THEIR achievements have captured local attention and encouraged our young, skilled artists to strive for greater things. Kiki Poh and Andrea Goh are among the several Malaysian-born talents who are behind some of Disney Pixar’s notable works of digital art, one of which is Cars 3, the new 3D computer-animated film that is already gaining positive reviews.
In a recent interview here, Poh and Goh talked about their animation journey at one of the world’s largest animation firms, Pixar Animation Studios.
MAGIC OF ANIMATION
Like other advocates of digital art, Poh fell in love with the animation industry after watching movies with realistic computer graphics when she was younger.
“I remember being so amazed by the movie Jurassic Park. Seeing dinosaurs being brought back from extinction through technology made me very excited,” she shared.
“I eventually decided to pursue my professional work in this industry to pass on the same kind of experience I felt to others. Creating characters and stories from imagination to make children happy is why I do what I do.”
Prior to her involvement with Pixar, Poh was a character animator for six years. During that time, she did character animation for a cartoon series and TV commercials.
The Johor Baru-born computer-graphics artist started out professionally back in 2005 but only landed her gig at Pixar in 2010 where she works as shading and grooming technical director. Her job focuses on the execution of surface textures and colours of animated characters.
“On Cars 3, I worked on shading the characters Guido, Fillmore, the legendary hero Doc Hudson and the C8 Racers Project. I also shaded Arvy Motorhome, River and Crashed Doc Hudson,” said Poh. Other notable films she has worked on include Toy Story 3, Monsters University and Inside Out.
“I had always wanted to do cartoon animation but there weren’t many studios in Malaysia that fully emphasised on this particular creative work at a scale I find satisfying. That is why I went to the United States,” she said.
ALL IN THE DETAILS
Poh said that as a shading artist, “you need to be able to define the characteristics of your animation models properly”.
“In other words, you need to have a good eye for detail to make your work realistic. In the Crazy 8 crashes, for instance, the vehicles featured are mostly out-dated and rundown. So I really had to make sure that they had elements of rust and oxidisation to make them more believable,” she added.
A light development software called Katana by The Foundry was used to do the shading work. “Katana allows us to streamline our tasks more efficiently, especially when executing big projects such as creating background cars for specific scenes,” said Poh. “In addition, some new development features were added like fresnel energy compensation and bump roughness. Fresnel energy compensation makes sure that the way we conceptually separate the surface colour and reflections are backed up correctly. It makes shiny surfaces like clear coat on car paint look right. Meanwhile, bump roughness helps accurately produce very fine specular texture details such as scratches, carbon fibre and brushed metals. This brought the shading of the animated cars to a new level,” she added.
SHARING THE EXPERIENCE
According to Poh, animation is simply a combination of the action, visual and sound effects all put together in one package. “If delivered right, it helps to create a wonderful and fun learning experience regardless of the project theme.”
However, she said the learning process of animation work is lengthy and requires a lot of patience. “It will take you a long time before you can even be comfortable at making a short film. In this line, you really need a lot of passion to be able to survive. The important thing is to understand its body mechanics, so practice makes perfect,” stressed the California based animation artist who was recently in town to promote Cars 3.
Not one to keep her knowledge to herself, Poh concluded her visit here by conducting a workshop at The One Academy where she shared her experience in detail.
“One of the important things that I shared with participants is mostly on my thinking process — how I efficiently approach and delegate assignments with tight deadlines. My work on Cars 3 had to be done within 20 weeks, so working efficiently as a group is something I had to maintain,” she said, adding that those able to work well under pressure are highly regarded.
The only major difference that Poh noted about the working environment here in Malaysia and in the United States is that the restraints come in the form of budget. “The Asian animation industry as a whole has limited resources. I hope this is something we can strive to improve on to grow the local industry further.”
LIGHTS, CAMERA, LAYOUT!
Born in Kuala Lumpur, 25-year-old Goh is probably living the dream of many young professionals. Working for a studio responsible for some of the most successful animation movies this century is a definite career booster.
“I think the best aspect about my job is being part of something bigger than I am, making something meaningful and reaching out to the world with positive messages,” shared the camera and staging layout artist.
Goh was accepted for the Pixar Undergraduate Program (PUP) in 2015 where she discovered her interest in camera and staging. “The experience I went through was very different from what I studied in school. My mentor at the time was Adam Habib, the director of photography. He guided me through my final year projects. I eventually returned to Pixar as a layout intern after I graduated and now I am part of the team as Run of Show,” she said.
“My typical day at work starts around 9am where I check in with my teammates and director of photography on the show to make sure we are on the same page for our tasks and deadlines. Then, I start building camera shots for my assigned sequence, have my shots reviewed and wrap up work by 6pm.”
Despite the office hours, Goh said the animation industry is more subjective than other jobs.
“We all want to make good interpretations of our work but sometimes, what is considered ‘good’ is so intuitive. This pushes us to sharpen our technical skills and artistic eye while exploring the endless possibilities of digital art.
“Artists often overlook passion for financial stability. You must learn to balance your passion for your job and your need for survival to succeed,” said Goh.
Like the more senior Poh, Goh also contributed her expertise to Cars 3. She said it was fun to see her teammates get together to solve problems in the staging sequences of the cars.
“My contributions are mostly the gag sequences where the camera and characters should be able to make the audience laugh. I enjoyed the process of translating the jokes from storyboards into the 3D world and I am happy to have been able to contribute new shot angles and ideas to make it even more funny.”
INSPIRED TO ASPIRE
On one of the significant ways in which animation can transform learning, Goh noted: “Animation holds great influence over society because it is a form of entertainment that can be enjoyed by both the young and old and it can inspire values and change mindsets subconsciously.
“For players in the industry, I strongly encourage them to use its power to help society to be more open-minded, diverse and kinder to each other.”
She also shared that technology can help improve society as “it works by encouraging us to ensure that our crafts are more engaging and portrayed with a unique human touch”.
The best way to learn and explore animation is simply by analysing the available animated and live action films. “Watching the behind-the-scenes and interview videos of these pictures is very helpful in understanding how a movie is made and how the pipeline works,” said Goh. “Nowadays, there are so many free tutorials online to help us get started. I wouldn’t say that animation is for everyone, but it is definitely for you if you work hard enough for it.”
YOUR FAVOURITE SCENE OR ONE THAT BEST ILLUSTRATES YOUR CONTRIBUTION?
The Crazy 8 racing scene. It is the most fun and craziest race I have ever seen.
WHAT MAKES CARS 3 SO SPECIAL?
I like that this movie focuses more on Lightning McQueen. It is special in that it sends the message to never stop trying to do something you have never done before.
DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL MENTOR?
I can say Walt Disney is kind of a role model to me. He inspired many people.
WHAT BIG LESSON DID HE/SHE TEACH YOU?
Because of him, we get to put our imaginations into movies, and touch the young. He has been a good role model and inspiration to me. To dream big, believe in yourself and make your dream come true.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO VISIT IN YOUR HOMETOWN AND WHY?
It has to be the pasar malam. I am all about street food and being part of the crowd checking out night market offers.
THE BEST PART ABOUT MY JOB IS...
... to be able to work on something I love everyday. I never get tired of making animation.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Other people’s struggles and their determination to overcome it.
WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?
Working on film projects I’m passionate about; this literally keeps me up!
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME?
I like to meet new people or shoot photographs.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PIXAR MOVIE AND WHY?
Inside Out. It touches on depression and issues we face without being too invasive. I love the main message of the movie — “it’s okay to be sad”.
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMATION CHARACTER, WHAT/WHO WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?
Does Lara Croft count as an animated character? Ha ha, I guess not. I would like to be GoGo Tamago from Big Hero 6, so I can skate around at high speed to save the world.
IF YOU WEREN’T DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW, WHAT TYPE OF JOB WILL YOU BE DOING?
Perhaps a motivational speaker or a therapist to help others with their wellbeing.
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT MALAYSIA?
I think this is a tough question. I think char kway teow. I also love hiking at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia. I used to hike there with my family and it’s making me really homesick.
WE ARE EMPOWERING OTHERS WHEN WE...
... are kind and supportive to each other without judgment and unrealistic expectations. When we make friends and allies, not enemies and competitors