Collateral Damage Studios
Starting life as a local artist group, this Singapore studio is now a global player, as Tom May discovers
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.”
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.