The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Rini Sugianto
Have mouse, will travel                                                         

Fancy a Tinsel Town career? What could be finer than glamor and glitz from sunup to sunup; wherever you go red carpets wait, cameras flash, fans swoon, bubbly flows, limos glide.

If that’s your fantasy avoid the technical end of filmmaking. 

Here you’ll probably get paid reasonably well, travel to exotic lands and see your name on the big screen.

But by the time the credits roll the lights are on and the cleaners are sweeping you and spilt popcorn towards the EXIT signs.  Consider this a metaphor for a tough job in an exciting industry, provided they are risk-takers.

“This is a business of hard work and long hours,” said animation artist Rini Sugianto.  “It’s not for those who aren’t fully dedicated.  I don’t want to be rude but newcomers have to learn to learn the basics, to animate bouncing balls before tackling facial features.

“Unfortunately many Indonesian would-be animators look for short cuts.  I’m happy to help young people who don’t wait for me to send them something. For others that’s a problem and I’m trying to get my head around it now.”

Rini is currently working in the Weta Digital visual effects studios in Wellington, New Zealand on The Hobbit.  The film, produced by Sir Peter Jackson who directed the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, is due out in December.

Along with other non-celebs Rini and her colleagues will buy their own tickets to see the film. They’ll sit through to the end hoping their names are spelt correctly then party – and wonder what next, and where.  Their photos won’t gloss the social pages and no teen screamers will crave autographs.

Yet the film could not have been made if around 80 animators hadn’t spent 50 hours a week or more bonding like soulmates to their computers, finessing each shot, 24 frames every second long after the stars have soared back to their penthouses.

Animators make the production absolutely believable, so keen observation skills are another required quality. With nimble fingers, sharp eyes and fertile minds their mice slowly nibble away the barriers between fantasy and reality letting viewers slump deeper into their seats and another world.

Cartoon films using thousands of drawings, each one slightly different from its predecessor were being made 100 years ago.  Computer film animation is one of the new transforming jobs that hardly existed last century.

An animator’s village is the world.  With show reels of their work on line, a passport in their jeans and English on their tongues the digital generation is young, keen, smart and ready to roll.

This is an informal industry where what you’ve done and can do overpowers qualifications or the way you dress.  Many now work at home.  Hazards include burn out, fractured marriages and repetitive strain injuries.

Rini, 32, was one of the few Indonesians who saw the possibilities while at school in Lampung and Bogor.  While her friends chased boys, fashion and fun the teenager was chasing a cursor across a screen.  Her childhood, dominated by sport, computers and comics, including Tintin, had “different priorities.”

When she entered Bandung’s Parahyangan University the best fit for her talents was architecture.  But when she graduated the Indonesian economy had been crimped by the Asian economic crisis.

Working for a Jakarta company producing 3D images of furniture wasn’t going to meet Rini’s surging ambitions.  Instead of waiting for times to change she took an animation course, sadly discovering local directors were “squeezing production time and sacrificing quality.”

Next stop San Francisco for further study, followed by animating games and small films.  She spent five years working in the US, her last as a supervisor, before heading to NZ in 2010 with her Australian Shepherd bitch Kali.

An “open-minded family” that didn’t try to restrain their independent daughter smoothed passage for the overseas adventuress.  Rini arrived in the US with little English so threw herself into the culture, making local friends, avoiding expats. 

Her adaptability is so complete that this month (May) she’ll marry an American special effects expert who shares her love of mountaineering.  Her plan is to scale the Seven Summits – the highest mountain on every continent.

Already underfoot is Kilimanjaro, the 5,895-meter mountain in Africa and NZ’s Ngauruhoe, Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings.

“Like airline pilots, the animation industry uses English,” said Rini, whose advanced language masks her origins. “A Jakarta animator with excellent abilities and wanted by Weta had to be turned down because his language was limited.

“The business is highly competitive and global.  I’m with people from NZ, Australia, the US, Britain and Germany.  Most are men.  Five Indonesians are working on The Hobbit, but I’m the only animator.

“It’s not just the artists who are mobile. US companies are moving to Canada. Others are going to Singapore.  The new center for animation is India where they’re really hard workers.

“I wish Indonesia could be there but the bureaucracy involved in setting up a company would be too difficult.  High-speed Internet access is essential.
“The feature-film industry is project-based.  I was offered a job with Weta on The Adventures of Tintin, (left) directed by Steven Spielberg who I’ve never met, then given the chance on The Hobbit.  Other projects are around but these are secret. 

“People come from all over the world to work at Weta (The company has employees from 35 nations). They’d do anything to work here. 

“Graduates will be stuck if they accept Indonesian standards. They need to put their work out there, let people bash it. Once you get comfortable you’re in danger.  There are so many resources available, including courses on line.

“You can learn by yourself if you’re artistic and technically literate. You must be multi-skilled but really skilled in one area.  (Rini is also a photographer and sculptor).

“My father, who works in real estate in Indonesia, always said that he didn’t worry about me because I’m independent.  He knew I’d always figure out a way to get ahead.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 2 May 2012)


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