David Kwok on the local animation industry and education

Tell us about your trip to USA

The recent trip to LA and New York has been fruitful. We have met with top executives from Blue Sky Studio, Sony Pictures Animation, Warner Brothers Animation, 20th Century Fox Animation, Bardel Entertainment, Hasbro Studios, Saban Brands and Dreamworks Animation. There is a lot of potential over there. Being good in what you do is just the first step, building relations and contacts is the next important thing.

What are your thoughts on the animation industry in Singapore today? In terms of things we are doing well and what we need to improve.

Singapore has a very good worldwide reputation in terms of doing business in this industry. And we have a good IP protection system. Many companies see us as a gateway to Asia and the trust level on Singaporean companies is very high.

Since we first started. We had been focusing a lot in building production skills, which is essential. But moving on, we should look at skills in business and production leadership, distribution, IP creation, licensing and merchandising to build the entire ecosystem.

Due to our cost, we cannot establish ourself only as a service hub for production. Or else our situation will end up like the manufacturing sector, where work is moving on to cheaper places like India and China. We do not want to just manufacture sports cars. But we need to look into designing sports cars.

We need more entrepreneurs to build our SMEs and hopefully, become an MNC someday. In this way, we can have a sustainable industry. In order to survive, we need to learn how to stand on our own two feet and create opportunities for ourselves. We need to control our own destiny.

How can we solve these problems?

One way to look at it is creating an ecosystem in the industry. This is not easy. One needs to understand the whole business mechanism and establish a strategy. We can begin with looking at establishing IP companies. It can be a startup with just a few people, like the early days of multimedia and web companies.

If we slowly establish a cluster of 50 to 100 good IPs companies. Then slowly, it would makes sense for animation production companies to grow and produce pilot episodes and teasers for these companies. Toy and merchandising companies will start coming in to shop for content. Licensing and merchandising companies will move in, followed by IP legal companies, distribution companies and investors in these areas. Other areas of growth for the IP could be games, digital music and ebooks industry etc. And then slowly we will create an industry.

In the west, due to the economic situation, many companies are looking into Asia. It is a good time to attract people here in areas where we are weak at. Previously, western companies are only in Asia looking for outsource partners. Now they are looking for co-investment and production partners, If you look closely at many government efforts in the region, e.g Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Malaysia etc. Everyone is looking at animation and IP creation. Its a question of who is sharp enough to establish the ecosystem first. And with this, you need good business leadership in this field. Whoever establishes the ecosystem first will attract others in the region to go to them for a one stop solution.

In your opinion, what makes Tiny Island different from other studios?

For Tiny Island, we do not compete in cost. With our track record in IP creation and monetisation, our clients don't come to us because our cost is low. They come to us because they see us as a good partner. As not only do we have knowledge in IP development, we are also well connected in Asia.

On top of that, we have the ability to create what we call, Future Proof Content. Which means that we partner with technologists to ensure that our content will be able to travel beyond TV to maximise the opportunities and exposure.

If you compete in cost, you will go down in no time. As such, we began to have clients who are just investors in IP. They need someone who is be able to advise them from start to end in the whole cycle. And we come out with a business strategy to monetise the IP. On our own. We are also slowly forming our own ecosystem. And our next venture will be on licensing/merchandising/distribution.

 

 

How has the local and global industry evolved over the years, has there been major shifts economically / technologically / creatively?

Yes. The recent problems in the western economy has driven opportunities to Asia. And now the production capabilities in Asia is much better than before. Asia is now able to create its own content instead of just outsourced work.

Now you see more talents from Asia going to the West to learn from the schools over there as well as bring back work experience to set up shop here. We also start seeing more and more western talents coming to Asia. In the past. Western companies are only here to look for outsource partners. But now they are here to look for investments, co production partners etc.

The purchasing power in Asia is also getting stronger as Asians gets richer. We now have a strong licensing and merchandising market. The piracy situation in China is also getting better, companies there are now looking into creating their own IP because they see a potential in this. As the world gets more connected , Asian companies are travelling to more Western Markets and getting the best from both the East and West.

What are your thoughts on Rhythm and Hues' bankruptcy, and the branches of western studios setting up over here

Nothing is going to stop globalisation and outsourcing. Just like manufacturing, competing in price is definitely not an option. One need to relook at its company's strategy and create a sustainable business model. One needs to look at how to move up the value chain.

Is China an attractive market? Do we (Singapore) have a better chance of entering china compared to a US studio?

It still is a very attractive market given the size of the population, but it is not easy (at least for me). Whether Singapore has a better chance, to me it is all the same. Everything boils down to connections.

The way I look at businesses is not about which country they are in. Its about collaborative effort within countries and studios. It is a big world out there, we need to work together to create opportunities for ourselves. Whoever has better connections will succeed.

Is there any particular area lacking talent? Are there enough institutions supporting the supply of these talents?

I feel that we can build up our strength in pre-production work. Currently I feel that there is not enough training in such areas. Other area that we can build up is in business planning and production leadership. But these have to been done through apprenticeship, not classroom lessons.

How important is the transfer of overseas skills to the local workforce, how are you supporting it?

Yes it is important. We are bringing in the best talents from overseas to work with us in terms of training and knowledge transfer. We also send talents overseas for job attachments with the help of our government.

Any input on art education in Singapore?

Artistic education should be something ongoing that never stops even after we started working. SOTA is a good start to create such a good learning environment at a younger age.

What kind of people are you looking for when you hire talents? Top 3 hiring qualities ?

We are looking for those who value our vision and want to build a company together with us. The candidate should do ample research to understand about our company. In terms of qualities: 1.) Feel proud about what we do and want to play a part in building our company. 2.) Knowledgeable about the industry and eager to learn new things. 3.) Positive, humble and willing to start from the bottom.

Tailoring one’s reel to the job he is applying for is essential as well.

What is your vision for Tiny Island? And what is your vision for Singapore while we are on the topic.

My vision for Tiny Island is for it to be a global company that creates its own IP and eventually, handle its own licensing and merchandising. I also hope that Tiny Island can create a strong family culture for its staff.

On the education front, my vision for CG Protege is to create a hub for the knowledge exchange in this field. Where we gather the best talents in Singapore and overseas to work with us.

As for Singapore. I hope to see it becoming an ecosystem as described above. Else our destiny will be like the manufacturing sector.

What advice would you give for budding artists and entrepreneurs if they want to pursue this industry?

Be connected to the industry and be passionate in what you do. Networking is very important. Prepare to take risks and start building contacts and connections.

Something I kept reminding myself, "Are you going to be just a member of the orchestra playing the same old song, or are you going to stand up and be a part of the future of this industry?" Words from Carl Rosendahl, founder of PDI Dreamworks.

Tiny Island Productions

Tiny Island Productions is Singapore’s leading Stereoscopic 3D CG animation production company. Established in 2002 and based in cosmopolitan Singapore, the company creates, manages and markets quality content for the global CG animation market. The company is producing a slate of CG animated television and film projects, available in Stereoscopic-3D, in collaboration with international partners from Japan, Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong.

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