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Visual effects dazzle animator-businessman

Jan 06. 2017
Suponwich Somsaman, managing director and founder of The Monk Studios.
Suponwich Somsaman, managing director and founder of The Monk Studios.
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SUPONWICH SOMSAMAN, managing director and founder of The Monk Studios Co Ltd, remains inspired by what the world of animation has to offer, 10 years on from setting up his own studio in Thailand.

“Animation is a unique medium through which to express your ideas. There is really no limit to what you can do with animation,” he said.

Suponwich started his animation career with Academy Award-winning company Rhythm and Hues in Los Angeles in 1991, after gaining a master’s in computer graphics from The School of Visual Arts in New York. 

While at Rhythm and Hues, the company won three Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects for “Babe: The Talking Pig” (1995), “The Golden Compass” (2007) and “Life of Pi” (2012). 

In 2007, he decided to move back to his hometown, Bangkok, and founded The Monk Studios. 

The company has come a long way since its first day in business, when the studio had only three employees.

The Monk Studios on Wednesday celebrated its 10th anniversary and now has around 120 employees, with two offices in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

“Over the past 26 years in the field, I’ve seen the medium evolve from analogue to digital, from the practical to the virtual world. At the beginning of my career, we still used the traditional hand-painted frame-by-frame method, but now in 2017, we are experiencing the excitement of the world of VR [virtual reality]. Technology combined with good story-telling is, for me, the key for successful animation. 

“Apart from the business side of things, I also enjoy seeing the growth of the local talent we work with. Thais are very creative and by giving them the chance to develop with the right training and good coaching, they can blossom.

“Animation is relatively new in Thailand and the majority of those in the workforce are still quite young. I really enjoy seeing them following their dreams to become someone special,” he explained.

The market for animation is in fact quite large, he said, adding that when most people think of animation, they think of big movies from Pixar or Disney, whereas the medium is everywhere. 

From small licensed characters to mobile emoji graphics, there are niches and regional markets that the big international houses are not interested in, and the spread of technology, know-how and the growth of talent in this region is tremendous, the managing director stressed. 

“If we have a good idea, a good story, there will always be room to market it, and with a good story idea, we can compete with big-budget films,” he said.

“Our plan as an animation studio is always focused on creating our own films and characters. So far, we have launched two short films and a bunch of our own characters. We are now focusing on launching our own films for the APAC [Asia-Pacific] market. Our goal is to be able to tell a story the way we see it, with Asian charisma,” he pointed out.

“Absolutely, the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of growth in the Chinese market. Our goal is to be able to position ourselves between the Asian and Western markets. We worked on high-profile US films like ‘Rango’ [2011], and also the biggest Japanese animations like ‘Final Fantasy XV’ [2016]. We’re looking forward to an exciting future with more unique projects of our own coming up,” Suponwich added.

Meanwhile, the local market is very small compared to the global scale of the animation sector, the MD said, with most Thai studios surviving by doing work for overseas clients – and the majority of them doing well in that regard. 

His company has seen big growth in the industry in the past five years, with Thai studios delivering high quality at a competitive budget on the global scale. 

“Thailand is the primary outsourcing partner for Japanese animation studios, and I foresee that we will be doing a lot of work for the Chinese market in the near future. I believe we are just at the beginning stage of the industry here in Thailand. There is so much potential growth for Thai animation, and it is starting to show. I am excited and looking forward to the next 10 years,” he said.

“I am also chairperson for the computer-animation festival, ‘Siggraph Asia 2017’, to be in held from November 27-30 in Bangkok. This will be an important event for folks in computer animation, CG VFX [computer-graphics visual effects] for movies and the academic research field. 

“We are looking forward to hosting such a special event in Bangkok and welcoming talent from around the world,” the animator-businessman said.


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