Col­lat­eral Dam­age Stu­dios

Start­ing life as a lo­cal artist group, this Sin­ga­pore stu­dio is now a global player, as Tom May dis­cov­ers

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Based in Sin­ga­pore, Col­lat­eral Dam­age Stu­dios has quite the back­story. It be­gan in 2006 as a dou­jin cir­cle: a group of friends who got to­gether to share their work and in­spire each other cre­atively. So how did a loose gath­er­ing of en­thu­si­asts, fo­cused on the art of an­ime, evolve into a fully fledged, com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful cre­ative agency? “It was a grad­ual process,” says projects man­ager KC Ng. “The group slowly grew in promi­nence and ex­panded the cir­cle to in­clude other artists. It was soon be­ing reg­u­larly fea­tured in news ar­ti­cles about the in­die scene, and we started to get ap­proached to do com­mis­sions. We’d even get sent the oc­ca­sional CV from pro­fes­sional artists.”

Fan art fans

But it wasn’t un­til 2013 that the cir­cle took its first steps to­wards be­com­ing a more for­mal com­mer­cial en­tity – when Mi­crosoft ap­proached the group re­gard­ing a char­ac­ter that had been drawn for fun. The ani­mestyle char­ac­ter, a young girl called Inori Aizawa, had been cre­ated as a piece of fan art, af­ter artist and pro­ducer Danny Choo had posted an im­age fea­tur­ing hu­man equiv­a­lents of the Sa­fari, Fire­fox and Chrome web browsers.

Inori Aizawa is a sassy girl who fights ro­bots, dresses in sexy geek clothes, and pets her cat while surf­ing the web. Mi­crosoft loved the de­sign, and wanted it to use it in its mar­ket­ing cam­paigns for In­ter­net Ex­plorer in Asia.

“That was when a cou­ple of the cir­cle’s mem­bers de­cided to take the leap of faith and set up the stu­dio,” says Ng. “Work­ing closely with the In­ter­net Ex­plorer mar­ket­ing man­ager in Sin­ga­pore, Col­lat­eral Dam­age Stu­dios brought to­gether a team to pro­duce an an­i­mated short. It went vi­ral, and the rest is his­tory.”

Since then, CDS has worked with in­ter­na­tional clients such as Wa­com, Faber Castell and Soda Pop Minia­tures to cre­ate a num­ber of an­ime-in­spired vi­su­als and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. Re­cently, it’s even started widen­ing its scope be­yond an­ime, such as the com­pany’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with board game pub­lisher Mage Com­pany on a steam­punk-themed game fea­tur­ing air­ships, called Aether Cap­tains.

An an­i­mated mu­sic video pro­duced for SOZO, the or­gan­is­ers of An­ime Fes­ti­val Asia (AFA), to pro­mote its Anisong [an­ime song] con­cert, is an­other big re­cent project, reveals KC. “We did the sto­ry­board­ing and the con­cept art,” he says. “Our res­i­dent char­ac­ter de­signer Low Zi Rong did quite a bit of the key an­i­ma­tion, too.”

set apart

A self-trained il­lus­tra­tor and an­i­ma­tor, Low is one of the stu­dio’s best-known artists, hav­ing cre­ated both Inori Aizawa and SEIKA, the of­fi­cial char­ac­ter for An­ime Fes­ti­val Asia. Two things set Col­lat­eral Dam­age Stu­dios apart, he be­lieves: “We’re geared more to­wards a Ja­panese style of art­work cre­ation. And we’re also will­ing to take on dif­fer­ent gen­res of art, at the re­quest of our clients.” Low’s high­light at CDS so far has been, “Be­ing able to in­volve my­self in full 2D an­i­ma­tion projects, which is rare in the Sin­ga­pore scene,” he says.

Il­lus­tra­tor Ricky Li is a more re­cent re­cruit to the com­pany and is in charge of de­vel­op­ing in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty such as MON GIRL, an adult comic strip for the Lewd Gamer web­site, and cul­ti­vat­ing the stu­dio’s fan­base di­rectly through cre­ative men­tor site Pa­treon. “I was first in­tro­duced to the dou­jin cir­cle by a friend of mine,” Ricky says. “Af­ter I grad­u­ated, I joined the stu­dio full-time.” Work­ing on client projects such as My Lit­tle

You need to ac­cept all kinds of chal­lenges. Pas­sion is cru­cial

Dic­ta­tor, a vis­ual novel from WarGirl Games, and Ni­hongo Master, an ani­methemed web­site for learn­ing Ja­panese, he’s come to re­alise, “Time man­age­ment is very im­por­tant, and if you want to be a con­cept artist, you need to be ready to ac­cept all kinds of chal­lenges. Pas­sion is cru­cial.”

Se­nior il­lus­tra­tor Tan Hui Tian is an­other re­cent hire and an artist who pre­vi­ously worked for in­die de­vel­oper PD De­sign. “I was free­lanc­ing for CDS, so the job sort of fell into my lap,” she says. One of the big­gest chal­lenges Tan feels the com­pany faces is “the mind­set that an­ime is some­how eas­ier or cheaper than Hol­ly­wood-style con­cept art.”

Though artists such as Hui Tian weren’t around in the early days, the core dou­jin phi­los­o­phy re­mains a big in­flu­ence on the com­pany, stresses KC. “The team still main­tains strong re­la­tions with the orig­i­nal dou­jin cir­cle’s mem­bers out­side of the for­mal stu­dio,” he says. “And when the need comes, we tap into the ta­lent pool of the Sin­ga­pore dou­jin scene.”

And that re­la­tion­ship isn’t just one-way: the stu­dio is also keen to give back to the com­mu­nity and reg­u­larly sup­ports groun­dled ini­tia­tives that pro­mote lo­cal il­lus­tra­tors. “We pro­vide ex­per­tise to help the or­gan­is­ers of Dou­jima, a mini art fair for lo­cal dou­jin cir­cles, and Ex­trav­a­ganza, an art com­pe­ti­tion or­gan­ised by stu­dents for stu­dents,” KC says. A vir­tu­ous cir­cle – and the spirit of the dou­jin lives on.

A still from AFASG15’ pro­mo­tional video, fea­tur­ing SEIKA, who was de­signed by Low Zi Rong.

Tan Hui Tian and Lim Wei Lun worked on the box cover art of the boardgame Aether Cap­tains, pub­lished by MAGE Com­pany.

Here’s Low Zi Rong’s orig­i­nal char­ac­ter de­sign for Aizawa Inori, which launched CDS as a stu­dio.

CDS artists hard at work cre­at­ing more great an­ime.

A per­sonal il­lus­tra­tion by Tan Hui Tian, sim­ply en­ti­tled Pale.

Beryl Princess by Low Zi Rong was done as a port­fo­lio piece to pitch for a Ja­panese card game.

Lim Wei Lun painted Yun Yun Cos­mica for Skytree Dig­i­tal’s mo­bile de­vice rhythm game, Hachi Hachi.

Hoshi­zora is a per­sonal work by Lim Wei Lun.

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