DO you know the man behind favourite movies such as The Mask, Jumanji, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Toy Story 2, and Despicable Me? He is also known for co-directing the animated films The Lorax (2012), with Chris Renaud, and Minions (2015), with Pierre Coffin.
It is none other than Kyle Balda, the internationally renowned animator and film director.
Balda was recently in Kuala Lumpur to give a Masterclass on 3D Animation Film Directing, co-organised by The One Academy and The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas).
This highly anticipated Masterclass participants included local film directors, animators, practitioners and students.
When he first came to The One Academy in 2010, Balda was talking more specifically about 3D animation methodology and how to approach the subject. This time around, he covered a wider scope; including the importance of story, the creation of themes, visual development and storytelling, creation of caricatures and styles, story development, as well as the art and production design.
On the first day of the two-day Masterclass, Balda took the opportunity to interact with students more closely.
Before the event, he had compiled a series of questions from the students for a Q&A session. He spent time to get a sense of where the students are at in terms of their learning curve.
From the questions, the students gave him insights into the process they were dealing with in making their own film and doing their own shots. When sharing his journey, Balda said his penchant for animation was encouraged and nurtured by a mentor who was also an animator on Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
He said his mentor showed him the path into the animation industry and suggested schools that he should enrol in to train as an animator.
“Having a mentor really helped me. I had someone I could turn to for advice and I could get his expert feedback on my work,” Balda said.
Balda’s seminar garnered encouraging feedback from the many animation students.
Nicholas Patrick, 19, a second-year student in Digital Animation at The One Academy, said he learned something new in terms of animation workflow that he was not familiar with.
“Ideas can come from many rough ideas anywhere, at any time. That is the good thing about being an animator. We just need a pen and a paper to start scribbling our ideas before we transform them using the tools.
“So far, I have had my hands on 2D animation, so today’s seminar is an eye-opener for me to get insight on 3D animation,” said Patrick, who is from Indonesia.
For Hadeel Kharashi, 26, from Saudi Arabia, her interest in animation started from a young age. “There’s something about the animation series and characters that always caught my eye and I think this is what I would want to do as a career. I just love everything about it — from animation modelling, art, 2D and 3D animation.
“Balda is a famous animator and director, so being here and listening to his lectures is an experience of a lifetime,” said Hadeel, who is in her second year of Diploma in Digital Animation.
The second day of the Masterclass involved more intensive lectures about story, character and emotion. Balda stressed that these are the three aspects of a film that are the backbones to construct a compelling and successful movie.
“Story provides a structure that helps us to grasp the narrative, characters allow us to relate to the narrative, while emotions persuade us to engage with the narrative,” he said.
He also delved into acting, staging and editing that should complement all other aspects to create memorable and emotionally entertaining screen moments that will sweep the audience away.
“To be a good animator, you have to be an observer of life. A lot of what interest me as an animator is drawing and watching Disney films. An animator is an artist, and also an actor and storyteller.
“The biggest challenge nowadays is not just drawing, but also learning computer software and branching out to tell stories and character performances,” he said.
As a talented and experienced industry animator, he enhanced his teachings with his insights and other great references that benefit young students in terms of practical skills and knowledge.
“Animation can be very simple, entertaining and yet has a heart to it.
“One of the best things about a coaching experience is the connection you get together with other students, from the thought that somebody who is beside you lives and breathes animation like you do, and to be able to get feedback on the work you do from an industry mentor,” he added.
The One Academy is committed to its “Masters Train Masters” teaching philosophy whereby industry experts from all over the world are invited to teach students their ways and approaches as practised in the industry.
“I definitely love coming to The One Academy to teach. There’s a real dedication to quality when it comes to the education here. The One Academy is famous for bringing in people like Andrew Gordon, Matthew Luhn and other professionals from North America who have worked in Hollywood,” said Balda, who is also a Bafta nominated feature animation director.
Like many other talented creatives, Balda studied traditional animation at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).
He spent more than 20 years working with different animation giants such as Industrial Light & Magic, Weta Digital, Pixar and is currently at Illumination Entertainment.
Following a number of years conducting 3D animation Masterclasses at renowned European and Asian film schools and directing short form animation projects, Balda returned to feature production in Paris as the head of layout for Illumination’s Despicable Me followed by co-directing The Lorax.
Despicable Me 3, which Balda is co-directing, again with Coffin, will be released this June.
“In the last 10 years, we have spent a lot of effort and we have seen the results. The Malaysian animation industry is getting bigger and this is a golden opportunity for us to create our own Intellectual Property and market it worldwide.
“This Mastersclass is one step to growing the national animation and film industry. It also allows The One Academy to keep their educational syllabus up-to-date to produce graduates who are competent enough to face the animation industry,” said The One Academy principal and founder Tatsun Hoi.
FINAS deputy director of management Azmir Saifuddin Mutalib said the corporation supports the continuous effort in training and skill development of local Malaysian talents.
“Through our support for animation in films and games, we have grown professionals who are capable and talented. Within the last five years, FINAS has also been encouraging local animation productions. BoBoiBoy, for example, was screened in Korea just recently.
Hoi believes the expanding film industry promises vast career options to students and graduates who wish to go into the animation film industry.
“We are committed to providing the best art education programme and will continue to nurture our students passionately by providing diploma and degree courses,” said Hoi.
Among the courses are Digital Animation with Game Development, Advertising & Graphic Design, Fine Arts, ESMOD Fashion Design & Pattern Making, Interior Architecture & Design, Multimedia Design with Digital Media & Interactive Design, Illustration, Movie & Game Art and Film Visual Effects.