Drawing on Talent

Japan proves a fertile breeding ground for students of animation in Thailand

A boy and his mum want to surprise his dad on his birthday with a home-made cake. While making the cake, the boy drops and breaks a bottle of milk so his mom gives him a money to buy a new one. On the way home after getting the milk, a hungry cat and her kittens hound him.

Music Box by the team from St Francis Xavier Convent School.

The boy is torn: he's afraid that his mom will get angry but he also wants to help the starving cats.

The short animation, Milk, by three fourth-year students from Silpakorn University won the Thailand Animation Contest 2012 (TAC), organised by Allianz Ayudhaya Assurance, in collaboration with the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) and the Foundation of King Rama IX.

The film captured the judges' imagination not only because of its content, but also the techniques the creators applied in producing it. It is another manifestation of the creativity and skill of young Thais, while influenced by everything from Hollywood movies to Japanese manga, who have managed to develop a style of their own. Besides using the open source programmes such as PENCIL, Blender, Jashaka composing effects and GIMP Illustration, what makes Milk striking is the use of watercolour painting and manual drawing, which is uncommon in today's animation.

In the film, the boy decides to feed the cats and returns home with an empty bottle. His mom gets angry, but then she turns soft when she sees the cat and the kittens following her son home. Later, his father arrives with a grocery bag _ inside, there is a bottle of milk. In order to create an animation in tune with the competition's theme, "New Generation With Virtue", the winning trio of Banpot Chaiwong, Chinapat Yuekprasert and Pongsaton Sae-Loe crafted a story that deals with the dilemma of responsibility and sacrifice.

The other winning team in the student category hailed from St Francis Xavier Convent School. The team, comprising Natthakamol Sukijjakamin, Preyarat Naweruengrat and Tinna Ratanapotisan, presented a three-minute-long animation entitled Music Box, about a boy and a magical box that brings happiness with every good deed he performs.

Japanese inspiration

During their field trip to Japan, the winning teams presented their works at leading universities specialising in animation studies. They also visited Kyoto International Manga Museum and Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum _ well-known for Japanese anime that has long been a staple of young Thai audiences.

A professor at Seika Kyoto University was full of praise for both Thai films, noting that the content and image background of Milk was tender and impressive.

The scenes, the colour, story editing and the image mixture were all done naturally. The characters _ the mother, the son and the cats gave the audience a glimpse of the daily life of Thai people.

Both Milk and Music Box were done effectively within the limited timeframe of three months, according to Assoc Prof Takeshi Nagata of Osaka-Electro Communication University, who is an expert in computer graphic and visual effects design.

However, he pointed out that it's a bit hard to contemplate that these were the works of young Thai students.

"If you go for the international stage, it is important to show the audiences the work is originally Thai. It should have something that relates to Thainess, as you may have seen with animation made in Japan that has a distinct Japanese essence."

These were the two winning teams selected from more than 1,400 students nationwide and 448 animation projects. One of the conditions was that every team was required to use open-source programmes. Ten teams making it to the final round _ both in school and university categories _ then joined an intensive two-day animation camp held at Science Park where every team was put through a marathon 34-hour training session in animation development.

This was the fifth consecutive year that the competition was held. It is a stage for students to showcase their talent, where they compete for the HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Trophy, a scholarship worth 250,000 baht and a one-year life insurance policy. Perhaps more important than the trophy is the chance for the winning team to go on a week-long trip to Japan and meet with animation professors.

Music Box was made using open-source programmes which included Jashaka compositing system, GIMP Illustration, Garageband Sounds, PENCIL and Movie Maker Arrangements.

''We have a project to further support youth talent by making it possible for the better ones to be trained by Japanese lecturers and support them to enter more animation contests in Japan,'' said Patchara Taveechaiwattana, who is in charge of market management and corporate affairs of Allianz Ayudhya Assurance.

Virach Sornlertlamvanich, Nectec's senior researcher, commented that even though Music Box had a profound theme, the story itself couldn't communicate the idea strongly. It's only because the creator informed the audience of the theme at the end that the message comes across.

''Technically, if we compare with foreign productions, Thai animation stories are often made up of too many components and lack a main focus,'' the researcher said, pointing out that the work of the Silpakorn team that put together various techniques including camera panning, watercolour painting and also several characters. It was hard to figure out where the emphasis was, he explained.

In contrast, Japanese animation brings out skills in specific fields. When showing the image of rain, for example, a creator specifically expresses the water drop and tries to re-create the feeling of rain, while the composition and character are not the focus. It gives strength to the story and is able to inspire real feelings among the audience. During the trip, besides presenting the works at various universities, Japanese animators also showed their student projects to the Thai teams.

''Japan is paying more attention to Thailand and we have had this kind of collaboration for several years. Their comments help our youths to improve their work,'' said Virach.

One student of the winning team at TAC 2011, who joined the subsequent field trip to Japan, decided to further her studies in animation there.

Chayanit Kiatchokechaikul, of Silpakorn University, is now studying animation in Kyoto. After completing her studies, she would like to apprentice under Hayao Miyazaki of Ghibli Studio, whom she admires a lot.

''Japan has always been my inspiration. Entering and winning the competition enabled me to learn a lot of things that I couldn't have done elsewhere,'' said Chayanit.

''Comments from the lecturers helped me to better perceive my strengths and weaknesses and see what others have done, which for me, is very important and a good experience.''

The competition, though small in scale, has succeeded in churning out better and smarter young animators year after year. It can expand with the support of various institutes dealing with providing and handling digital content in Thailand. But importantly, the link between Thailand and Japan has been strengthened, and hopefully Japan will continue to be a source of new ideas and opportunities for Thai animators in the years to come.

Milk , an animation story, by the winning team from Silpakorn University.

Members of the Silpakorn University and St Francis Xavier Convent School teams.

The use of celebrities and manga characters has boosted the popularity of Pachinko gaming among youths, elderly people and even women in Japan.

Museums in a league of their own

Kyoto-based International Manga Museum and the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum in Osaka show there is more to tourism in Japan than shrines and temples. And they aren't just about manga _ Japanese comics _ but also important repositories of the virtual and cultural history of Japan.

The International Manga Museum is the first ever comprehensive cultural facility in Japan to combine the functions of a manga museum and library. The building is based in a repurposed elementary school that was built in the early Showa era.

The museum holds over 300,000 manga materials, foreign as well as local. About 50,000 of these (mostly paperback manga made between 1970 and 2005) are accessible to visitors on book shelves that run the entire length and breadth of the museum, from the first floor to the third, the "Wall of Manga".

Stained glass panels at the entrance and on the ceiling of the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum feature prominent characters from Japanese comics.

It is here that we learn that manga itself can be drawn by a single artist but the creation process for the magazines and books involves many more people.

In the 1950s manga magazines entered weekly publication, and in the 1970s it became standard to republish serialised manga in book format known as tankobon.

In the 1980s links with the anime and game industries strengthened as manga became an industry on its own and continued to expand.

In the main gallery, the permanent exhibition "What is Manga?" explains the systematic and historical aspects of the manga industry.

Meanwhile, the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum was established to give juveniles dreams and hopes for the future, based on the theme "Love for Nature" and "Respect to Life", which manga creator Osamu Tezuka had advocated during his life.

The facade of the museum takes over an old European castle, adorned with a glass-made globe inspired by Tezuka's essay "Save The Glass Earth".

Visitors to the museum can read manga for as long as they like.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Sasiwimon Boonruang
Position: Life Writer