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Cambodia’s first animation school brings India to Angkor

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Businessman S.L.H Hiranandani, from Mumbai, with his staff at the School of Animation, Digital Asia, in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Julie Masis

Angkor Wat is set to go Bollywood. An Indian filmmaker who this year established Phnom Penh’s first animation school plans to produce all-singing, all-dancing cartoons telling the history of Cambodia.

SLH Hiranandani, a 45-year-old businessman from Mumbai, opened the animation school earlier this year to train some future employees for his own film production company: Sram & Mram Resources Ltd.

He intends to produce 3D cartoons about the childhood adventures of Hindu gods, as well as about the history of Cambodia and Angkor Wat. What he has in mind will look like a Bollywood movie in cartoon form, with gods who will dance, sing, and clap their hands to the beat of Indian pop songs, he said.

He has already written a couple of scripts in English, and eventually also plans to make video games based on his cartoon characters, he added.

“Cambodians don’t know the real history of Cambodia,” he claimed. “That is what I’m turning into cartoons. What I’m trying to do is give them a film that will educate them about who they are and where they come from. The students are going to work on that and they’ll get paid for that also.”

The Phnom Penh chapter of the School of Animation, Digital Asia, is the sixth cartoon-making institution Hiranandani established. He also runs four animation schools in India, and one in Bangladesh.

The Phnom Penh institution opened in January on the sixth floor of the Intelligent Office Center on Monivong Boulevard. He plans to expand the school, and a new building should be finished within the coming months.  

One of his colleagues at the animation school is Brad Collins, an American computer programmer who said he helped create animations that were integrated into Starship Troopers and Titanic.

“I killed Leonardo. I did the breath coming out of Leonardo’s mouth when he died,” joked Collins, who said his name was not included in the movie credits because he was a subcontractor of the subcontractor.

Collins will train the teachers at the animation school and will also be looking to hire some of the country’s best graduates for the graphic design program, which costs $450 for an 18-month training course.

Hiranandani promises that animation can help Cambodians earn good money. “This is the best way to do something for Cambodia,” he said. “Animation is one subject that is easy, simple, and it can help you earn money from the first day.”

Hiranandani, whose first movie failed when the heroine rain off in the middle of the set, forcing him to find a new actress and change the plot of the film, boasts that he is a self-made man.

He left home at the age of 16, when his father gave him a huge stack of postcards and made him promise to mail one home from 500 cities all across India. He ended up spending all the money his father gave him after just a couple of days, but continued traveling anyway, riding ticketless on top of trains and making as many friends as he could, hoping to get invited to someone’s house for dinner.

“In those days, the most popular destination for boys like me was Dubai, so I told my father I wanted some money to buy a ticket and go to Dubai. (But he) first gave me a stack of postcards and told me, ‘You go and see entire India first; once you see the entire India, I’ll give you more money’,” Hiranandani recalled. “I left home at the age of 16 and never turned back.”

Hiranandani later traveled to London where he  worked washing dishes in a restaurant and met his wife. In a very short time, however, his life turned around so much that he now has an aviation training school, an agriculture business and cartoon-making schools.

The School of Animation, Digital Asia, offers career training courses ranging from a four-month graphic design program that costs $450 to an 18-month Advanced Diploma in Complete 3D Animation Technology for $4,500. Students learn to make cartoons using various software applications such as Photoshop, Flash, Premier, Sound Forge, 3DS Max, Demoreel and others.

Despite the high cost, School of Animation’s public relations specialist Sothea Vann said that the program is a worthwhile investment and scholarships are available.

“After you finish the course, (we guarantee) 100 per cent placement,” he says. “And you get a certificate from India.”

For more information, go to Digital Asia Cambodia's facebook page, visit its website or the school on the sixth floor of #254 Monivong Boulevard on the corner of Street 109.

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