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The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury Animator

Special thanks to Peter Chung for taking time out of his busy schedule working on The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury to talk to us about how he got his break in animation and about his work on The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury and MTV's Aeon Flux.

Peter Chung
// 2D Animator

Tell us about yourself Peter; where are you from and how old were you when you discovered that you wanted to be an animator?

I was born in Seoul, Korea. My father was a Korean diplomat, so I grew up in many places around the world, including Korea, England, Kenya, Tunisia and the U.S. I wanted to draw cartoons from a young age, but I didn't realize that it could be a future career until I was about seventeen.  

For many of us the first animation we created were flip books, Could you tell us what your very first animation was and how old were you when you created it?

I started making an animated film with a friend in high school when I was sixteen. It was the late 70s and we used a super 8 film camera to shoot drawings on paper. The story focused on a couple of characters who fell out of a building and died, then found themselves in their respective afterlives, each somehow relating to the kinds of lives they led before dying. It was didactic, allegorical, and very heavy handed, but it was an opportunity to explore fantastical imagery, which, come to think of it, was why we wanted to make it.

You studied animation at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) could you tell us about your experience at CalArts? Did any of your classmates make it big in the industry?

The animation program at CalArts is very well plugged into the L.A. animation industry. The school was founded by Walt Disney and at the time I attended, most of the animation faculty were veteran Disney artists. There are two distint programs of study-Character Animation and Experimental Animation with distinctly different approaches. I was in both programs for one year each. Then I was hired by Disney studios. Most of the animators at CalArts opted for a job at a studio rather than stay and graduate. Among those who attended during my two years were Gary Trousdale, John Hays (Wildbrain), Kathy Zielinski, Wes Archer, Kelly Asbury, Chris Sanders, Joe Ranft.

Could you take us through your creative process when starting a new animation project.

Of course, it differs depending on the type of project and my role in it. If it's something I'm writing as well as directing, I resist doing drawings or visual development until the ideas and story are carefully worked out. My writing process is slow and rather torturous, yet for me, it's ultmately the most rewarding. Unlike a lot of animators I know, I actually dislike the technical process of animation itself. To me, the animation process is just a necessary means of bringing my ideas to the screen. It's the ideas which drive the project, and which have the most importance to the audience in the end.

Do you think that artists with a formal education in animation or illustration have an advantage over self-taught artists?

Only in that there is a social interaction which occurs in a school environment. For many, the network of relationships one develops in school (especially CalArts) is invaluable to an animation career. Otherwise, I've met plenty of self-taught artists whose skills far surpassed those of those who attended art school.

What was your first professional animation job and how old were you when you were hired?

Between my two years at CalArts, I worked one summer for a small illustration and animation studio in Maryland while I was nineteen. At twenty, I did character design for Hanna-Barbera, layout and animation on Bakshi's Fire and Ice, then started at Disney in feature development.

How did you get your first animation job?

Through Jules Engel, my mentor at CalArts.


You're the creator of the edgy animation series Aeon Flux, Could you tell us how this character was born and how did MTV get a hold of it?

I was working at Colossal Pictures (now gone), an animation studio in San Francisco that produced mostly T.V. commercials. They used to do a lot of station I.D.s for MTV. Colossal had sold MTV a series of animated shorts called Liquid Television, and they were looking for submissions for original pieces. The show would air late at night, and would be aimed at adults. Aeon Flux was my idea of what animation for adults should be.

How much creative control did you have on Aeon Flux when it aired on MTV's Liquid Television?

During the Liquid TV days, I was completely free to do what I wanted. Looking back now, that's quite remarkable, actually.
  Could you tell us what it felt like to have your creation air on MTV? How did it affect your life?

Obviously, it was thrilling. At the same time, it felt like a great responsibility. Having gone to art school and making the decision to stick with animation at a time when the medium was at a low point in its history (the eighties) and was generally dismissed by the public and the "serious" artists among my peers, I felt vindicated. I was reaching an audience with one episode of Liquid TV greater than the number of people who would view a painter's work in his entire lifetime. The fact that people appreciacted my films stoked my desire to push further and attempt things I hadn't seen done before and wasn't sure I could do.

Towards the end of Aeon Flux voices were added to the characters and the show went to a half hour format, at that point the show lost a lot of it's edge and the things that made the original shorts so great, What happen??

The half-hour shows were certainly less violent than the shorts. So viewers who wanted more action may have been disappointed. Other than that, I'd say they were just as "edgy", if not more so. The scripts for the half hours contained more character development, psychological depth and narrative scope. I find that viewers who saw the half-hour episodes before the shorts usually prefer the longer episodes. It's true that there was far more censorship from the network with the stand-alone series, but I'd expect that, and took it as a challenge. There are other practical factors for the difference. I could spend a month storyboarding a four minute short, thus making the staging as tight as possible. That was a luxury I didn't have on the longer episodes.

You wrote and directed The Animatrix - Matriculated, how did you get involved in The Animatrix?

I heard from my friends at the Japanese studio Madhouse that they were making short films based on the Matrix. I called a producer I knew at Warner Brothers and told him I'd like the chance to do one myself. He forwarded my request, but told me that all the episodes had already been assigned to other directors, and not to expect anything. After about a month, I heard from him that one of the Japanese directors had left the project and that the Wachowskis were offering me a spot. It probably wouldn't have happened if I hadn't made that one phone call. It was a case of knowing the right person at the right time and acting on it.

How long did it take to create The Animatrix - Matriculated and how large was your team?

A total of fourteen months, including script to post-production. I spent two months working out the story, which went through a lot of changes. In terms of preproduction, it was just myself and one other designer who helped with the robots. As for the size of the rest of the team, I'll refer you to the end credits of the dvd.

OK I have to ask you this, a lot of us here at Animation Arena are big fans of Aeon Flux and The Matrix films the question is, do you think that Aeon Flux had any influence on the development of The Matrix? The character Trinity to be more specific, many of us see her as an Aeon Flux rip off could give your thoughts on the matter?

Well, the scene of the bug being implanted in Neo's navel reminded me a lot of the AF episode "The Purge". As for sources of influence on the Matrix-it appears that the Wachowskis were influenced by so many things, it would be difficult to parse. Of course, the Matrix itself has gone on the influence a lot since then.

We read on ain't it cool news that Charlize Theron has signed on to play Aeon Flux in the live action Aeon Flux movie what do you think of this casting choice? Personally I think Carrie-Anne Moss is Aeon Flux who would your choice have been?

I think the choice reflects the direction in which the character is being taken for the movie version. The movie Aeon will be a take on the character from different writers and a different director. I won't comment on who my own choice might have been.

How involved are you in the development of the Aeon Flux live action movie?

At this point, I'm reading the script as it is developed and offering notes.

You just finished working on your new project The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury can you tell us about it?

It's a 32 minute film depicting the events following the movie Pitch Black and focuses on the surviving characters. I didn't write the script. It's very different from other projects I've done in terms of narrative. It's a very straight forward action piece aimed at fans of the Riddick movies. There was plenty of room to create striking visual set-pieces. The music and sound design are very rich and elegant. There's a poignancy in the end as well, which enhances the moral ambiguity of the Riddick storyline.

How did you get involved in The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury?

Well, a producer I happened to know at Universal called me one day. When I began on Riddick, Animatrix was just being released. Animatrix was definitely the model for an animated spinoff we were aiming for.

Were you a fan of the original Pitch Black movie?

I hadn't seen it before being offered Dark Fury. I don't watch a lot of horror films, so it wasn't on my mind.

How long did it take to complete The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury?

Ten months from the time I received the script to when I delivered the finished piece including the final sound mix.

The great thing about the character Riddick besides being a Badass is the raspy voice of Vin Diesel does he provide the voice for Riddick in The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury I know he has experience lending his voice to animation (Iron Giant)? If so how was it working with Vin Diesel?

We recorded during the busiest period while Chronicles was being shot. It was difficult to schedule, but the good thing was that Vin slipped right into character. He revised a lot of his own lines to fit more with the character he was playing in Chronicles.

So when can we buy the The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury DVD? Are there any special features we should look out for?

The DVD is being released on June 15, a few days after the movie opens. There will be some kind of preview of the movie, some interviews with me and other staff who worked on the animated episode, and some "making-of" short.

Well when it comes to creating Animation features that tie into feature films you're the man film studios turn to, do you have any more film tie-ins or projects on the horizon?

There could be. I can't say right now. The chances will be higher if Dark Fury is successful.

Do you think these animation tie-ins will become common for summer blockbuster films?

I'm not the one to say, since it's the studios that make those decisions. For someone like me, it's certainly a lot better than doing T. V. series based on movies, which are usually very restricted by budget, schedule and broadcast standards and practices. There is a downside, though, in that I'd like to see animation which stands on its own terms rather than being a spinoff stepchild of live-action, which is regarded as more glamorous and important.

What do you think of the state of animation today and the move away from traditional 2D animation into 3D animation? Is 2D animation a dying art form?

This is a complicated question, which is the subject of heated debate among animators. There are certainly fewer young animators entering the 2D field, while older 2D animators retire or switch careers. So there's numerical attrition. On the other hand, for me, it's a better time than ever to be doing 2D since the technical aspects today are so much more flexible and efficient than in the days of hand-painted cels and shooting on film. Also, there's an acceptance of a greater range of subject matter than ever before.

Do you have any plans to move to 3D animation? Do have any desire to create a 3D short?

I'm incorporating more 3D elements into my work. I'd like to do full 3D animation eventually, though I'm disappointed that the user interface isn't getting any easier to work with, as I'd hoped. I'd say that I prefer to look at good 3D animation these days than hand-drawn 2D. At the same time, that sets up the challenge for me to push my 2D into new directions.

What steps should an aspiring Animator take to break into the business?

For myself, my greatest asset has been versatility. Learn as much about every aspect of the craft as possible. Over the years, I've worked as a character designer, background designer, storyboard artist, layout artist, animator, writer, and director. Somehow, I've always managed to keep busy doing challenging work which has allowed my skills to grow. I find I most enjoy working with other artists as well who have a variety of abilities, in that it allows a deeper level of involvement. That is always reflected in the finished product.

Do you have any advice for the aspiring Animators out there?

Be willing to travel. A lot of 2D animation work is still being done in other countries.

Thanks to Peter Chung ) for agreeing to answer the questions I had for him.

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