Cambodian animation racing towards world-class imagery

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Sil Animation Studio is where series Little Yak and popular game Angkor: Rise of Heroes were produced from scratch. Pha Lina

In a studio in Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmey commune, a team of six aspiring young digital artists work diligently on their desktops while Yok Chivalry walks around observing, ready to give advice and technical support.

Sil Animation Studio is where many popular local computer-animated clips – like mini-series Little Yak and the famous 3D game Angkor: Rise of Heroes, which was showcased at the Global Game Exhibition G-Star 2018 in Busan, South Korea last November – were produced from scratch.

Chivalry, who hails from Kampot province, gained a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Banking from the National University of Management in 2009. Despite having a degree that could almost guarantee him a comfortable and steady living, he decided to pursue his passion for art.

He studied traditional art at Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture in Phnom Penh for five years, with many twists and turns following in his path towards producing digital art.

The self-taught digital artist was an early bird in picking up the necessary skills when the Kingdom had very few people able to create digital art and animation.

The 30-year-old founder of Sil Animation Studio (pictured, Pha Lina) said: “I am a self-taught digital 2D and 3D artist. With over seven years in the mobile gaming industry, I’ve worked on a wide range of mobile 2D and 3D games.”

Starting as digital artist and producer, Chivalry later became co-founder and creative director at the capital’s Osja Studio before establishing his own studio in May 2016.

Sil Animation Studio – the Khmer word sil can be translated as magic or art – was founded not just to produce animated clips for profit. The company’s philosophy is to focus on producing world-class imagery using highly skilled artists and cutting edge technology.

Among the studio’s work is Little Yak. The animated series features two little yaks – yak is a mythical creature in Cambodian folklore that translates as giant or ogre – as its main protagonists, with three other little yaks as recurring characters.

It is the first Cambodian animated series to appeal to children and adults alike, with its colourful images, catchy music and sense of humour – even though the characters do not speak.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

“Little Yak, with his two little fangs sticking out, has become a children’s favourite. We started the series with only two characters and later expanded to five.

“Without speaking a word, the character moves in a funny way, using gestures and facial expressions to amuse the viewers,” Chivalry said, adding that he hopes the muted animation is also entertaining for foreign viewers.

At his studio, Chivalry told The Post: “I have been working on animated videos for many years, with some pauses and a frequent temptation to give up because I found it so hard.

“Unlike movies with a human cast following a script, in animation production I have to draw the character myself and it takes many steps to bring it to life.

“Then the rendering process can take two or three days. The process often left my team and me without hope that we will be able to continue making it.”

But the team’s passion ensured they did not let the obstacles overcome their strong ambition to satisfy people’s common hunger for uncommon adventure by using the Khmer Empire as the setting and for traditional costumes and props.

“We carried on because newly-released software helped us a lot in the production process. We are working toward our goal of moving from two- to three-minute videos to 90-minute ones,” Chivalry said.

He revealed his plan to release a 90-minute video featuring action scenes starring a traditional warrior wearing a Krama scarf with ancient temples as the backdrop.

“I had to design the character and give him a certain personality and specialities. Then we write the story and draw a storyboard before developing 3D assets and other technical processes – rigging, a digital skeleton, animation, colouring materials, lighting, editing and adding sound to match the video,” he said.

Taking time off from his production schedule, he uses his social media page to demonstrate the process of making videos from start to finish, explaining as simply as he can so even people completely unfamiliar with the industry can get an idea of what it takes to develop 3D animation.

Chivalry is also helping to boost the animation industry by providing affordable courses for enthusiastic learners.

“There are not enough people in this industry. Digital art courses can be very expensive, but we offer ours for only $300 for the 80-hour course.”

Sil Animation Studio is located at No12E0-E2 Street 59, Borey Peng Huoth Phumin, Phnom Penh Thmey commune, Phnom Penh.