revolving around the earth, which signifies the passage of time,'' Palakorn says. The scenes progress from one historical period to the next, beginning from a pagoda in the Dvaravadhi period (557AD-1057AD) to a busy expressway in Bangkok or the Rattanakosin period (1782AD _ present).
Palakorn achieves his smooth transitions by employing intelligent morphing and zooming techniques, which transform an object in one scene into another object in the next scene. ``I drew a total of 400 pictures in Photoshop and laid them out one after another, just like how a traditional cartoon animation is made,'' he explains.
To zoom in on the earth, for example, he draws a series of the earth, one bigger than the previous ones. It took him five weeks to complete the movie.
``I try to emphasise the concept of time, changes, and historical eras through these drawings,'' Palakorn says, ``while also adding a [human touch] using the brush strokes of a paint brush.''
Like Chaichan, Palakorn expects little from his Siggraph entry. He needs to work on the details of each drawing and continue to improve the transitions between scenes. Experience, he says, is what he values more than actually winning an award.
Although their movies are unique, all three finalists agree on one thing. The most important element in completing a computer-animated movie, they say, is neither the technology nor techniques one possesses, but rather the love one has for the art.
For more information on the upcoming Siggraph event, visit www.siggraph.org/s2007
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Last modified: February 1, 2006