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Phom Penh’s burgeoning animation start up scene tackles Khmer classics

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Written by Nhok Them in 1936, Kolab Pailin is about an orphan boy named Chao Chet who worked for a rich family at the gem mine in the northern province of Pailin where he falls in love with his boss’ daughter. Photo supplied

Phom Penh’s burgeoning animation start up scene tackles Khmer classics

Lead motion graphic designer Song Hem Kiry sits composing footage, frame by frame, in his office at burgeoning start-up Rounh Creative Studio.

Supporting him are a team of eight young digital artists, diligently on their laptops using story boards to draw vivid scenes from the Khmer book Kolab Pailin before transforming them into 2D animations.

The romantic novel, written by Nhok Them in 1936, is among the Kingdom’s most famous and is a mainstay in the public school curriculum. It takes place during the French colonial period, and is about an orphan boy named Chao Chet who worked for a rich family at the gem mine in the northern province of Pailin where he falls in love with his boss’ daughter.

The studio – which specialises in motion graphics, graphic design (logos, branding and digital marketing) – recently created a three minute Kolab Pailin 2D animation trailer, proving a hit when it was posted to Facebook.

The lead designer behind the short animated film is 23-year-old Hem Kiry.

The son of two teachers, hailing from Battambang province, Hem Kiry was a civil engineering student at Zaman University (now Paragon University), but he has always held a deep love for animation from a young age as he indulged in cartoons from around the world as a young boy.

So when offered a 100 per cent scholarship if he changed his study major to digital art design, Hem Kiry could hardly say no. But changing to an entirely new field of study was not an easy undertaking.

“I faced many problems. First I could not paint or draw at all. Second, I he did not know anything about digital art or design,” he tells The Post.

Unable to cope with the frustration, Hem Kiry came very close to quitting, before a crucial intervention from his father.

“My father asked me why I would want to stop. He told me digital art design is a good subject and I should keep at it and work hard. After listening to my father and I decided continue studying no matter how hard it is,” he says.

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Lead motion graphic designer Song Ham Kiry composes footage in his office at burgeoning start-up Rounh Creative Studio. Yousos Apdoulrashim

In his third year, he was assigned a 2D animation task, this is when Kolab Pailin became a strong interest for Hem Kiry.

“I first created a 2D animation in 2014 after my teacher gave an assignment. I thought that there was not yet any Khmer animations based on Khmer novels, so I chose Kolab Pailin as it is a popular romantic story that both old and young people enjoy.”

When he posted the one-minute animation on Facebook, he received a lot of interest from people.

Upon graduating in 2017, Hem Kiry founded Rounh Creative Studio with two friends. Altogether the three invested $1,500 to buy equipment and rent a small office space. The popularity of his earlier Kolab Pailin short inspired him to expand the animation.

“In 2018 we made another Kolab Pailin 2D animation. We did it over three months and revealed it in early 2019. Cambodian support for our video motivated us to do it,” he says.

Rounh Creative Studio now has three animated Kolab Pailin trailers. The studio’s designers say they’ve taken inspiration from Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, adapting his characters and color to a Khmer style.

“Kolab Pailin is a test video, but there are a lot of view up to 90k, we very happy and it was motivated us to continue our work,” Hem Kiry says, adding that he and his team of young aspiring designers aim to make the shorts into a feature length film.

“Our company has a lot of work and we are very busy. But in the near future, we want to make Kolab Pailin into a full animation movie.”

Rounh Creative studio is located on Phnom Penh’s Street 335 in BKK 1. You can contact them via telephone (017377356).

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