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Animating an epic
Publication Date : 05-10-2012
The Ramayana gets a robotic makeover in Yak (The Giant King), Work Point Entertainment's first animation feature that's now showing in theatres all over the country.
But while it is loosely inspired by the epic tale, probably the only character the audience will able to relate to is Na Khaiw (Tosakan), with his two fangs and giant body, as Peak (Hanuman) seems to be little influenced by the monkey's character at all.
Yak depicts a world destroyed a million years ago in a war between the giant robots led by Tosakan and the Rama robot army led by Hanuman. One day, they wake up and find they've been fused together by an uncut chain. What's more, they've both forgotten who they are so the reluctant duo sets off on a journey to find the truth and cut the chain. After they recover their memories, they have to make a decision: do they continue as friends or become the enemies again?
"People are fighting far too much nowadays, not only in our country but everywhere in the world. What will happen if sworn enemies like Tosakan and Hanuman are not willing to fight anymore," says Prapas Chonsaranon, scriptwriter and the co-director of the 110-million baht (US$3.5 million) feature.
One of the founders of Work Point Entertainment, Prapas is recognised as the creative brain behind such successful Work Point TV game shows as "Game Tosakan". The writer, who admits he's obsessed with the Ramayana story, used the 10-faced and 10-handed giant king character to plot the game show, which featured an animated Tosakan face created by Chaiporn Panichrutiwong, of Pang Pond the Animation fame.
Prapas's first idea was to take a well known episode and present it likay style, but he later decided only people who knew the entire epic would enjoy it and that discounted not just the majority of Thais but also foreign viewers. Instead he decided to take just the character and come up with an entirely new story.
The project was already on the drawing board and making good progress when the Hollywood animation Robots was released in 2005 followed three years later by Wall-E. With robot characters so much in play, the team downed tools and questioned whether to continue the project or perhaps change the story.
Prapas and his co-director Chaiporn finally decided to continue. "We believed the story would make it different," Prapas notes
"There is nothing new in the animation world. Whatever we do, someone will have already done it before," Chaiporn points out. "If we use animal characters, we'd be like Madagascar'. If it's fish, it would be Finding Nemo. The difference lies in the storyline and the character design," continues the animator, who won the top prize for his 3D entry to the Animation World Festival 2000 in Los Angeles while studying and working in animation in the United States
Growing up with Thai, Japanese and American animations, Chaiporn says that the spirit of Thainess shows through in their work. It's in details like Hanuman's eyebrow, a take on the laay Thai painting style, local vegetables like morning glory and water hyacinth, the market or the rusty galvanised iron roofs.
In any case, Chaiporn isn't worried about comparison, as he's well aware that his designs carry their own signature, with each of his characters slightly imperfect.
"I like to create the underdogs. They aren't perfect; in fact they often look hideous. The perfect character looks plain and is not fun to do," he says.
Thus instead of an awesome powerful giant, Na Keaw is like a green beast with a huge body but small legs while Peak has a purple body with three antenna on his head.
The directors simultaneously developed both story and the characters. Instead of dubbing after the animation was finished, Prapas had the actors record their voices first. He put each actor in a different room and asked them to interact with each other through the monitor. Their voices and their acting were used to develop the character. Prapas cast Santisuk Promsiri as Tosakan because, he says, "he can be the good hearted character like in his 'Boochu' role and a furious villain".
One of the important characters is the hiker Brooks, who is voiced by comedian Udom "Nose" Taepanich. "Brooks is important to the momentum of the story and although it's only a small role, it reflects a person who can make the impossible dream come true, so only Nose is perfect for it," says Prapas.
Chaiporn says adopting this process helped him bring the actor's personality to the character. Peak is dubbed by Kiattisak "Sena Hoy" Udomnak who at that time was sporting dreadlocks, so Chaiporn transformed the deadlocks into the antenna on Peak's head. "They're to connect with Rama," Prapas explains.
But while Yak is an animation, both Chaiporn and Prapas admit that it might not be suitable for a very young audience. "The tone is more Harry Potter," says Chaiporn.
"The story has different layers of ideas that are suitable for adults but can entertain kids also. Young children shouldn't be brought to see it. In any case, watching any film in a theatre is wrong for that age because the sound is just too loud," Prapas says.
The animation comes in both Thai and English versions. While the Thai version gets professional actors, the English version has been supervised for both translation and casting by the Thailand-based American singer Todd Tongdee Lavelle.
"Yak" has already been sold to South Korea, Russia and Malaysia and is in theatre with two soundtrack options: in Thai with English subtitles and in English with Thai subtitles at Paragon Cineplex, SF World Cinema SFX The Emporium and Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada.