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A cartoon to save the planet
Publication Date : 03-08-2012
Six years after his young pachyderm hit the screens in "Khan Kluay", Thai director Kompin Khemkumnerd is back with a 3D animated feature about three youngsters determined to save the world from the heat devil in "Echo Jew Kong Loke" ("Echo Planet").
Aimed at an international market, the adventure aims to show how traditional folk wisdom can do more to tackle problems than high-tech devices.
While "Khan Kluay" was almost entirely Kompin's baby, the director wasn't involved in the 2009 sequel "Khan Kluay 2". Instead, he spent time thinking about his second project.
"If we really want to establish the Thai animation industry, we have to move to new ideas instead of producing sequels that have less chance of success," he says.
Armed with a bachelor's degree from Silpakorn University, Sompin was furthering his studies at the California Institute of Arts in the US in 1996 when he won a scholarship from Walt Disney. He later became an animator of the giant studio's animation team, working on such titles as "Atlantis" and "Tarzan".
Kompin worked for Disney for two years before joining Blue Sky Studios in New York. There, he was involved in the production of the first "Ice Age" movie.
Despite the success of "Khan Kluay", the director didn't immediately get approval for his new project. Instead he spent time exploring his interest in upcountry life and then presenting it in the TV series "Kudjie" and "Songkran".
Then, with his ideas rounded out and accepted, he started making "Echo", working closely with Kantana president Jaruek Kanjaruek.
Set in Thailand, "Echo" introduces a foreign boy, Sam, the son of the president of Capital State. He's attending a scout jamboree in Thailand but gets lost in the foggy forest. He's saved by Norva, a girl from the long-necked Karen tribe and her younger brother Jorpe. Both siblings are able to communicate with nature. The friendship between the three youngsters grows but soon it is time for Sam to return home.
Meanwhile in the outside world, excessive global warming has attracted BUCT, a heat devil that is consuming the world’s energy. Sam's father and other world leaders decided to use a "cool bomb" to kill the monster. But Jorpe, Norva and Sam believe the bomb will only worsen the situation. With their pet tapir from the jungle, they set on an adventure to turn off the world's electricity grid and cut off BUCT's energy supply.
"It's the clash of two worlds - people from the civilised countries coming up against a primitive society that lives close to nature. It's the poetic way of saying what the world is telling us through natural disasters. Most of us just don't recognise what's being said, only those who live close to nature like tribal people can comprehend," he says.
The story was originally set only in Thailand with a city boy meeting tribal kids.
"But as animation is about exaggeration, we needed a more extreme impact so the story expanded to reach a more global audience," he says.
Like most animated features released these days, "Echo" is presented in stereoscopic 3D - a first for Thai animated features.
The process increases the deep dimensions and gives the impression that the world in the movie is embracing the audience, Kompin says.
But it's a gimmick that can't be relied on too heavily.
"Three-D thrills audiences for the first 10 minutes, after that it's the story that will hold the audience's attention through to the end," he says.
Kompin also acknowledges that putting too much emphasis on global warming may alienate viewers, especially those with preconceived ideas such films will have a boring and preachy story.
He's also aware that animation is perceived as something only children will like.
Determined to make "Echo" something that will have all ages glued to the screen, Kompin brought in ace screenwriter Kongdej Jaturanrasamee to help with the script.
He was also careful about choosing his voice actors, listening carefully to the advice of veteran voice-actor Montree Jenaksorn before making a final selection.
"Adult actors offer strong acting and emotion but kids have the right voices for children's characters. I finally went with the kids and it was the right decision," he says.
Actress Nuengtida Sopon voices Norva, young Atipitch Chutiwatkhajornchai is perfect as Jorpe while Noppan Jantarasorn is Sam.
While making "Khan Kluay", Kompin was convinced that working with animal characters was far more difficult than people and says he was surprised to find that the reverse was true.
"The human character is a lot more difficult because we are familiar with it and so many details need to be precise, otherwise the audience will notice," he says.
After "Khan Kluay" was released in 2006, Thai studios quickly came up with two other animated features: the ghost story "Nak" and "Phra Bhuddhajao" ("The Life of Buddha"). Interest quickly fell off after that, with only "Khan Kluay 2" coming out in 2009.
Compared to making live-action films, animation is much more labour-intensive, and Thai movie studios have mostly retreated from it.
Kompin says Kantana Animation should be able to release a new feature every three years.
And his studio isn't the only one, he points out, adding that Workpoint Entertainment is scheduled to release its first animated feature "Yak" in October.