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From Hollywood to Japan: Meet one of the guys taking Thai animation global

Juck Somsaman, 48, worked at one of America’s most reputed visual effects studios, Rhythm & Hues (involved in films like the Academy Award-winning Babe [1995] and, more recently, The Life of Pi [2012]) for 15 years before returning to Bangkok to open Monk Studios in 2009. While continuing to work on Hollywood films like Rango (2011) and George Lucas’s Strange Magic (2015), Juck has since taken on more jobs from Japan, as well as local projects like Khun Thong Daeng: The Inspiration (in cinemas now), an animated movie dedicated to HM the King’s beloved dog.

By Monruedee Jansuttipan | Dec 03, 2015

  • From Hollywood to Japan: Meet one of the guys taking Thai animation global
  • From Hollywood to Japan: Meet one of the guys taking Thai animation global
  • From Hollywood to Japan: Meet one of the guys taking Thai animation global
  • From Hollywood to Japan: Meet one of the guys taking Thai animation global
  • From Hollywood to Japan: Meet one of the guys taking Thai animation global

How did you first get involved in the Hollywood animation industry? 

After working as a photographer in Thailand, I wanted to get my master’s in film so I decided I would go to the US. But I didn’t have the portfolio for film. I stumbled on a computer arts program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The whole thing was very new 25 years ago, so no one really had a portfolio for it. After graduating, I started working at Rhythm & Hues. 

Why come back to Bangkok?  

After 15 years, I just wasn’t that excited by great fireballs and explosions anymore. I wanted to delve into storytelling, real human life, so I decided to come back and launch Monk Studios. I chose this name because it reflects Eastern philosophy. 

Where does most of your work come from? 

Around 50-70-percent of our work comes from abroad, mostly from my old connections in the US: films, TV series, things like Talking Tom [the talking cat app]. I’m also proud that we’re getting more work from Japan. We’ve come so far that the country that gave the world manga is hiring us for their work. No one would have predicted this 4-5 years ago. Our new generation of visual artists are really talented. 

How did you get involved with Thong Daeng: The Inspiration

I was contacted by Vinij Lertratanachai, the producer and owner of Fresh Air Festival, who wanted to create an animated movie about Khun Thong Daeng, His Majesty’s beloved dog. It’s destiny. When I first came back to Thailand, I wanted to do the same thing. But the whole process was pretty complicated, so I gave up on it. It’s not exactly as I envisioned; we’re not animating the actual Thong Daeng. Instead, we’re animating a dog character inspired by some of Thong Daeng’s traits. Thong Lor is a puppy who’s extremely loyal but also afraid of thunder.

What are your favorite animations? 

Of my works, apart from Babe, I would say Scooby Doo [2002] and Garfield [2004]. I like that these were made for kids, meaning the dialog and imagery is really simple. These days, I’m more into animation from Japan and France. The latter is really unique; they don’t have big production budgets, but the stories are really unpredictable.  

What’s next for Monk Studios? 

We plan to produce more original content, as we’ve tasted success from our award-winning short films Escape of the Gingerbread Man [2011] and Nine [2014, based on Thai illustrator Songsin Tiewsomboon’s book Nine Lives]. I’m now interested in the environment—I want to create a Thai animation for kids to teach them to take care of nature. 
 
Watch the trailer for Khun Thong DaengThe Inspiration:

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