Confessions of an animation director
In animation, every expression, ray of light and movement is deliberate, says director Ervin Han
When asked about people who say his work is just for children, animation director Ervin Han just smiled and shrugged.
The 42-year-old founder of local animation studio Robot Playground paused before offering an answer he seems to have repeated often.
"To a lot of people, animation is really just Disney and Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Those are terrific children's channels," Mr Han told The New Paper.
"But that is not all animation is. It's a tool to tell other stories too, a broader world of stories that can be told through this art form."
It takes a patient person to work in animation, said Mr Han.
He should know. For eight months, 25 people worked on The Violin, a 16-minute animated short film that his company produced.
But all that effort paid off.
The Violin, which traces Singapore's history from its founding days, became a hit with critics and the public.
His team is working on a feature-film length version.
"Singapore stories have never been done this way, which is why The Violin surprised quite a few people," he said.
Before starting Robot Playground four years ago, Mr Han was the head of development in another animation company.
There, he developed content such as television shows, web series, short films and print campaigns for broadcasters and corporate clients.
But it was a desire to tell Singapore's stories and trace its background that spurred Mr Han to quit and start his own studio.
He said: "A lot of the local animation we've seen has been very Westernised because they have been doing work for others.
"Now I want tell the kind of stories that are meaningful to me."
Mr Han was quick to add, however, that animation is and can never be, a process that a person does alone.
He let on that a lot of the work happens during storyboarding, when the producersdiscuss and draft out concepts for the film's plot.
As we sat in his studio's meeting room, which was adorned with concept art, he joked: "Actually, we do a bulk of the work here. Only when it is firmly decided that it goes to the team to execute."
Mr Han added that unlike conventional films, there are no retakes or ad-libbing when it comes to animation. Every expression, every ray of light and every character's movement is deliberate.
The voice actors typically record lines first. The animators then assemble the show around them.
"It has to be natural for the voice actors. They act it out first, then we animate it," he said.
This was the case when Robot Playground produced Heartland Hubby, which Mr Han said is the first of its kind to be shown during the prime-time belt here.
The series premiered in January 2015 on Mediacorp's Channel 5 and featured the voices of actors like Lim Yu-Beng, Ebi Shankara, Siti Khalijah and Alaric Tay.
Robot Playground does have its fair share of corporate clients too, but Mr Han stressed that he always makes sure there is a balance with the studio's own projects.
There is a priority to ensure the local animation scene is nurtured because, to Mr Han, there "barely is one now".
"We have to work on it because there is a potential not just for a Singapore audience, but a broader Asian one," he said.
Mr Han was recently appointed one of 19 jury members for this year's National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) - an annual competition organised by *Scape that recognises young film-makers.
This year's nominees will be announced next month, with the awards ceremony taking place on July 22.
Mr Han said: "Like the way local television and film has grown, animation can grow too.
"I'm looking forward to that."
Secrets of the trade
You have to love animation. People in this field live and breathe animation, and obsessing about it is nothing short of a necessity.
- Having a lot of patience is a must because it takes a long time and a lot of hard work before an animation can go from paper to screen.
- Constantly keep up to date with the latest movies, television shows and music. You'll never know what might inspire you next.