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Friday, July 5, 2013

Pinoy animator Chris Chua brings Monsters University to life

Chris Chua
Chris Chua [photo via Philstar]
Pinoy talent gets represented in Disney/Pixar’s Monsters University — the prequel to the 2001 monster hit animated film Monsters, Inc. — which retraces the back-story of best buds Mike and Sulley.
The lovable duo first meet as rivals at the No. 1 school of scaring — where they learn the science of fright and the art of making humans scream, among other monstrosities — and eventually find friendship.
At Monsters U, the library (where suggested readings, by the way, include Entremonstership) is called Bohol Hall which is named after the veteran Fil-Am animator Nelson Bohol. (His works included Finding Nemo, wherein he drew into the picture familiar images like the miniature versions of the bahay kubo and the Mt. Mayon-inspired volcano inside Nemo’s aquarium.)
But there’s another Pinoy in Monsters U, as part of the elite pool of animators that brought life and color to this immense production. His name is Chris Chua. The 34-year-old Chris, who became a full-time animator on Flushed Away and went on to work on Cars 2, Up and Brave, talked about the fun and the challenging in making Monsters, his Filipino roots and how technology has pushed the envelope in telling animated stories.
On his Filipino roots and what he remembers best from his early years here:
“I was born in Manila, Philippines and grew up with two brothers and two sisters. Around the mid-’80s, my father went to the United States to provide a better life for our family. Shortly before my 10th birthday, my family joined him in the United States, and we’ve been here ever since.
“I have very fond memories of my strong ties to friends and family in the Philippines. I remember warm nights when everyone would gather in front of their houses, passing the time talking and playing. That strong sense of community is something that has definitely stuck with me to this day.
“I currently have no plans to revisit in the near future,
but I would definitely love to return one day.”
On how he discovered his gift that led to a career in animation:
“I definitely credit my parents for introducing me to the classic Disney films such as Pinocchio, Jungle Book and101 Dalmatians. They were always very supportive of me and encouraged my love of drawing and filmmaking from a very early age. I still remember my dad bringing home reams of paper from his office for me to draw on!
“I can’t say that there is one defining moment that made me want to become an animator, since my road to animation was more of a snowball effect. When I was young, I loved to draw and watch cartoons. As I grew older, it evolved into a love of films in general. By the time I was in high school, I realized that animation combined my love of visual storytelling, art and music through the medium of film. When I learned that I could study (and hopefully make a living from) animation, there was no turning back!”
On how he got his start in the animation industry: “While I was studying animation at CalArts, I was fortunate to have had many instructors who were working in the animation industry. It really helped me get my foot in the door. One of these instructors, Kevin O’Hara, was working as an animator at Dreamworks and saw the potential in my work. He recommended me for a position and shortly after graduating, I was offered a job at Dreamworks as a rough ‘inbetweener’ on Sinbad. As a rough ‘inbetweener,’ I worked closely with lead animators and filled in drawings between their key poses to flesh out their animation.
“By the time I started working as a professional animator, I had done four short films in school and my animation skills had progressed but I was still overly critical of my own work. I sometimes had unrealistic expectations in regards to the quality of my work. (But) I had to come to terms that I was constantly learning and things didn’t always have to be perfect.”
On his mentors and inspirations:
“I have always been inspired by the classic Disney animators like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. They had a philosophy of infusing warmth and sincerity in their animation that I try to aspire to in my own work.
“As for my own mentors, I had a slew of great teachers at CalArts that helped shape me into the artist I am today. I’m also constantly learning as I work with the super talented folks at Pixar on a daily basis. All these amazing artists taught me that sincerity is key to great animation.
“(As for fellow Fil-Am animators like Bohol and Van Partible of Johnny Bravo fame,) I actually haven’t met either of them, but I know and admire their work very much.
“And finally, I owe everything to my wonderful parents who inspire me with their constant support and continue to show me, by example, the value of hard work and striving for the best in everything I do.”
On the biggest challenges in animating Monsters University:
“The biggest challenge in doing the animation for Monsters University was the sheer character count in each shot. Since it takes place on a college campus, not only do we have to worry about animating Mike and Sulley, we also have to animate their fraternity brothers as well as the background monsters walking around the school. Another added challenge was that each monster had a different body type that required them to walk, talk and act a certain way!”
On his favorite Monsters character:
“My favorite character in Monsters University would have to be Mike Wazowski. I can easily identify with his relentless drive and passion to excel and work hard at his goal. I also admire his sharp wit and sense of humor!”
“I currently have no plans to revisit in the near future, but I would definitely love to return one day.”
On how he discovered his gift that led to a career in animation:
“I definitely credit my parents for introducing me to the classic Disney films such as Pinocchio, Jungle Book and101 Dalmatians. They were always very supportive of me and encouraged my love of drawing and filmmaking from a very early age. I still remember my dad bringing home reams of paper from his office for me to draw on!
“I can’t say that there is one defining moment that made me want to become an animator, since my road to animation was more of a snowball effect. When I was young, I loved to draw and watch cartoons. As I grew older, it evolved into a love of films in general. By the time I was in high school, I realized that animation combined my love of visual storytelling, art and music through the medium of film. When I learned that I could study (and hopefully make a living from) animation, there was no turning back!”
On how he got his start in the animation industry: “While I was studying animation at CalArts, I was fortunate to have had many instructors who were working in the animation industry. It really helped me get my foot in the door. One of these instructors, Kevin O’Hara, was working as an animator at Dreamworks and saw the potential in my work. He recommended me for a position and shortly after graduating, I was offered a job at Dreamworks as a rough ‘inbetweener’ on Sinbad. As a rough ‘inbetweener,’ I worked closely with lead animators and filled in drawings between their key poses to flesh out their animation.
“By the time I started working as a professional animator, I had done four short films in school and my animation skills had progressed but I was still overly critical of my own work. I sometimes had unrealistic expectations in regards to the quality of my work. (But) I had to come to terms that I was constantly learning and things didn’t always have to be perfect.”
On his mentors and inspirations:
“I have always been inspired by the classic Disney animators like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. They had a philosophy of infusing warmth and sincerity in their animation that I try to aspire to in my own work.
“As for my own mentors, I had a slew of great teachers at CalArts that helped shape me into the artist I am today. I’m also constantly learning as I work with the super talented folks at Pixar on a daily basis. All these amazing artists taught me that sincerity is key to great animation.
“(As for fellow Fil-Am animators like Bohol and Van Partible of Johnny Bravo fame,) I actually haven’t met either of them, but I know and admire their work very much.
“And finally, I owe everything to my wonderful parents who inspire me with their constant support and continue to show me, by example, the value of hard work and striving for the best in everything I do.”
On the biggest challenges in animating Monsters University:
“The biggest challenge in doing the animation for Monsters University was the sheer character count in each shot. Since it takes place on a college campus, not only do we have to worry about animating Mike and Sulley, we also have to animate their fraternity brothers as well as the background monsters walking around the school. Another added challenge was that each monster had a different body type that required them to walk, talk and act a certain way!”
On his favorite Monsters character:
“My favorite character in Monsters University would have to be Mike Wazowski. I can easily identify with his relentless drive and passion to excel and work hard at his goal. I also admire his sharp wit and sense of humor!”
(Story courtesy of Nathalie Tomada of the Philippine Star)

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