Friday, June 14, 2013

Canadian animator James Chiang rides the animation boom in Singapore

Studio One's Oddbods
James "JC" Chiang is a hugely talented animator with years of experience in the animation industry. He has worked on many feature films including Robots, Open Season, Ice Age: The Meltdown and Surf's Up. Some years ago he left the US to work in Singapore, and has recently been working as animation director at One Animation on their new animated series Oddbods. FLIP asked him to talk about what it has been like working in the booming Asian economy.

FLIP: You are animation director at One Animation in Singapore. What does that involve? 

JC: As animation director I am responsible for building and managing the animation department. That includes hiring and training, shot assignments and scheduling, increasing the quality of the shows, and maintaining a collaborative yet productive work environment. Since I am also a creative director here, I contribute the same to the Visual Development team and when possible, assist in conceptual work on both current and future projects.

FLIP: You spent most of your career working in North America - what drew you to travel east and live in Singapore? 

JC: I wanted see if given a new environment, where the "regular" industry rules/practices were yet to be established, meant an opportunity to do things differently. It isn't common to see a fully-fledged studio here in Singapore or elsewhere in Asia, where both development and production work co-existed at the same location. Here I was given the chance to not only help build the studio, but to help select projects for development and shape the culture of the studio.

FLIP: What are the biggest challenges that you face in your work? 

JC: The challenges of developing a studio were many. Finding and developing talent has been a constant challenge primarily because the local industry here is young, so there isn't a wealth of established schools or experienced veterans you would normally see in North America or Europe. But the biggest difficulty I think, is getting the world to see an Asian company as a viable, quality-driven animation facility rather than the typical stereotype of a service-oriented sweatshop. It takes time to change these perceptions. That, and producing quality shows in a quality-oriented environment.

FLIP: What is the project you have worked on that you are most proud of and why? 

JC:  I have worked on many quality feature films and games in America and have enjoyed being a part of every one of them. Right now however, I'm most proud of a show we're doing here called Oddbods. Besides the opportunity to develop and direct the show, I was responsible for finding and developing a large portion of the team working on it. Seeing the project come to fruition and the artistic growth and maturation of so many young artists makes me very proud to have been their guide in this process. It's been really fantastic working with such kind and passionate people.

FLIP:  What advice would you give to anyone trying to break into the animation business?

JC:  I would say two things:

One, get some proper education in the field. And I don't mean just signing up at an animation school (although that would be step number one), but actually digging deeper by surrounding yourself with material, people and experiences that will enrich your education. Get all the books, videos, and notes you can find (and actually read them!). Get involved with forums, attend lectures/talks by industry veterans, check out websites and most of all, get out and meet people in the industry, young and old. Get inspired! You will find that most artists in this field are very friendly and more than willing to offer advice.

Two, never give up. Once you've decided that you want to be in this business, be determined to carry through with your promise. A promise to yourself is the hardest one to keep, but it's the most important. A lot of being part of this industry is determination. This means hard work. Talent alone is not enough, it needs to be developed.