"Animation is my trade, the computer is my tool."
by Scott Murray
So says Shaun Chapman, one of the Canadian community's best kept secrets. One of the finest animators in Asia, he's alive and kicking and working here in Bangkok. Shaun is a Toronto native, who grew up in Oshawa and Haliburton, and who designs his amazing computer creations from his condo on Ekamai Soi 12.
His 3D work in Asia includes many commercials for TV markets in Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Shaun got started in the business back in September of 83 by taking one of the first courses offered in graphic design at Seneca College in Toronto. This was at the time when computer graphics was just starting to be shown on TV with computer chrome logos, which are very common now, but were revolutionary back then. The course was called Visual Information Systems Technology and focused on graphics technology and computer programming.
In the fall of 85, he moved on and gained more expertise by taking a two-year Design Arts Honors Diploma from Seneca focusing on graphic arts, illustration, drafting, photography, and computer graphics.
With these two diplomas, he worked for three years in the corporate communications field producing storyboards, 35mm slides, and computer animation.
One of his first jobs in the industry was a position at Dorval Airport in Montreal where he produced slides for pilot training. The job involved replicating the interior of the cockpit, and all the dials and gauges.
He began to realize that he wanted to exclusively work in computer animation but back then companies wouldn't hire you unless you had a Diploma in Computer Animation from Sheridan College. That course focused on traditional and computer animation theory, technology and workshops and was very difficult to get into, and he was turned down at his first attempt. "I then animated a short story animation in my spare time and at night after my work was finished. This added to my portfolio of work and eventually I was accepted into the program."
So in the summer of 1990 Shaun went back to school, but the problem was that as soon as he graduated, he and his fellow classmates found themselves right in the middle of an economic downturn, and no one was hiring.
But Shaun did eventually find work for a company called Design Vision which did computer animation for architectural projects. It was called "pre-visualization" and they would take the architects plans and build computer models of projects before they were completed. At that time, the company was modeling the entire Canary Wharf project in London.
One of Shaun's classmates from Sheridan eventually got a job for a computer company setting up a regional sales office for South-East Asia in Singapore. While he was away, he allowed Shaun and a couple others to use his computer and software, so Shaun taught himself to be Softimage friendly, which is a software that is so integral in the animation business. The animation program was designed from the ground up by Daniel Langlois, a French-Canadian at the National Film Board, as an artist's tool, not a programmer's tool. He introduced a lot of character animation tools which was the area that Shaun had hoped to work in.
In August of 92, Shaun was hired by Thomas Fung of RenderGraphics Inc. to come to Hong Kong to animate a dragon for a architectural animation of new shopping mall his company was working on called the Dragon Center. "It was interesting to return to Hong Kong several years later t participate in a hockey tournament at the Dragon Centre. Although I had never been there I knew what it looked like inside and out."
In February of the next year, Shaun switched venues again as he moved to Singapore where he joined Video Headquarters (VHQ), his first large company. The work consisted solely of computer animation for TV commercials but it was the top company in Asia at the time, so it had all the best contracts in the business.
Shaun worked there for eighteen months gaining valuable experience as he realized that for an animator everything is based on what you have done before. "All animators carry around a showreel, which is usually two minutes at the most. You are animating in seconds so it takes quite a few years to get enough jobs to create a showreel that will attract attention, and that's why VHQ was great because it gave me a lot of work, and enabled me to build on my showreel.
Prospective employers really don't ask much about where you've been to school or where you have worked, they don't really even want to talk to you before seeing your showreel. So you have about two minutes to show if you are experienced and what they are looking for.
"I just worked my butt off for VHQ for about a year-and-a- half. I had a few months with only a day off, just one day. It was twenty-nine days in front of computer, a lot of times working long hours, in deadline oriented work, so there were no excuses not to get finished on time. There were an
number of all night sessions, where you would stay locked into your chair. You have to get the work done, you had international clients with on-air dates.
"It was pressure work, but it was the nature of the business. VHQ hired bright, young, energetic people, and we didn't have a union, so there was always someone willing to take your place if you didn't want to do the work. But we made great salaries (US$60-90,00 a year) and everyone was really keen on what they were doing, especially as most of us were just starting out."
Shaun then decided to strike out on his own and freelance. That's when he first starting working for Iloura, a Bangkok based firm. Eventually he grew tired of Singapore, and he took Iloura up on a job they had previously offered him. Working freelance he says you tend to get the smaller jobs, the lower profile jobs. "It's a good living, but it doesn't enhance your showreel. And as a computer animator you feel you must always learn the latest technology, work with high profile companies and keep your experience level high and this can be hard when you were freelancing."
So Shaun went to work for Iloura in 1996 and stayed to 1998 but the economic crisis saw fewer and fewer projects headed his way. So he decided to head back out on his own again, a expensive proposition this time as he purchased his own computer and software at about US$25,000. Normally, an animator rents a computer from an established company for an agreed upon day rate.
Shaun says he is not in as great a demand as he was a few years back. "Salaries were really high back then, the industry was booming and the demand was great as there weren't many animators and Time magazine even
noted that being an animator was one of the best jobs a young graduate could find.
"Then colleges and universities picked up on that and opened all these new courses so although the market isn't glutted yet, we can't really command those types of salaries any more.
"A couple years ago the cost for a workstation and software was about US$100,000. But as the computers became cheaper to buy, you started getting more and more people studying animation."
For his inspiration, Shaun cites a film made a group of Montreal university students in the early 80s called Tony Depeltrie which was a short story about a piano player, past his prime, reminiscing about his career as a musician. It was entirely computer animated, and what was remarkable about it, was these amateur filmmakers did it before any of the major studios attempted such a project. They were computer science majors who had to program everything themselves, they invented the animation software as they went along.
Shaun's latest project has been a video game he has been designing for the last year-and-a-half. He has designed the environment, the characters, the game story and how it's to be played. A game company will then program it and put it into computer code. What is remarkable about this is that major companies these days can spend over US$2 million dollars (remember the games industry is bigger than the film industry) developing such a game using dozens of people, and Shaun is doing it all by his lonesome, something that the big companies say can't be done.
"Of course I hope to be able to sell it sometime but it's a bit of a longshot. I'm just enjoying the creative freedom of designing this project from the ground up, something I don't get to do in my work environment. Even if I don't get a contract to finish the game I can translate the characters and environments over to other delivery platforms such as a TV show or a music video."
He is also trying to create a game that does not stress violence. "The gamers are growing up, so I think it's time to invent games that are more intellectual, that involve more strategy. I think the next generation of games will include more human interaction and less 'kill it if it moves' gameplay."
Many of us probably think it's a glamorous life producing computer animation that could be used in major motion pictures like Jurassic Park and Toy Story. But the truth is, it's long, arduous, painstaking work, and
it's true, there are many times when Shaun is glued to his monitor for days on end to meet a deadline.
So what does he do to unwind? Well, he's not your average computer geek. You see, he loves his motorbike and his therapy is riding it. He has a BMW K-100 (1000cc), and after spending hours and hours creating and designing computer characters, he can be seen zooming up and down the sois of Krungthep on his beloved vehicle. It's his way of letting off steam and he's taken long journeys throughout the country on his bike to unleash and wind down.
Shaun also escapes to the ice rink and releases some tension by pounding a few pucks back and forth. A power forward, he is one of the Flying Farangs' finest, and almost unstoppable when he gets up a head of steam. Indeed, one of the reasons that Iloura was able to entice him up from Singapore was by telling him that there was ice hockey in Bangkok.
For more info, contact Shaun c/o:
Back to Main Index