Production Talk on 'Godaizer' - an animation short by Hillary Yeo


Hillary Yeo, a fulltime lecturer in Animation Art programme in Lasalle College of the Art has won the First prize at Digicon Singapore for his animation short film, Godaizer. And it will be screened at the upcoming Siggraph Asia 2011 in Hong Kong this coming 13-15 Dec. We catch up with Hillary behind the scenes on this production.

Synopsis



An independent computer animated short about a robot repair warehouse run by a old man and his grandson where old decommissioned giant robot Godaizer is kept.

When a giant monster is awoken, its time for Godaizer to rise again and defeat it. But at what cost is it going to take to take down the monster?

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What inspired you to make this short? Why the choice of robots in a nostalgic heartlandish setting?

I loved watching Ultraman, Godzilla and other Japanese cartoons featuring super robots during my growing up years in Singapore and these formed the foundation of my interest in animation. Other movies such as Karate Kid (1984 original with Pat Morita), Cinema Paradiso and the old Cantonese kungfu movies are also the inspirations behind Godaizer.

I wanted to project the feeling of poignancy and nostalgia by basing the story context on mighty giants locked up in a lonely warehouse, forgotten and neglected by the current generation. I used to travel on the highways in Malaysia and see these huge fields, old abandoned buildings and kampong houses and be struck by how much character there are in these places. These sights and memories subsequently became part of my personal references.

Are you partly inspired by transformers and Real Steel?

Actually, no. J Real Steel was not even made when I started on the project.



How long did it take for you to make this? It looked very elaborate?

From the initial idea conceptualisation right up to the final sound and music mix, it took the team and I almost four years.



What was the most painstaking part of the making process? What were the challenges you faced?

The most painstaking part was coming up with a believable emotional connection between the grandfather and the grandson. Especially one that both the Western and Asian audience can relate to. Benjamin Chee (Editor/Storyboard artist) and I really struggled behind the scenes to come up with the rationale and motivations for both characters to live with each other, and hint at their personal sacrifices.



Other challenges include dealing with the logistics and manpower.

For a start, we had to look for a studio space to work in, which proved to be very difficult. I was renting a small shophouse space (about the size of a bedroom) until my current bosses at Lasalle College of the Arts, Wolfgang Muench and Christopher Shaw, kindly extended the offer of complimentary studio space at the College to me, while I teach part-time.

The other challenge was raising sufficient funds to pay the guys that worked on the project. Although I was very fortunate to have received funding support from the Media Authority of Singapore, I still had to come up with a substantial balance to fund the project.

Despite the fact that some of my team members were only student interns or fresh graduates then, I wanted to be fair by paying them. I had also wanted to give them an opportunity to work on something that they could add to their resume/portfolio. At the same time, I had to supervise and guide them to ensure that the quality of their animation was up to standard.



We had to work at creating numerous digital models, props and background paintings and translate them into 18 minutes of story-boarding and animation. Thankfully, the hand-picked team that worked on the project were all competent at what they do.

The art direction is meticulous and the attention to visual details is noticeable, could you elaborate more on the work done in this aspect, how did you create the look?

Basically, you try to treat everything as a character. The prop, the background, the environment, the robot etc are all characters. And you have to design and create these characters and give them their history. Where they have been, how they have aged and do they fit in that era etc.

We also had many photo references. As I had grew up in a kampong environment, it also allowed me to know how things were supposed to look and feel. I also traveled to different garages in Singapore and overseas to look at their layouts. The mechanical designs were based on existing robotics designs.

Most of the time, I have a rough idea in my mind. And these methodical researches sort of fill in the gaps and crystalise the look that I am going for.

Of course, having Ray Toh (www.raytoh.com) onboard as a concept designer was a god-send. Being of similar age, we both grew up knowing that genre. He understood the visual look immediately and was able to be spot-on on the aesthetic style pretty much from the very beginning.



Is there any reason why you chose not to have dialogue in the film?

I have always loved the idea of being able to tell a story without having to use words, where everything is shown or implied and not “in your face” via exposition dialog.

I took it upon myself as a personal challenge to tell the story and portray the relationships purely through the visuals.



How do you feel about winning the award?

Elated! I had the privilege to go to Tokyo to receive my award and be hosted by the gracious folks from TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System). There, I was able to absorb the energy and beauty of Tokyo, eat lots of ramen, drink awesome beer and buy many art books.

On a serious note, I was glad to obtain a better understanding of the workings of the animation industry there. I also met Gareth Edwards, the British film director of the independent sci-fi film Monsters, and upcoming Godzilla reboot. We chatted and he shared with me the struggles he underwent to be where he is today.



What advice do you frequently give your students on making an animation film?

Understand the intention of making the short film. The earlier you know what it is you want, the more time you have to get it done. If it is to find a job as an animator then a simple, short and well-executed animation that showcases your abilities is the way to go. If you want to develop your skills as story teller, then the challenge is to establish a balance whereby the audience can identify or relate to your short in some aspect and be drawn to it.

Singapore animation films are few and far in between, what kind of local animation content would you love to see here?

That is a really hard question. But I would say appealing content that is created with honest story telling as the prime motivation and investment. One should not have a risk adverse mindset and create a piece of work with unoriginal characters and a cookie-cutter plot, in hope that the mass audience will buy it.

You can view his full animation short via this link

You can also view the official website for his animation short via this link


Hillary is now a full-time lecturer in the Animation Art programme at Lasalle College of the Arts. He is also working on his next animated short. Read more about him and his works on his blog at: www.hilscreate.blogspot.com

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