'Tatsumi' workshop with Eric Khoo and Phil Mitchell

Workshop with Eric Khoo and Phil Mitchell
Monday couldn't have ended better. Rushed down to Edelman’s office and joined about 20 others, eager to finally meet and hear what the maestro has to say about his latest work, Tatsumi. It will be his first time directing a feature animation film. It is also the first time in Singapore that a full length feature animation film is being made.

Back in 1990s, Eric Khoo shook off the cobwebs of the local film industry by making films that Singapore has never seen before, even back during the Golden Era from 1920s up till the decline in 1980s. With films like Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys, he also drew global recognition to his work.

Now, 2 decades later, he has embarked on something that nobody in Singapore would ever imagine themselves being able to pull off. He made Singapore’s first full-length feature 2D animation, and he managed to even get the blessings to make this film from Tatsumi-sensei himself.

Well, not to forget that this film has already made it's way to the Cannes Film Festival, and soon will be traveling to Pusan, Berlin and various other film festivals! Nothing less from the maestro himself.

The workshop was really casual, and Eric and Phil were generous, and I would say, happy and excited to share so much detail that went into making Tatsumi during the workshop, he spoke of how he came across Tatsumi-sensei’s work, and was immediately inspired by his comics.

To paraphrase what he said, Khoo said he has never been so creatively stimulated for a long time. So, he made arrangements to meet with Tatsumi-sensei, got in touch with Infinite Frameworks, and the rest is history. Khoo even shared an anecdote on why he admired Tatsumi-sensei so much. Besides being the creator of the gekiga (dramatic style) manga, he was also so dedicated to drawing. During the earthquake that happened earlier this year in Japan, Eric and Phil immediately tried to contact Tatsumi and their friends to see if they were alright. But what was so amazing, was that Tatsumi was drawing at that time when the earthquake started. Thankfully, his wife and himself emerge unscathed, and he sent out an email, with a scanned drawing attached. On it, Tatsumi-sensei had drawn himself with objects falling all around him - his utmost dedication to his craft still command much admiration from both Eric and Phil.

Phil Mitchell, the animation director at Infinite Frameworks, filled us in that they both started on this project back in December 2009, and in April 2010 they were nearly done with the film. That’s just crazy insane fast, especially for an animation.

Everyone was hanging on every word uttered by Khoo and Mitchell. To be honest, so was I. Only through this opportunity, will commoners like ourselves learn more about the genius that went into making this film. Even down to the littlest detail, they were open to sharing. Like the common vision both men had for the film. Instead of riding on the hype over 3D, they both agreed to looking backwards, and paying tribute to the beauty and wonders of 2D. Mitchell emphasized that there is so much potential still, with 2D animation. It is only with 2D animation, that allows so much more leeway for the audience to think and imagine what happens in the film. Unlike 3D animation, where audiences are voluntarily being fed with the storyline. That, I totally agree.

Lim Poh Huat - a body double for Tatsumi!

Although Khoo and Mitchell wanted to bring back the beauty of 2D, they managed to complete this so fast because of technology. Mitchell was able to eliminate sheaves of paper scattering around while working on the film, while Khoo can view and direct the film digitally via online correspondence with Mitchell. they used the computer to create his entire film. Which to me, is really amazing. You don’t have to be in the same country, same continent or same place to work anymore. Even with film!

However, what was pretty amusing was that Mitchell and Khoo found out that by using technology to create this animation, the film became too “perfect”. The motions were too clean, and this defeated the purpose of making it seem as 2-dimensional as possible. So they had to go back, and reedit the animation to make it slightly less streamline, and more convincing that it has actually been done on paper.

So much attention to detail was given, and finally a refreshing 2D animation feature film that has more complex storyline than certain animation films coming out recently in the cinemas. Well, this is the first Singapore animation feature film, and the 6th animation film over the history of Cannes Film Festival to be invited to be screened. Says a lot, doesn't it?
Phil relates how real Japanese felt about the end product and Eric relates how Tatsumi dealt with the earthquake

Evidence! Tatsumi's precious earthquake drawing

Finally, both men were incredibly generous in giving credit when it's due. Fong Cheng, long-time producer for Eric, was revealed by both men that she has been the one who have streamlined communications between the two of them, kept track of the progress and without her, this film will not be possible.

Here's Fong Chang, talking about the time when both Phil and Eric met Tatsumi, explaining to him about what they are intending to do with this comic. As they say, art in all its various forms can be the only communicator one may need to understand each other. How can "digitally animated", be translated in Japanese for sensei to understand? Only manually creating a flipbook, did they manage to bring the message across to him. Sensei, finally understood their intentions, and gave both Eric and Phil all his blessings to make this animation.

Finally, now that the film is done, all can enjoy Gekiga on the big screen soon. Don't forget to catch it at all your nearest GV cinemas when it's out!

Written by Ong Yizhen
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