Friday, May 28, 2010

In memoriam: Payut Ngaokrachang

Pioneering Thai animator Payut Ngaokrachang (ปยุต เงากระจ่าง), hailed as the "Walt Disney of Thailand", died yesterday. He was 81 years old.

Payut made the first Thai animated feature, The Adventure of Sudsakorn (สุดสาคร), which was released in 1979. The fantasy tale is adapted from Phra Aphai Mani, a 30,000-line epic poem by Sunthorn Phu (1786–1855).

Production of Sudsakorn took three years, with Payut doing much of the work himself and nearly going blind in the process. He related his struggles in an interview with Professor John A. Lent in 1997 at the Animation World Network:

I made a lot of my equipment from pieces I got from junk of World War II military surplus. I'd find a screw here, a crank there, etc. I used a combat camera and adapted it. I pulled together pieces of wood, aluminum, whatever I could find."

"I did all the key drawings myself, even the layout and design ... I was almost blind from doing that film and now I wear contacts. My right eye is long, my left is short, crooked because of all that detailed work."

According to Wikipedia, Payut was born on April 1, 1929 in Klong Warl village, Warkoe in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. As a child, he was interested in nang yai (หนังใหญ่) shadow-puppet plays and Felix the Cat.

He studied art by corresponding with illustrator Hem Vejakorn, whose work was seen on the covers of 10-satang pulp novels.

The artist and self-trained animator started out making short films. His first was Haed Mahasajan (เหตุมหัศจรรย์) in 1955, about a distracted traffic cop and the resulting pile-up of cars.

The "Hollywood like" animation caught the attention of the United States Information Service, which put him to work making anti-communist propaganda posters. He made one short for USIS that had the Ramayana's white monkey god Hanuman battling a red communist monkey.

Payut collaborated with pioneering filmmaker Ratana Pestonji after Ratana had stopped making films in the mid-1960s and was making commercials for a living.

One of their works was an ad for a brand of patent medicine or whisky (not sure which) that was racy and politically incorrect by today's standards. Ratana actually made Payut a camera to use for the animation, and the equipment is on display at the Film Archive Museum in Nakhon Pathom.

With Japanese funding, he made an educational short for girls in 1992 called My Way.

Pressed to explain his influences – was his animation Japanese-style or American-style? – he said he had his own style, Payut style.

Payut never made another feature after Sudsakorn. The animation process was too labor-intensive and took too long; Thai studios preferred to make live-action films, quickly and inexpensively.

But Sudsakorn is a historic achievement. It's often screened at film festivals, though I have yet to actually see it.

I met Payut a couple of times, and though hard of hearing and unable to see clearly, he was still enthusiastic and sharp.

The first was in 2007 at the Thai Film Foundation's Cherd Songsri Retrospective. He appeared for the screening of Cherd's landmark drama Plao Kao (The Old Scar), which starred his daughter, actress Nantana Ngaograjang, as half of a star-crossed couple in a tragic romance.

He was at the Film Archive in 2008 to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Ratana Pestonji. There, he was showing off an elaborate art book, chronicling his works. That night, in the rain, he put his hand and footprints in the concrete outside the Archive's Sri Salaya Cinema.

Last year's inaugural Bangkok International Animation Film Festival paid tribute to him with a "Payut Night" and a gala screening of The Adventure of Sudsakorn.

Payut's name also touches new generations of Thai animators through the Payut Ngaokrachang Prize for animation given by the annual Thai Short Film & Video Festival. The award is a medallion, designed by Payut.

According to Matichon, bathing rites are set for 4pm on May 31 at Wat Chonprathan Rangsarit, Bang Talat, Pak Kret, Nonthaburi, where the cremation ceremony will be held on June 5 at 4.30.

(Via Veen_NT)

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