Thursday, 9 February 2006

RSI interview with NYP animators of the Battle of Bukit Chandu

The Battle of Bukit Chandu
By Justin Teo, Radio Singapore International
First published 09 February 2006

If you take a trip up Singapore’s Pasir Panjang Hill, you’ll find the Reflections of Bukit Chandu Museum which is dedicated to the soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Battalion Malay Regiment who defended the western sector of Singapore during World War Two.

The museum has now added a new animated short film that captures the final moments of the Battle of Bukit Chandu.

I’m Justin Teo and this week in Undertones, I speak to Charles Lee, part of the Nanyang Polytechnic team which created the animation, to find out about their inspiration for this project.

For most students studying digital media or animation, the final-year project will usually result in some Japanese anime-inspired production or maybe a music video.

But for Charles Lee and his friends at Nanyang Polytechnic, it meant getting inspiration from a bit of local history.

CL: For our final-year project, we’re suppose to do an animated clip, so I gathered six of my classmates and we had an idea of doing a short film but we didn’t know on what topic. So previously before I started school, I was actually working for the National Archives where I did a few projects. I found out about the war memorial up on Pasir Panjang. All of us decided to go up and take a look. They were actually screening live-footage to show the battles. We though it’d be better to use animation instead of live-footage to show the battle. This was because there are many school excursions to the museum and we wondered if animation would be a better medium to tell students about the story behind Bukit Chandu; we figured kids would appreciate animation better. So we approached the National Archives and asked them if they’d be interested in doing something like that.

With the Singapore government pushing the creative industry to come up with more 3D animation and high-technology productions, it’s refreshing to see students who understand the value of 2D animation.

Charles and his team had decided to combine 2D and 3D animation in the Battle of Bukit Chandu.

CL: Most of the animation is hand-drawn. Only the guns, equipment and background are in 3D models. Other than that, all the humans are hand-drawn. We felt that 2D animation expresses the characters of the soldiers much better; 3D would have made the characters too stiff. We also wanted a very rough look for the soldiers and 3D would have made them look too polished and clean. We were going for a different feel. That’s why we used 2D for the characters.

Pencil drawings and 2D interpretations of animation are not common these days, where did Charles and his team get inspiration for the short film?

CL: We were actually inspired by Animatrix. They have a lot of experimental films using different types of techniques to do the animation. They had a few short films done by Japanese companies and they have a lot of different styles in their animation.

Since the animation is based on a factual event in Singapore’s history, a lot of research was needed to retain the accuracy and feel of the Battle.

CL: The research part took us about two to three months. We went down to the National Archives and they supported us with all the necessary information. They actually guided us through the park where the battle took place. We walked through the trail and studied the different kinds of vegetation. We also studied all the weapons and how the mechanisms work. A lot of detail involved. We even noted the slope of the land since the battle was up-hill; these were the considerations that had to be researched on.

Due to the nature of the event, the Battle of Bukit Chandu animation is voiced in Malay and Japanese.

How difficult was it to do the dialogue for this short film?

CL: We got a few of our friends to translate the dialogue. The script was actually added into the story and it wasn’t provided for, so some of the dialogue was actually made-up. We wrote the script and passed it to our friends who translated and did the voice-overs.

This short film won awards at Comgraph and Crowbar, two events that recognize the achievements of animation talent here and internationally.- RSI

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