Young people often dream of a career as an animator. But ''love'' is not enough. The essential attribute is ''dedication'', says Veerapatra Jinanavin, a Thai who has experience in world-class animation studios in Hollywood.
Veerapatra, who worked full-time at Sony Image Works and Blue Sky, and part-time at Pixar, says one of the reasons Thai animation films still lag behind is financial limitations. The budget for Thai animation films, say the recent Echo Planet, are in the order of US$7 million (around 210 million baht), compared to $100-200 million for each film made in Hollywood.
In Thailand the number of animation companies has increased, both local and international, compared to 10 years ago when only Kantana, Vithita Animation, Imagimax and The Monk were popular. Thai animators today are increasingly recognised around the world, as more foreign companies have set up shop here to tap into local resources.
''What we can do to counter with a limited budget is that Thais have a high level of determination and effort,'' says Veerapatra. ''Workpoint, which produced the upcoming Yak The Giant King, has worked very hard to fund the 100 million baht to create the film. This is the strength of Thais, even though our technique and budgets are still far behind.''
Thailand's success case in home-made animation was the internationally-recognised Kan Kluay, or Blue Elephant, a work by Kantana that was released and well-received in many other countries.
Veerapatra said the perseverance of Thai animators meant the work could continue to improve. Besides the quality of content, a strong concept is also key. Production quality is important, though it need not be extravagant as long as the concept, continuation, script and visual details are up to standard. He points to Hoodwinked as an example. The Philippines-made film's production quality is not memorable, but its concept is international and attracted attention in the overseas market.
Animated films today are firmly a part of mainstream pop culture and hook on our familiarity and relationship with everyday objects. That's how audiences can empathise with them.
''It's more than just understanding, you have to create a shared 'sense' _ to make your viewer think about it or have a deep feeling inside when watching it.''
Veerapatra cites an example of Shifu, the teacher of Po in Kung Fu Panda. He says the character was designed in the shape of a teapot and acts as if he is pouring out information, symbolically signifying his status as a teacher who always gives to learners, and that works subconsciously.
Veerapatra noted that animation is a form of entertainment that can be made to have international appeal, but it also has to have cultural elements. The elephants in Kan Kluay are good examples of Thailand; Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki's famous animation, has a scene in an onsen and conveys a clear Japanese sense; Pixar's latest film Brave shows in stunning details the clothing and armour worn by ancient Scottish warriors.
Veerapatra has been working on a fantasy animation, but declined to give details as he's discussing possible co-production with foreign partners. The story concerns the HM the King's philosophy and the critique of materialism.
''This cartoon series shows the hero-being as one who is bound with a monster, something everyone can touch. The content may seem to have mass appeal, but it has a certain uniqueness in details,'' he said.
There is still a limited number of good animators despite the growing number of graduates in the field. Veerapatra pointed out the universities' courses so far did not yet focus on each animation style, and he thinks they need improvemening. The field of animation encompasses drawing (figure drawing, texture drawing), 2D animation (which is the fundamental course), acting for animators, communication, advanced animation, story board, and also modelling in the form of figure drawing, sculpture, anatomy, and a combination of sculpture and computer graphics. Each of these requires people with specific skills.
While students tend to choose animation because they think it's fun, Veerapatra says a willingness to invest time and energy is essential to success in the field. This requires a long period of learning, and much practice and work.
A CHILDHOOD DREAM COMES TRUE
As a child, Veerapatra Jinanavin loved reading and drawing cartoons. He started water painting at seven. But Veerapatra never formally learned computer animation until he graduated from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Fine and Applied Art.
After an introduction to 3D and computer graphics at Cadcom.net, he then went to study at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, where he had a chance to be a trainee at Disney, Pixar and ILM.
In the US, he joined Blue Sky Studio and worked on Horton Hears A Who!, and later Sony Image Works, where he contributed to Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.
Veerapatra came bak to Thailand to work with The Monk Studio, a local company where he was the animation supervisor on the film Gingerbread Man.
Recognised by the name of ''Keko'' in the cyber world, Veerapatra teamed up with friends to start Keko Animation Workshop, which is today known as On One Animation and provides courses on 2D, drawing, sculpture and animation by applying the course outline from abroad and adjusting it to fit to the Thai context.
The company also runs Riff Studio, and has so far trained more than 20 students to be instructors.
The studio has undertaken work for European animation companies and now Veerapatra is working with a partner to produce a new cartoon series which will hopefully be on air by next year.
About the author
- Writer: Sasiwimon Boonruang
Position: Life Writer