Meet Jerrold Chong, a Singaporean Animator Who Is Breaking the Mold

Jerrold Chong is the co-founder of local animation studio Finding Pictures and recipient of the Youth Inspiration Award at the 2022 *SCAPE National Youth Film Awards.
He first encountered the magic of animated cinema through the much-beloved Pixar film Toy Story, which compelled him to hone the art of making characters come to life.

In an artistic medium bound by exacting standards to detail, Jerrold’s works invite us to reflect on how personal stories can be told while harnessing our imagination. Now a key figure in the burgeoning local animation scene, he champions budding young animators.
Wildchild speaks to Jerrold, who shares about his journey thus far and the importance of trusting your own instincts as a filmmaker.

Could you tell us more about why you chose to be an animator and any early influences that drive your passion for animation? 

When I was younger, my teachers introduced me to films such as Koji Yamamura’s Mt. Head, Michael Dudok de Wit’s Father and Daughter, and of course, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. They all left a deep impression on me. Also, Pixar’s Toy Story was the first film my parents brought my siblings and me to watch at the cinema, so I hold it close to my heart. There is a certain magic to animation that really captured my imagination.

Thereafter, I became obsessed with watching and re-watching the making-of videos for Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. It was fascinating to be able to get a peek into the artistry that went into making those films. Over the years, I also grew to discover independent, experimental animation made by various filmmakers with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), the Quay Brothers, and Czech animation filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. The variety and inventiveness of their storytelling and visual approaches excited me — that was how my passion for animation grew over time! 

Are there stories that animation can tell better than live-action?

Storytelling is the most important foundation for any filmmaker. Animation can offer a wider range of possibilities in terms of world-building and creating characters that are surreal and out of this world. But at the end of the day, animation is a medium. What is more important is the story that is told and the emotional journey that the audience embarks on. 

Having said that, there is so much diversity and imagination filmmakers can inject into animation storytelling. Think: the joyful, expressive illustrative qualities of a film like Le Petit Nicolas; the magical realism in a film like The Red Turtle; and the surrealness of a film like I Lost My Body. And that’s what makes this medium such a joy to work with for storytelling! 

Who are some of your creative influences in filmmaking? 

Live-action films, which I enjoy watching leisurely, serve as a big influence on me when I’m thinking about my animation films. To name a few, I’m inspired by filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, Alain Resnais. It’s interesting to bring some of their narrative ideas from live-action cinema into the animation medium. 

I also count animation directors like Siqi Song (director of Sister), Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter (directors of Negative Space), and Jeong Dahee (director of Man on the Chair, The Empty) as some of my major influences. They have all been enlightening and impactful in expanding my perspectives of what animation can achieve.

Do you have a memorable story to share from your experience as a Hollywood animation intern? 

One of the memories that stuck with me during my time in Hollywood was helping to animate the lights for one particular scene on the set of Anomalisa — one of my favorite films, by the way! The amount of time and level of detail that the lead animator dedicated to each frame simply blew my mind. 

Every frame took 30-40 mins to adjust and finetune before he would take a photograph and it was amazing to learn that some shots from Anomalisa took animators months and months to get right! It’s so inspiring to see artists put so much love and passion into every frame of the film. I think that really shows in the final product.

Congratulations on receiving the Youth Inspiration Award at the 2022 National Youth Film Awards (NYFA)! How has being a two-time winner influenced your filmmaking?

Thank you! It’s great to have *SCAPE’s NYFA as a platform for young local filmmakers like myself to showcase our films. Having my works recognized by industry leaders and filmmakers, whose creations I’ve admired since young, was an incredibly humbling experience as well.

Winning these awards has definitely been super helpful to my career growth, as they’ve given me and my team greater confidence in our storytelling sensibilities, in knowing that our work connects with audiences out there. NYFA has also served as a great platform to widen our network and collaborate with other like-minded artists. 

How have the NYFA and programs conducted by *SCAPE continued to open up new storytelling opportunities for you and the team? 

I think one thing that *SCAPE has done brilliantly is to recognize animated films as part of its other NYFA filmmaking awards. Animated films are now shortlisted for categories like art direction, writing, director, sound design, and editing. In the past, they were restricted to nominations within the animation category. This change affords well-deserved recognition to all the efforts that go into the various aspects of animation filmmaking and puts it on the same level as live-action films.

Jerrold at Cartoons Underground

Additionally, *SCAPE has been very supportive of Cartoons Underground, Southeast Asia’s leading Independent Animation festival. Cartoons Underground aims to build a platform to uncover and showcase animated stories from young Singaporeans and across the region. Three years ago, *SCAPE and Cartoons Underground co-created the Animated Visions program, which consists of a story development lab, masterclasses, and industry panels. The program has been super valuable in creating opportunities for animation filmmakers and artists to grow and learn from the best within the community.

Having been a stalwart in growing Singapore’s animation scene, how do you think it has progressed over the years? 

Five to ten years ago, there was more focus on commercial animation as family entertainment. I am a co-founder of Finding Pictures, which has produced several independent and arthouse short films — Piece of Meat and The Visit — that have gone to festivals like Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and Annecy. We support the short films of younger, up-and-coming filmmakers too. 

I also hope that with the music video for the 2021 NDP song, “The Road Ahead“, the wider population in Singapore can see that we definitely have the talent to make world-class animation. Hopefully, the local independent animation scene can continue to grow, mature, and diversify with new voices — may we make our mark on the world!

We love seeing distinct aspects of Singapore iconized within your short films, in both animated and real-life form: a drawn vignette of a green exit sign; a real image of our red coffee shop chairs; an MRT PA system voiceover. How valuable is a mixed-media approach in creating content that celebrates Singapore? 

As a filmmaker, I think it’s important to draw from your personal experiences and observations of your surroundings for storytelling. These Singapore-related details originated from a natural observation of my environments and life, which inspired the art and design in my work. I hope that these roots of our personal, lived experiences will make my stories and characters become more relatable, distinctive, specific, and ultimately, more universal in their reach as well. 

To add on, what kinds of themes do you strive to capture when representing our local culture in your films?

I usually explore human relationships, connections, and memory. Plus, darker and more mature social issues like social inequality and xenophobia. While these are not wholly representative of our local culture, I believe that it’s important to have conversations about these difficult topics.

The music video for NDP’s “The Road Ahead” contains many easter eggs — recognizable local culture and icons — but we also found ways to go beyond the usual stereotypes by digging deeper into what we find familiar and identify as “Singaporean”. 

For example, there is a scene in the music video of Shye singing in a magical garden. We researched the species of flora and fauna that are native to Singapore and the region to create a garden scene that feels familiar and evocative to Singaporeans in a subtle and sometimes unconscious way.

What is some advice that you would give an aspiring animator?

I think it’s important to believe in your own stories and trust your instincts as a filmmaker. Don’t be afraid to try something new or different, even if others may not agree with you. As long as you believe in your ideas, your hard work will pay off in the end! 

I learned that films are most powerful when they are personal to you and that’s what makes it important for you to be the one to make it! I found that quite affirming and motivating when I first started my journey in filmmaking. The bottom line is to trust yourself and trust the process. 

Are there any upcoming animated works we should look out for? 

I’m currently completing animation production for One Fine Day, a short film that explores the issue of youth suicide. I’m also helping to produce a short film directed by Olivia Griselda and Sarah Cheok called She and Her Good Vibrations, which is about a woman who gets hooked on her vibrator. 

At Finding Pictures, we are writing and producing our next animation series called Zombie Safari — an adult zombie horror comedy series about a ragtag group of zoo animals fighting to survive a zombie apocalypse! 

Back in June, Finding Pictures also finished the production of our first animation series Puberteens, which is about three teenage misfits who discovered that they have superpowers after undergoing puberty. You can watch the full series on MeWatch

Questions by Low Jay Sen; images provided by Jerrold Chong

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