Who doesn’t love cartoons? But do you know what goes behind animating a TV show? I take a sneak peak into One Animation studios in Singapore.
Alexandra road in Singapore is a long highway lined with the showrooms of mega car dealers. Rows of identical, drab, buildings of concrete and steel stand side by side, a long, tedious stretch of road devoid of soul.
It is in this most unexpected of places that I found one of the Singapore’s leading animation studios, One Animation. With over 40 staff members and hits like Insectibles and Oddbods under its belt, it is a gem in Singapore’s art scene, and a model studio for the animation world beyond its borders.
One Animation was founded by Steven Read and Richard Thomas. After completing his degree in film theory and obtaining a masters in technology, Steven worked on TV and feature films such as Tomb Raider, Lost in Space and Happy Feet.
After spending a summer in Singapore supervising the making of a movie, he saw the potential to start his own company here. Partnering with his long time friend from university, Richard, who had worked on blockbuster games like Kill Zone 2 and Little Big Planet, he head-hunted local and regional talent to create the dream now known as One Animation studios in 2009. Since, the company has grown tremendously over the past 7 years with a new a office in Jakarta.
“Coming from a background in technology, I knew the importance of doing our own R&D to help us achieve certain effects, and to streamline our process. This allows us to create TV shows at great quality for a much lower cost,” Steven explained how One Animation differentiates from its competitors in Singapore.
Besides being a leading studio in animation technology, One Animation is solely focused on creating and developing its own intellectual property, such as Oddbods, winner of Best 3D animation at Television Asia Plus 2014 and Asia Image Apollo Awards 2014. Most recently Disney bought the broadcast rights to Oddbods, and it is now being shown globally throughout the United States and the Asia Pacific region.
At the studio, I was also greeted by Laura-Ann Chambers from the story department who introduced me to my tour guide, Enrique Caballero who was also birthday boy (!) that day. With over 15 years of experience in the CG industry, Enrique was the Character Technical Director on Happy Feet and Legend of the Guardians, and Character Modeler on Where the Wild Things Are.
Dressed in a Superman t-shirt, Enrique took me around the office, and showed me the development processes behind One Animation’s films, which comprised of several stages from ideation, execution to merchandising.
This is where the seed is planted and the spells are cast. Where the concept and characters, in an act of magic, are drawn out from the ether and given shape. Plastered over with colourful drawings that define the personalities of the characters and the moods of each act and scene, this room is where the look and feel of the film is determined.
Talking about Insectibles, Samantha Lee, story artist at One Animation, explained that each episode could have between 600 to 900 story and mood boards. Depending on the type of scene, the number of boards determing its narrative, would vary.
“For example, a scene of us talking would be one board, while an action scene within a few seconds with a high kick and a punch could be three or four boards” she said.
After the story has been developed, the assets for the film are created. The Modeling department is where the imagination of the Story department’s artists is given shape. Here, I got to see a ship based on an illustration being sculpted into 3D. This is one of the most difficult and time intensive portions of the development process, requiring a skilled individual with a good eye, architectural aptitude and design skills.
After the 3D assets have been sculpted and rigged, they are used to transform 2D story-board scenes into 3D environments where the film will play out. This was where I met Bony Wirasmono, who showed me the garden scene he had been working on, from the insectibles.
It is the range of emotions, their appeal and believability, expressed by the characters in a film, which determines the extent of the film’s mass appeal. In One Animation studios, Alessandro Camporota from Rome is in charge of bringing the character’s facial expression to life.
Towards this end, he creates all the expressions that are necessary, from broad adjustments of a character’s body language to subtle nuances on the faces of characters. Some of these are truly subtle, like a slight twitch of the corners of a mouth, or even a raised eyebrow.
He was working on a short clip for OddBods, manipulating Pogo’s facial expression, when I met him. He explained that OddBods is unlike other TV show, as they spend a lot more time capturing the childlike emotion of each character. Growing up with 2D cartoons, I have always found most 3D animation lacking in the natural quality present in the cartoons of my childhood. OddBods however, does not have this issue due to the focus given to the facial animation of its characters. In this show, candid and natural facial expressions imbue each character with a distinct personality, making them highly memorable.
The Research and Development unit is where One Animation truly stands out from the rest. Here, One Animation creates its own cutting edge solutions to meet their digital needs. Their customised solutions towards handling the technology they use allow them to streamline their processes, helping them make films of a higher quality at lower costs.
This is also where Enrique works. You can find both the Batman and the Joker perched at his workspace like buddies, and Finn the Human from Adventure Time slaying an invisible dragon on his lamp, as well as his favourite Nightmare Before Christmas DVD. On his screen, he shows me how he creates the bones and joints of the characters from Insectibles which would later be animated and brought to life by the Animation department.
Beside Enrique’s workplace is what he calls ‘little Russia’, where George from Belarus and Igor from Russia were working on OddBods.
I spent some time there watching an episode of OddBods that was freshly compressed and ready to be sent to Germany. My task: Quality Control.
Texturing and Lighting Departments
Coming to the end of the animation process, the texturing and lighting departments put the finishing touches on the reels that will be released to the public. This is where the short hairs of the characters from OddBods are made, as well as the rough tree bark from Insectibles. To finish off, lights are added to finalise the atmosphere of each scene, creating a sense of realism in the way they bounce off objects both familiar like the little hairs on the characters of Oddbods.
In a nutshell:
As someone who has only dabbled in animation, it was an interesting and enlightening experience to see all the processes that went on behind the creation of an animated TV show. What really stood out though wasn’t just their R&D and cool software, but the people I met. There was strong camaraderie at One Animation, with artist and engineers from different backgrounds and cultures, working towards the same goal. This bond is critical for the communication between all the departments, and without it, One Animation would not have been able to create its award-winning TV shows.
At the end of the day, they invited me to join in their celebration of Richie and Enrique’s birthday, where we laughed over pints of beer and NSFW drawings by Woody.
Here are some embarrassing pictures from Richard and Enrique’s birthday celebration:
Special thanks to Isabella Chen and Priscy Dora for helping me with this post.