Interview with Kompin Kemgumnird 25/2/14 (part 2) First jobs, Cal Arts and on to Disney!
The move to Blue Sky Studio
He worked on Tarzan around one year, and stayed at Disney for two years and then there became problems with his visa again so he had to quit. It is part of the downside of 2D Animation that it is slowing down and the priority in the US is for citizens. So he left and went on an adventure with his animation teacher from Cal Arts, Mike Nguyen. Mike asked if Kompin might want to accompany him driving from LA to New York. And he thought, that’s a good opportunity and so he took a vacation from Disney and went with his brother and Mike driving for a week from coast to coast. The drove from LA up the coast sight seeing, to Mount Rushmore,
also the statue for Crazy Horse, the Native American monument
Then we went to New York, I went to Blue Sky studio to show them what I can do. At that time, just before then, they were just a small studio working on commercials. But when I visited they had just won the Oscar for the animation short called, “Bunny” and that gave them the opportunity to do a feature film. They were working on ‘Ice Age’ for Fox entertainment.
So the studio was expanding, so it was good timing for Kompin. So he was employed as an animator working in a team of 20 animators, and we animated everything in the scenes. Unlike at Disney, in the 2D feature film studio system, where you are assigned to one particular character, in a crew and you just work on that one character throughout the film. But at Blue Sky we were working on 3D Computer generated animation you work through whole scenes and whatever characters are in the scenes you have got to animate them. In the film he worked on a lot of scenes, not the most exciting or challenging ones, the okay scenes, not long ones because they tend to give the hard ones to the Senior animators.
I enjoyed working on the opening sequence with the squirrel character “Scrat” that ran around with the acorn. I did a couple of the shots. That’s the thing about working as a team, you are part of the group and one shot is connected to another so no one is the ‘auteur’ no one scene is yours like when you are working on your own short film. I learned a lot from all of them, I see how over their shoulders they work on particular problems, how other people are working. I have my own way to approach it but when there is a group like this we combine. Some people can crank out the scenes really quickly and really good, so I have to go and ask them how did they do that? You can learn a lot from that.
So after ‘Ice Age’ was completed they laid off 70 of the staff from the production, and as a foreigner I was one of them. They were not sure at that time if the movie was going to be successful or not. They (Fox Entertainment) had frozen the budget for the second and third films, when Blue Sky had initially signed up with Fox it had been for 3 projects, but because of what was happening in the industry at that time, another studio, a 2D studio in Arizona Don Bluth, their first movie, ‘Anastasia’ had been kind of successful, not sky rocket successful but good enough, but a follow up animated feature film ‘Titan A.E’ was a big flop so Fox had pulled the funding on the fourth film in the contract, ‘Africa’. Which affect the contract with Blue Sky as Fox had become cautious with the multiple film contracts. So Blue Sky had to prove the potential of the first film before funding for further features was secured. Therefore they could not keep employing everyone and let the 70 people go. Ironically on it’s release in 2002 it was the highest grossing animated feature film that year and has gone on to become the second highest grossing animated franchise of all time.
However at that point Kompin chose to move back to LA to work with Mike Nguyen, his animation teacher from Cal Arts he was also an animation supervisor in a major studio and he had always wanted to do his own film. He owned a studio called July Films (http://www.julyfilms.com/ and http://julyfilms.com/blog/ ). He felt at that time that the major studios in the US had too much management and less input from the artists, and whenever there were problems financially the artists were let go first. And in a dream world artists come together and for a small amount of money we just produce films together…
This model is somewhat more true perhaps in the UK where smaller studios develop work in the commercial world and within studios they have a ‘stable’ of high quality directors with opportunities for individuals to develop their own individual works, often supported through the Arts Council of Great Britain which is funded through the National Lottery system. This has allowed individual animators to develop personal portefolios within studios as well as supporting each other. Often including works which have gone on to win Oscars Eg Tandem Films http://www.tandemfilms.com/ Daniel Greaves won the Oscar for his short film ‘Manipulation’ ‘Manipulation’ Daniel Greaves | Tandem in 1991, plus other successes such as Simon Tolfield of ‘Simon’s Cat’ (http://www.simonscat.com/ ). Passion Pictures http://www.passion-pictures.com/ whose talents include Sam Fell (‘ParaNorman’ ‘The Tale of Desperaux’and ‘Flushed Away) and Astley Baker Davies http://www.astleybakerdavies.com/ makers of ‘Peppa Pig’, ‘The Big Knights’ and ‘Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom’. Much of the success in the UK came down to the investments made by Channel Four and their commitment to producing and screening cutting edge animation, much of which was through the actions of Claire Kitson. Clare Kitson scheduled animation programmes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the early 70s and was a programmer at the National Film Theatre in the 80s. From 1989 to 1999 she commissioned Channel 4’s animation. (http://www.parliamenthillpublishing.co.uk/british-animation-the-channel-4-factor/clare-kitson/ )
So it was in a similar vein that Mike Nguyen had an idea to set up a team of students each of them working on a chunks of three minutes long each, then if you’ve got 10 people working on the notion that if you’re doing a short film of three minutes it can take four months each, then you will have from those ten people in eight months a feature film. However the idea is does have it’s problems, because those ten people all have to come and they share the same equipment and then how do you blend together all these separate ideas into one movie. We did very well considering many were artists right from school they have a tendency to not be so focussed in to work as much as living their life, they enjoy to spend a lot of free time instead of focussing on the deadline. So the project was expanding and expanding both in deadlines and in the focus of the feature. It’s really good to do something like this, it opens up something different (creatively). Kompin suggested they could get a group to come and set up in Thailand, we could rent a place next to the beach and have a resident cook to provide good food and do the animation by the beach! With the Thai currency we could produce animation by the beach and finish it on time! But of course there is the danger that they are by the beach… and the temptation of the sun, sea and the bars…inspiration? But we still haven’t finished the movie – because there was at that time the economic crisis. The basic funds came from a company in Korea and at that time in the middle of the production the money crisis around South East Asia hit hard so they didn't have enough funds so they had to stop the project and do something else…but my teacher Mike he continues to work on the animation, it’s a hand drawn animation, the rough animation’s all done and the clean up around 80% is done. Similarly the colouring is nearly done. Right now he’s teaching in Korea and is trying to finish the film. But at that time Kompin decided to come back home to Thailand.