ACM SIGGRAPH Singapore Chapter Trip to Bangkok
The Singapore ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter organized a trip to visit the Bangkok Chapter from 26-29 September. It was a get-to-know-you trip and, also, we from Singapore looked to find out about the computer graphics activities in Thailand.
The Bangkok Chapter had arranged for us to visit academic institutions, animation studios and government facilities.
The “activities” started a week before the day of departure, when a bloodless coup in Thailand toppled the then Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra. It triggered an avalanche of urgent phone calls and e-mails; the trip hanged in the balance until a couple of days before the departure, when we were satisfied by the firm reassurances from our Thai host and travel agency that life was as per normal in Bangkok. Still, some who had signed on to go dropped out.
In the end, a diverse group of 24 people made the trip from Singapore, comprising academics, government officials, digital artists, business people and students. There were also four people who joined us in Bangkok from India.
Day of arrival, 26 September
The main group of people took an afternoon Thai Airways flight into Bangkok, and was picked up and delivered to the Ambassador Hotel, where most people were staying. A few arrived in Bangkok separately.
At 6 p.m., everyone gathered at the hotel lounge and our Thai hosts, Dr. Kamon and Kun Santi, the chairman of ACM SIGGRAPH Bangkok Chapter, met and welcomed us. They also gave us the itinerary for the next two days.
Many of the people in our party did not know each other, and this was the time we got introduced. The rest of the evening was free and easy but a torrential downpour prevented us from experiencing the nightlife in Bangkok.
Day 2, 27 September
In our contingent was Ms. Pam Hu, the Director of Cultural and International Affairs of the Media Development of Authority (MDA) of Singapore. MDA is a government agency for promoting digital media development in Singapore. AT breakfast, Pam briefed us about MDA’s effort to establish collaboration between MDA and Thailand’s Software Industry Promotion Agency (SiPA), and she hoped this trip would help to foster close working relationships between the two sides, and encouraged us to tie up with our Thai counterparts to pursue joint projects.
In the morning we visited Kantana Animation Company, one of the biggest digital studios in Thailand. We were taken on a tour of the production facility for digital films. We saw the whole works, from storyboarding, character modelling through to background scene composition, and it was eye opening. The company has recently released an animation movie, Khan Kluay, about a young elephant growing up, went looking for his missing father, a war elephant, and ended up following his father and became a war hero itself. The movie was a blockbuster in Thailand and has spawned a TV series. There is merchandise produced from the characters of the movie also. The company employed well over a hundred people, engaged in the different aspects of the production process. There are artists, animators and programmers too, who write script to deal with needs that are not already in the package they use, Maya.
In the afternoon we visited SiPA. The Director, Mr. Avudh Ploysongsang, briefed us on the background and direction of the agency. They are pushing to increase the skill level, employment and the internal and international market for Thai productions. Mr. Lak Taechawanchai, the Chair of the Thailand Animation and Computer Graphics Association spoke about the objectives of his organization, which is to serve the companies involved in digital animation in Thailand. From what we saw, there are a growing number of such companies.
Day 3, 28 September
In the morning we visited TCDC, Thailand Creative and Design Centre Design Centre. We were shown a corporate video of the centre and given a tour of the place, which houses an extensive library containing all forms of literature relevant to design. It also houses a Materials Resource Library, where information on just about any form of material used in products can be found. In many cases, there are also physical specimens. It is a very rich and useful resource for creative design and would certainly help designers in their pursuits. I am very impressed by what it offers.
In the afternoon, we visited an animation company Imagimax. They mainly do contract animation, such as for advertisements and also do out-sourcing work for foreign clients, serving as a production house for digital sequences in movies. Our host told us how difficult the business is, particularly when having to wait on their clients, who cut their margins very thin. In particular, foreign clients obtain large grants from the Thai government to produce movies in Thailand. Say the grant is worth US$5m, but the contracts for local producers are often worth a lot less than that. So the foreign companies pocket a large profit simply from the grant alone.
But still, such projects provide great opportunities for Thai animators to hone their skills, and in some ways perform the function of technology and skill transfer. In due course, there would be a good crop of very skilled Thai animators who will form the back rock of a vibrant Thai animation industry.
In the evening we gathered at Sripatum University for a dinner, during which the Bangkok chapter arranged for four short industry talks, by production houses and web design companies we had not had the time to visit individually. These speakers gave us an extensive exposure to the kind of works produced in Thailand. In terms of the underlying technology used, the talks are somewhat repetitive, but they give us a good view of the range of things happening in Thailand. We were pleasantly surprised that a Toyota advert then screening in Singapore was produced in Thailand.
In return, from the Singapore side, Graham Perkins from Republic Polytechnic, Mark Chavez from Nanyang Technological University, and Mr. Zhang of Crystal Graphics, an animation studio, gave talks about their work and their companies.
The evening culminated in a thank you speech by Caleb Cheong, our organizer to everyone involved, especially our Thai hosts, in making the trip such a success.
Day 4, 29 September
In the morning, our tour company gave us some of us a tour of some of the famous sights in Bangkok. In the afternoon, we headed to the new Sarvanabhumi Airport to board our flight home.
This was a very useful and enjoyable tour. Everybody had a very good time and we were all enriched by the experience. Especially the students, they learned a lot, which will stand them in good stead for their future.
One of the objectives of the trip was networking, and we certainly achieved that, among ourselves and also with the Thais. Useful working relationship will develop from there. We can be optimistic about the project tie-up under the MDA-SiPA initiative.
The Thailand computer graphics and animation industry is growing, and their government is helping them improve and reach out to the world. While they may be facing growing pains, they will come out very well in the long run. CG and animation, until recently very much the province of the technologically advanced countries in Europe and North America, is readily filtering into the less advanced countries. The playing field is leveling out, and eventually countries like Thailand, India and hopefully Singapore, will come to take a lion’s share of the market, just as the conventional manufacturing industries have done. After all, CG and animation production is just another form of manufacturing, albeit in the virtual world.