Animating Singapore writing

The works of five Singapore writers will come to life in animation for the first time at Utter, an event related to the annual Singapore Writers Festival.

Titled Head Trips, the 90-minute film comprises five short animated segments based on the works of Dave Chua, Amanda Lee Koe, Alfian Sa'at, Chow Teck Seng and Vanessa Ng. It will screen at Golden Village Suntec from Friday to Sunday. The films were commissioned and fully funded by the National Arts Council.

Previous editions of Utter had featured live-action film adaptations and theatrical adaptations of short stories and poems, such as Arthur Yap's poem 2 Mothers In An HDB Playground and David Leo's short story Soup Of The Day.

Says Singapore Writers Festival director Yeow Kai Chai, 47: "Animation liberates the artist in the realm of imagination. He or she is free to adapt the text into whatever format. Our only criterion was for the animators to surprise us.

"We are very happy with the five animated shorts as each has an individualistic point of view, while paying tribute to the original source."

Head Trips opens with 33-year-old twin brothers Harry and Henry Zhuang's adaptation of Dave Chua's short story The Tiger Of 142B, from his 2012 collection The Beating And Other Stories.

The brothers were drawn to the story of a series of murders at an HDB block, supposedly committed by a tiger, because they identified with its protagonist, who rejected a job because he disliked the interviewer.

Harry says: "We felt a deep connection to him because he dared to chose a path less taken by ordinary Singaporeans and stand by his morals."

The brothers run the animation studio Weaving Clouds, whose clients include DramaBox, The Necessary Stage and 360Studio. Their stop-motion animated short film Contained also won best Best Animation and Best Sound at the 2nd Singapore Short Film Awards in 2011. They cite their favourite animated film as Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997).

Henry says: "It is the first time we're doing an adaptation of an existing work, as opposed to an original work.

"We printed out a copy of the story and cut it up, then selected the most important scenes and arranged them into a script and storyboard, with lines we added."

Chua, 44, who first met the Zhuang brothers while he was still running the now-defunct animation festival, Animation Nation, says: "I think some of my more surreal stories, such as The Tiger Of 142B, are better adapted as animation."

Harry says: "We asked Dave what the tiger was meant to symbolise, but he didn't tell us. So I guess it's up to the audience to interpret that."

The other works in Head Trips are Round, comprising three of Koe's short stories from her debut collection, Ministry Of Moral Panic (2013), which won the Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction in 2014; The Great Escape by Alfian; Chow's Chinese poem 5 Colours Of Melancholia And Silence; and Ng's short story That Fat Cat, Ate Dad's Hat.

Round, a stop-motion animation work, is made by recent Lasalle animation graduate Samantha Seah, 22, who was inspired by the common theme of the cyclical failure of love running through all three stories.

Seah, who cites Satoshi Kon's Paprika (2006) and Jan Svankmajer's Dimensions Of Dialogue (1982) as her favourite works of animation, says: "Amanda and I met once to discuss the story. After that, she pretty much gave me free rein to do up the animation myself. I created my own 3-D sets and experimented with paper puppets for the characters. I still have a lot to learn."

Koe says: "It is quite fascinating to see how something works in two different media. I think that film is a medium that might seem more easily digestible, because it is more immediately sensory than a book, so there is an aspect of film that will always be more accessible to people than literature, though at the end of the day both can be just as complex and rewarding."

Neither she nor Chua has seen the final cuts of the adaptations.

Says Koe: "I'm quite excited to see it. Hopefully, it's going to be a pleasant surprise for me at the premiere."


Where: Golden Village Suntec City

When: Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm; Sunday, 5pm

Admission: $10 to $12.50 from Golden Village



This article was first published on Aug 24, 2015.
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