The Nation on Sunday had a front-page article about the state of animation in Thailand, honing in on two upcoming 3-D features, Khan Kluay, about King Naresuan’s valiant war elephant and something tentatively called Dracula Tork, about a ghost based on the late Thai comedian Lor Tork, who starred in the classic Thai film, Ngern Ngern Ngern (Money, Money, Money).
Producted by Auchara Kijkanjanas and Boyd Kosiyabong, Khan Kluay has been in production for five years, and has had problems along the way.
"Trouble? We've had to face it in every area, every step of production from developing the script to researching it until final editing on the computer screen now," Auchara was quoted as saying.
"Yes, there are problems all along the way. It’s new to us, and we're working under constraints in every area from budget to human resources," Boyd said.
Under production by Thailand's biggest animation studio, Kantana Animation, and backed by Sahamongkol Film, Khan Kluay initially had a budget of 100 million baht (about $2.5 million), but five years of learning and the work of 100 production-crew members have cost almost 150 million baht so far.
The director of Khan Kluay is Kompin Kemgumnird, whose experience makes him a 3-D animation veteran in the local industry. He used to work for Disney on such films as Tarzan and Atlantis, as well as Blue Sky Studio's Ice Age.
Kompin said human resources was one major difficulty he encountered as he had had to develop both the work method and technical skills for each member of his crew.
"We had a film school in our company to train personnel. Fortunately, it has now grown into an official programme at Mahidol University, co-developed by Kantana," Kompin was quoted as saying.
Chaiwat Thawewongsangthong, the new president of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, said his organization would soon be ready coordinate between animation film-makers and government authorities, especially the Culture Ministry, to promote Thai animated films. He admitted that the federation had done nothing special to promote Thai animated films, as its policy was to treat all local films equally, but with the breakthrough of these two, promotion in the world market would be reviewed.
Here's an interesting quote from Boyd:
Apart from lowering taxes on the film industry, if the authorities want to support Thai animations, one thing they can do is set a quota for Thai films screened in domestic cinemas. That is one way domestic film-makers can survive."
Due out later this year, Khan Kluay will be the first Thai animated feature to be released since 1979's Sud Sakorn, a cel-animated effort that I wish would be issued on DVD and as heavily marketed in Thailand as any Disney 'toon. It's part of Thailand's cultural heritage that is in grave danger of being lost if something is not done to promote it. Director Payut Ngaokrachang faced many of the same struggles to practice his art (yes, it IS art!) - the learning curve and the incredulous studios (why spend so much money animating it, we can do live action for cheaper!).
And, before this latest push involving Khan Kluay, there was a 3-D feature by Angulimala director Sutape Tunnirut called King Vikram & Betaan Vampire. It was completed more than a year ago but has been blocked from release or exhibition for some reason or another. Those who have seen it have commented that it's not bad, though hardly Pixar standard.
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)