>>> Peter Chung Interview <<<

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Interview 1 with Peter Chung (1)

1. Why did you choose to work in animation, rather than movies?

I was always an artist, drawing pictures since my childhood. I started doing homemade animation from the age of 16, with a Super 8 camera. But I was unsatisfied with my own Super 8 live-action films, so I began doing original animation. Whereas the live movies suffered from having no budgets,with animation I could show anything, any images I could imagine and draw.

2. Did you have any particular influences, either from other animation, art or comics?

While growing up, I lived all over the world, so I was influenced by many cultures, especially European countries. There really isn't one particular artist that has consciously influenced my work, but there are Japanese animators that I really admire, like Tezuka Osamu and Rintaro. One recent Japanese animated movie I enjoyed was "X"(dir. Rintaro), which had a spiritual and metaphysical dimension that I appreciated.

3. Any influences regarding subject matter, e.g. "I want to do my own version of James Bond, Blade Runner. etc."?

I have a voracious appetite for movies, but I'm unsatisfied with most films. Most Hollywood films are formulaic and unimaginative. I prefer older, especially European movies, such as Antonioni films, stylistic movies. But also ones where the audience is emotionally connected to the characters. When I was younger, I liked style and techniques of films more, but now, in my 30's, I'm more into character-based content. But even so-called independent American movies, such as those by Jim Jarmusch, are really just remakes or updates of the original European films, for example, by Goddard, made in the 50's and 60's. One recent film that I like is David Lynch's "Lost Highway", which I found inspiring in its abstractness. In that one, Lynch makes no distinction between the character's internal states and ideas and the external reality. I'm really interested in that concept, gibing physical expression to a character's inner life.

4. Who would you like to collaborate within any medium?

In terms of famous directors, like Lynch, the answer is no one. I really have interest in that. But on the other hand animated projects are always collaborative. I enjoy the process of working with other animators and discovering their talent or hidden talents.

5. These days, what animation, movies, comics, TV shows, etc. are you into?

I don't have that much time to stay current with the latest TV shows and etc. About a TV show I like, there's something called "0niisama-e", which an animated fantasy-drama that explores serious themes like incest in both an entertaining end mature way. Actually, it's not really new. I saw a Korean translation of it about five years ago. For me, this series exploded the boundaries of animation. I also like the work of Studio Madhouse and the directors Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri, but some of the more recent hyped anime are disappointing. "Akira" had good ideas, but wasn't very appealing. The characters weren't appealing. Like wise, "Ghost in the Shell", also had too much dialogue and wasn't dramatic enough. Instead of having the characters express how they felt through images, the characters in "Ghost" just explained bow they felt, like they were characters in a book.

6. What's next for "Aeon Flux"? More animation? The movie?

A live-action film is in development. But there's no script or director yet. I'll probably serve as a consultant on it, but I'm pretty sure I won't be asked to direct. I'm planning to direct in the near-future, but handling a $60,000,000 "Aeon Flux" film would be too much responsibility for my first time.

7. Is "Aeon Flux" the first project you've sold movie rights to?

Actually, I don't own "Aeon Flux". I created the character and series, but MTV owns all the rights. Before "Aeon Flux", I had done a lot of development work for proposed series, but "Aeon Flux" was the first one of mine to actually become a show.

8. How do you see your relationship to films in the future? Directing, producing?

Right now, I'm developing two theatrical projects, one live-action, one animated feature, both original stories. I'm currently talking to a producer. It's too early to be more specific yet, but they won't be comedies. They won't be for children and I'm going to create a new, original character. I plan to write and direct both projects. Other than that, I'm not going to depict an ordinary reality, but I'll give physical form to the imaginary world. Sometimes I take ideas from dreams, but I'm not interested in escapism or in providing escapist entertainment for the masses. In my work, I want to explore more of internal experiences. Our lives are not simply what we experience externally and filmmakers don't allow enough exploration of internal states of mind. These internal experiences are what he wants to explore more of in his work.

9. Do your interests lie more in design or storytelling?

Writing stories is preferable, but ideally the design work and the storytelling are inseparable. The world of the story, how the world is designed, becomes the story.

10. If you were given $100,000,000, what would you make?

I wouldn't make one $100,000,000 movie. I'm not impressed with the quality of production values. I'm impressed by the quality and quantity of ideas. So I would probably use the money to make ten $10 million movies, animation or live-action.

11. How did you become attached to "Alexander" ?

One day, the head of Studio Madhouse, Mr. Maruyama contacted me and just asked if I'd like to work on the project. Being a fan of the studio, I eagerly accepted the invitation.

12. What is your role in the production?

Originally, doing character designs. Now I'm also doing some background designs for the series.

13. How did you design the characters for "Alexander"?

First, I started by doing research, before the director, Mr. Kanemori, told me to quit the research and only use my imagination. There was no script at the time, only a synopsis and character descriptions, so most of the design work is purely from my imagination. The director and writer really didn't influence my designs much; if they didn't like something, they said so, and I'd change it.

14. Do you consider "Alexander" a historical project or more of a fantasy? How much of it is based on fact?

It's the historical story of Alexander, but with added fantasy elements, like advanced technology in an ancient age, some characters fly and one who is 20 feet tall But the story also follows the true historical conquests of Alexander and takes place in that time. And aside from Alexander himself, the other main characters are true, historical personages. Does the story remain true to the real Alexander's death, at 33. by a fever? Well, reports of Alexander's death are undead. He may have actually been purposely poisoned. At any rate, within our story, Alexander is reincarnated several times.

15. What drew you to the project personally?

Like I said, I wanted to work with Madhouse. In the beginning, I didn't know much about the history of Alexander, but after doing some research, I found myself becoming drawn into it. The most intriguing thing to me was the nature of Alexander, who is not pure, but is driven by the dark side of his psyche. Alexander's life and his animated life is one of extremes.

16. Are you concerned with themes ( social, psychological, etc.) in your animation?

Too many movies these days focus on psychoanalyzing the characters as a cheap means of "character development". This is one reason older movies are better, because they lack the psychoanalytical emphasis. For myself, thematically, I want to focus on aspects of the characters and, as I said, on their internal realities, not just have the objective, documentary-like style most films use. I'm also interested in metaphysical entities like the Death-like character in "Lost highway" that may give a supernatural interpretation.

17. How has the field of animation changed since you got into the business? How have audiences changed?

I was trained at CalArts before entering the industry at 20, in the early 80's. At the time, animation was breathing its last breath. Lots of the older talents were retiring, dying or burning out. There was a gap then, with no next generation ready to take over. But then the convergence of a few key events happened, including the expansion of broadcast media, home video and cable TV. And also, by the early 80's kids who grew up, watching animation reached adulthood. These new adults, used to the idea of watching animation, proved good targets for more mature animation, including anime, "The Simpsons" and recently "King of The Hill". I myself was an indiscriminate animation viewer growing up, until I got turned on to Japanese anime.

18. What do other American animators think of Japanese animations?

I count myself as part of a minority of animators who are into Japanese animation. Not the lay people like fans, producers and writers, but most American animators themselves really dislike anime production methods because less care is taken in the performance of the characters. For example, rather than the performance being specific to the character, voices are dubbed in after the animation is finished - unlike the States - which often leads to shoddy problems like poor synching between speech and the character's movements. And another reason, Japanese animators are treated as illustrators, not actors. They're not given the respect that American animators are due.

19. What do you think about merchandising and publicity?

About merchandising, I don't disapprove of it, but I try to keep myself from marketing efforts, letting the marketing people handle it. My interest is in making the films. Regarding magazines and newspaper interviews, they are OK, depending on the interviewer, but I shy away from being on-camera. I'm interested in fans' responses to my work, though. MTV's web site and an America On-Line "Aeon Flux" message board drew a lot of discussion when "Aeon Flux" was airing. I used to check that out from time to time. But I work on the project for myself and wouldn't let anyone's reaction, positive or negative, affect what I draw or write. The reason an artist makes anything is to communicate. I'm interested in communicating through my work.

20. And what lies in the future for the animation industry?

I predict a narrowing of the mature animation market, at least for TV/cable programs. Recently, when it comes down to ratings, animated comedies are hits, with "Simpsons", "King of The Hill" and the raunchy "South Park". So we can expect more animated comedies in the future, of which I have no interest in making. Other shows, like HBO's "Spawn" and "Spicy City" are ratings disappointments. I think HBO is winding down and will probably cease animation production after the remaining ordered "Spawn" episodes have been finished. But video opportunities remain, with theatrical hopes also.

1. What motivated you to get involved in Alexander?

In the summer of 1996, I received a call from Mr. Maruyama of Madhouse who wanted to order the Alexander. At the time I was working in Seoul. Since Mr. Maruyama was about to head for Seoul, I agreed to meet him there. I was thrilled to be working on Alexander, since I was a fan of the Madhouse(s work.

2. Among the Madhouse's work, which one do you like the best?

I've seen most of the Madhouse's work and I think most of them were great. I especially liked the works of Kawajiri and Rintaro. I am happy that I will be working with Rintaro in Alexander.

3. What are the key points of designs of Alexander?

Since I was very fond of Greek style costumes, I was reluctant and even felt resistant to the idea, when I was asked to design it in a completely different style. I initially drew it in Greek style, but they didn't want any of the traditional images of Alexander. Each time I showed them to MadHouse, they wanted something different. So, by changing little by little each time, my work had become completely different and independent from the traditional Greek style. When applying the changes to the style, I didn't ignore the flow of the era, but tried to establish a unique style by creating it in a way that no one will relate it to Greece.

4. Which character was most difficult to work with?

The most time consuming characters were Alexander and Aristotle. They were most difficult characters to design, because people already had the previous images of the two characters I had to repeatedly draw Aristotle four or five times.

5. The letter "A" is used symbolically, is there any special meaning to this?

I've attempted to use it, since I like Greek letters. I used the letters with medium style in order not to deviate too far from the letters that were used at the time.

6. Which character from Alexander do you like most?

Though I enjoyed creating most of the characters, I liked drawing the characters of the Carta descent the most. In the case of the other studios, I was not quite satisfied with the final work, since the companies have the right to make the final decisions. But now I am satisfied with each and every characters I have drawn in Alexander, because I had the freedom to work on my own. There are some characters I'd like to modify. For example, I'd like to modify Roxanne, Cassandra and Darius a little bit. Fortunately, these characters don't appear until later in the show, so I might modify them a little later.

7. Which characters have you given extra attention to in terms of their costumes?

It was Alexander. The other characters could appear on the screen with the same costumes all the time. But due to the fact that Alexander, a complicated character having the both heroic and devilish characteristics of a man dreaming to conquer the world, possessing an intellectual mind trained by Aristotle and a physical strength of excellent martial arts skills, I had to change his costumes in each and every scene. These complicated characteristics were very important elements in the process. Generally, only the innocent aspects of the hero are shown. But in Alexander(s case, the existence of both good and evil is the key point.

8. Are there any differences in how an animation project is produced in U.S. and in Japan?

I also have some experience in writing the scripts in the U.S., but it was a first time for me to work from a Japanese written script. I think there is a big difference between how they work in the two countries. Japanese studios regard the design work as more important than the American studios do. For example, you can easily see this from looking at the ending credit of a movie. In the case of the U.S., no one would know who was responsible for the Disney characters. In many cases in U.S., a group or a team of designers would work together to create one character. But, in the case of Japan, a lot is sacrificed because there is limit to what one person can do. For example, the design of the female characters in the film, "Ghost Princess," all look alike. If more time and manpower were allocated, this kind of incident can be avoided in the future.

Even the cases of story development and the direction of the production are different between the two countries. In the case of a theatrical production, only one director works on the storyboard whereas in the U.S., a group of people work together on it. When a group of people work together, there are some advantages in respect to adjusting in between the strong and weak points in the outcome. This kind of method can prevent such situations in a Japanese production as, the dialogues falling short even the action sequences turn out great. In Japanese production, when you see the drawings, you can guess who the director is. But in the case of the U.S., the drawings will not be changed regardless of who the director is. In Japan, one person is responsible for all aspects of the production such as the background, character and layout. So in Japan, an animator must be able to deal with every aspect of the production, whereas in U.S., there are designated experts in each fie! ld of the production. For examp le, an expert in female character drawing will only concentrates on drawing female characters and an expert in drawing fire will only draw fire all the time. So each animator is an expert on one particular subject or field, instead of being average on all fields. However, this costs a lot.

9. Is current working environment in the U.S. great to work in?

Today the studios have a lot of funds for many great projects so it is comfortable to work. I think the work environment is great in terms of the studios competing each other with their great projects, however there seems to be a decline in TV series production. When Aeon Flux was on air, it was a risk. But it was that much worth broadcasting it.

10. Do you think there will be more demand from Japanese market?

From the performance in Alexander, I think I will be getting more request from Japan.

11. What do you think of the animation world of Japan?

I spend more time on watching Japanese animations than I do on American ones. Among those, I am a big fan of the producer, Tesaki. I saw all his works. Recently, "To My Brother" was great and "Gorgo 13" and "Black Jack" were also excellent. Previous ones like "Alice in Wonderland" and "Fantasia" produced by Disney were nice too. Among the recent ones, "Toy Story" and "James and the Giant Peach" were great. The work that brought me into the animation world was "Tiger Mask."

12. Do you like comics?

I collect Japanese and European comic books. For American comics, I like the old ones, but now all seems alike. I've never thought about becoming a comic artist and still don(t.

13. Which one do you like among Japanese comics?

I like Umezu Katsuo. I have seen great ideas in his work. I think we think the same and sometimes when I am watching his work, I feel like we are thinking exactly the same thing. I even feel jealous of his ideas sometimes. There are some artists with great techniques and some with great ideas, but I prefer the artists with great ideas. Among old American comics, I collect the works of Jack Curby. I also like the works of Jeff Daro, Herman(Crazy Cats), Robert William (Underground), Lou Pine and Will Aisner.

14. Do you want to change the current attitudes toward animation? (In general)

Animation is not a genre. I'd like to consider the animation as one of the media. For example, as there are many genres in movies, it is nice to have different genres in the animations as well. Personally, I think it is great to be able to do what you really want to do. I am getting some offers in theatrical animation, but I am occupied now. Currently, I am helping out a little with Disney project.

15. Do you have anything you wish to share with your fans?

I hope the people do not get caught up with any preconception, instead just appreciate what each individual feels about it as is and stop analyzing what the director or the producer wanted to portray. In other words, just feel as you saw it.


Cool, I was right about the Lynch influence. (there was a bet...)

-- Val McCafferty (caspersfetter@hotmail.com), November 11, 1998


In this article: http://www.stealth.net/~ch/af/contra.htm

Chung says that David Lynch's Twin Peaks was the only TV series he's watched regularly in years...

The article could have been written a while ago though

-- Ed Gumey (gumey@hotmail.com), November 15, 1998.

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