Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Frame by frame, an industry comes to life



Frame by frame, an industry comes to life

It can take professional animators two months to make one minute of video. Photo supplied
It can take professional animators two months to make one minute of video. Photo supplied

Frame by frame, an industry comes to life

In a small studio on the leafy campus of Battambang’s Phare Ponleu Selpak, students are bringing pictures to life.

The school has graduated four students since 2013, and 10 more are still studying. It now receives support from the Phare Creative Studio (PCS), which started producing commercial work in August.

While it’s not the first animation studio in the Kingdom, PCS is the first to be owned by a Cambodian social enterprise, and it promises to train future generations free of charge.

Animation team manager and animator Poy Chhunly, who also founded the Cambodian Animation Studio academy in Battambang, began working as an animator in 2002 after studying painting at Phare. Inspired by cartoons like Tom and Jerry, he was self-taught until he had the opportunity to take part in a month-long French workshop.

“I wondered how people could make each painting moveable, and it was the first time for me to discover animation as an idea,” he says. “I didn’t just want to be a normal painter. I wanted to make my paintings come alive.”

Thanks to the workshop and connections made at Phare Ponleu Selpak, Chhunly eventually earned a scholarship to study animation for three years at Ecole Pivaut in 2010. By then, his skills had been recognised: he won gold at the 2007 Cambofest film festival for his animated piece Kids Drink Dirty Water.

“After I posted this video on social media, many people contacted me to learn animation, but we didn’t have a proper class at that time,” he says.

Animator Poy Chhunly.
Animator Poy Chhunly. Athena Zelandonii

Although he had started teaching an animation team that year, it wasn’t until 2013 that Chhunly and his team received, through Phare Ponleu Selpak, a four-year aid package from the French Development Agency (AFD) and French development NGO CCFD. They renamed the group Phare Creative Studios and started building the studio.

When Phare Ponleu Selpak originally offered free animation classes in 2013, just four students registered, Chhunly says. Those graduates now need career opportunities, which PCS is there to offer. Chhunly hopes that these first four will share the benefits of their success to support Phare through funds made at the studio. After all, they are linked through the education program.

Phare’s animation program now has four teachers and, like animation itself, their job is one of careful patience. Most of the training is computer-based.

“We use computers more now because it does not waste paper,” Chhunly says. “But to make animation, it depends on professional skills. If the students are professional, they can make it fast, but if not, it takes so long.”

Even with professionalism, “one person can spend two months to animate one minute of video”, he says.

Since 2007, Chhunly has worked with a range of clients including international organisations such as Oxfam Cambodia and Transparency International as well as government bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Unit. PCS is now handling the production of a video for Handicap International, but it is still in the draft phase.

While animation might not be new in many other countries, Chhunly is happy to see the industry take off in Cambodia. “Most [animators] might think the same way as me. If they like animation, they must have high commitment and ambition, because it is just not for fun during the production stage. I am happy if I see more people pursuing an animation career,” he says.

For Chhunly, picking up animation is like going to military school: it requires speed, rigour and discipline.

“If [students] don’t have ambition, they would run away from class,” he says, adding that he hopes the public will see the value of arts such as animation. “I believe that people will value these artistic concepts: performance, painting, or film,” he says.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants