- Extracted from NewStraitsTimes, 18th Nov 09:
TWO Malaysians helped bring to life the characters in Robert Zemeckis’ upcoming movie A Christmas Carol.
The Disney animated feature is scheduled to be released here (in 3D in selected cinemas) tomorrow, two weeks after its release in the United States.
For Kuala Lumpur lad Jax Lee and Penang-born Woei Lee, “it was a dream come true”.
Jax served as an animator for the studio’s animation department while Woei applied his skills as lead compositor (producing an image by digitally putting together a combination of images) in the visual effects department.
“It was an amazing experience working with Academy award-winning Hollywood filmmaker Robert Zemeckis,” Jax said in a phone interview from California recently. He was later joined by Woei.
Writer/director/producer Zemeckis, who has sparked our imagination with amazing stories like Back to the Future and given us a string of box-office hits such as What Lies Beneath and Forrest Gump, recently proved his mettle in animation with Beowulf and The Polar Express.
“It was also an honour to be in the same team with Doug Chiang (the film’s production designer),” Jax said, citing Chiang’s past works such as Beowulf and The Polar Express. Chiang’s work for Zemeckis’s 1992 Death Becomes Her earned him an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol is the latest re-imagining of Charles Dicken’s 1843 classic tale.
It features the voice of Jim Carrey as the mean-spirited miser Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey of a lifetime, as well as the three ghosts who help him mend his ways.
It was created by ImageMovers Digital (IMD) under the Walt Disney Company. IMD is run by Zemeckis, Chiang and a few others with a mission to produce “performance capture” (where performances of real actors are captured and translated into animation) films.
For Jax, the experience was exciting because “I got to do what I like. I love doing animation and making computer-generated characters look alive. Having Jim Carrey helps a lot because he is such a talented actor.
“From his performance capture data, we built the characters by studying his facial expressions and movements. He gave a lot, so there’s enough reference on the computer which made our job challenging and exciting,” said Jax, who graduated from Dasein Academy of Art in KL and The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Prior to joining IMD last year, Jax worked as chief animator for video game developer and publisher Lucas Arts, part of George Lucas’ entertainment empire. The animation process took about a year.
“We have about 40 animators in the department and we work on them according to scenes rather than characters,” Jax explained.
Jax said he was not aware of the story before this.
“I quickly went and got the books after I was hired. I was surprised that they are so many interpretations of the story. It’s easy to see that Zemeckis’ visual interpretation is the closest to the illustrations in the original 1843 book.” The biggest challenge in making the movie? “For the animators, it is the human details of the characters. You can’t do too little or too much because the whole essence will be gone immediately. The process is very long and we have to be careful while being patient at the same time,” he said.
Unlike traditional animation where “we have to start from zero — we even do our own acting to have a video reference”, performance capture uses real actors (a technique used for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Man of Steel in Superman Returns) to obtain the data “so that the animation is more realistic”.
Jax recommends watching the film in 3D for the full effect.
He said the biggest challenge was getting details of the human characters right. "If we exaggerated too much, the humans would look like something else." So the trick was getting the right balance.
Having seen the whole film in its entirety, a proud and happy Jax said: "I am very happy. I could watch it again, and again and again. I will be coming back for a holiday this December. I will bring my family along to watch the film. I think this film is very educational."
It was also reported in:
The Sun - Malaysian Handiwork
SinChew - 參與《魔幻聖誕夜》3D製作‧2大馬青年展開神奇之旅
Kosmo - Dicabar hasilkan seni artistik 3D
Oriental Daily - 大馬雙傑鑄造聖誕夜怪譚
MSN Entertainment - M'sians in A Christmas Carol
We are so proud of you, Jax!
Look forward to seeing you in Dec, and we shall all watch the movie together! Well done! ;)