Trio tak­ing steps to re­alise their dreams in film-mak­ing, mu­sic and mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion

The Straits Times - - EDUCATION - Jo­lene Ang

It was not the Force that drew Ms Ni­cole-Danielle Fran­cis to Lu­cas­film. In fact, she has not watched a sin­gle Stars Wars movie.

It was the work cul­ture as well as op­por­tu­ni­ties to hone her an­i­ma­tion skills and pur­sue her dream of mak­ing her own films that led her to In­dus­trial Light & Magic (ILM) Sin­ga­pore two months ago.

Ms Fran­cis, 28, joined ILM, a divi­sion of the Lu­cas­film pro­duc­tion com­pany ac­quired by Dis­ney in 2012, as an ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant af­ter grad­u­at­ing re­cently from Lasalle Col­lege of the Arts with a diploma in an­i­ma­tion.

At Lasalle, she made a short an­i­ma­tion film, Tightrope, which was ac­cepted into four in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing the Cardiff In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val 2017.

The film is about a child bal­anc­ing on a tightrope and is meant to sym­bol­ise chil­dren’s strug­gles to bal­ance their phys­i­cal and emo­tional health amid pres­sures from the peo­ple around them.

Ms Fran­cis, who is of Eurasian de­scent and born in Malaysia, said she wants to cre­ate sto­ries that can evoke emo­tion in her au­di­ences.

She had worked in ad­ver­tis­ing for three years af­ter get­ting a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy and mar­ket­ing from Monash Univer­sity.

But she was not happy with what she was do­ing and de­cided to take up an­i­ma­tion as she has al­ways been in­ter­ested in it, and she also loves read­ing and writ­ing.

At ILM, some of the artists shoot their own mu­sic videos on the side, she said, and ILM is sup­port­ive of them though the work is not as­so­ci­ated with the com­pany.

She said of her am­bi­tions: “I want peo­ple to come out, af­ter watch­ing some­thing I made, ask­ing all kinds of ques­tions. Even if it’s ‘What did I just watch?’, that’s enough.”


“Sum­mer dreams ripped at the seams, but oh, those sum­mer nights,” so goes the song Sum­mer Nights from Grease.

It is Ms Michelle Ler’s favourite song from the mu­si­cal. But far from rip­ping her dreams at the seams, she’s liv­ing them out.

As a child, she used to watch Grease with her par­ents, who were big fans.

Next Jan­uary, the 22-year-old will be spend­ing two weeks in Perth as an as­sis­tant mu­si­cal di­rec­tor for the 2019 Aus­tralian tour­ing pro­duc­tion of Grease – The Arena Ex­pe­ri­ence, where she will man­age over 1,000 per­form­ers.

Ms Ler, a mu­si­cal the­atre stu­dent, was hand­picked in Fe­bru­ary by the pro­duc­tion’s mu­sic di­rec­tor Den­nett Hud­son, who was work­ing with her and other Lasalle stu­dents on one of their fi­nal-year projects.

The Aus­tralian ren­di­tion of Grease is on a much larger scale. As its name sug­gests, it will be per­formed in an arena, or a sta­dium of sorts, as op­posed to a tra­di­tional mu­sic hall.

An am­a­teur mass en­sem­ble of more than 800 per­form­ers, in­clud­ing chil­dren, will be in­volved.

Ms Ler has tried her hand at per­form­ing and mu­sic di­rect­ing. She prefers the lat­ter, be­cause she does not like be­ing in the lime­light.

Said Ms Ler, who read mu­sic at the O and A lev­els: “A piano recital feels too ex­posed, like I’m try­ing to show peo­ple some­thing.

“Mu­si­cal di­rec­tors dou­ble as re­hearsal pi­anists, so they get to ac­com­pany singers. I feel more pur­pose­ful that way.”


Mu­sic runs in Mr Eshan Denip­i­tiya’s blood.

His grand­fa­ther played the Hawai­ian gui­tar, which is com­monly used in coun­try mu­sic.

His fa­ther is a mu­sic di­rec­tor who has ex­pe­ri­ence with shows like Si­rasa Su­per Stars, or Sri Lanka’s ver­sion of Amer­i­can Idol.

Mr Denip­i­tiya, 23, a Sri Lankan, grad­u­ated top of his Bach­e­lor of Arts in Mu­sic class at Lasalle.

He plays the piano, and loves ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent styles and gen­res out­side of clas­si­cal, which is his forte.

“I be­lieve clas­si­cal mu­sic can show you ev­ery­thing a piano is ca­pa­ble of do­ing,” he said.

“But I want to bring my own style to clas­si­cal, make it re­lat­able to peo­ple and cap­ture a wider au­di­ence.”

His fu­sion work ranges from elec­tronic dance mu­sic mixed with clas­si­cal piano, to Sri Lankan folk tunes com­bined with Mozart’s pieces, and even Nokia ring­tones played in the style of Chopin.

In 2016, he per­formed at sold-out con­certs in Sydney and Melbourne with his fa­ther’s sym­phony or­ches­tra from Sri Lanka.

But he hopes to stage his very own con­cert one day, based on his fu­sion pieces.

“I be­lieve there’s some­thing in ev­ery genre,” said Mr Denip­i­tiya, who is cur­rently a full-time piano teacher based in Sin­ga­pore.

“If you know how to im­pro­vise on a piece, there’s noth­ing lim­it­ing you, and you have a free­dom to find your voice.”


(From far left) Ms Michelle Ler was hand­picked to be as­sis­tant mu­si­cal di­rec­tor for the 2019 Aus­tralian tour­ing pro­duc­tion of Grease – The Arena Ex­pe­ri­ence; Mr Eshan Denip­i­tiya, who plays the piano and loves ex­per­i­ment­ing with styles and gen­res out­side his clas­si­cal forte, has per­formed at sold-out con­certs in Aus­tralia with a Sri Lankan sym­phony or­ches­tra; and Ms Ni­cole-Danielle Fran­cis, who is now work­ing at Lu­cas­film, has had her short an­i­ma­tion film ac­cepted into in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals.

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