By: Henry and Harry Zhuang
Our journey for creating ‘The Tiger of 142B’ started when we were approached by David Lee and Eternality Tan (ET). They were looking for animation directors to do animation adaptations on Singapore literature for Utter Singapore 2015, a festival commissioned by Singapore Writers Festival. There was a list of literature books we can pick from. We read a few and could not connect with the pieces. Tan Wei Keong, who is also an animation director, recommended us to read ‘The Tiger of 142B’, a short story taken from Dave Chua’s ‘The Beating and Other Stories’. He had told us that Dave Chua had wrote a story about a tiger roaming around a public housing flat, and we immediately became interested in it.
While we were attracted to the surrealistic elements of the story, what really appeal to us was how we could relate to the protagonist's struggle. When we first graduated, we were in a similar situation as the protagonist. We had to choose between getting a job that offers a stable income or to continue pursue our passion as animation filmmakers. Coincidentally, when we were struggling with our decision, we bumped into Dave Chua at a book signing event, and he advised us to “keep animating”.
After we decided that ‘The Tiger of 142B’ is the one we will go with, David and ET arranged a meetup with Dave Chua. We were very nervous at first because Dave Chua is a well-known writer in Singapore and we were worried if we might make a film that misrepresent the original intention he had for the short story. So when we met him, we immediately asked what the tiger in his story represent. He candidly said that he had forgotten what the “tiger” was about. We all laughed when he said that, but we knew that it was his way of giving us the liberty to adapt his story in anyway we want and shaped the overall message we wish to convey in the adapted version. We cherry-picked parts of the story that we felt strongly for and started working on the film.
Doing the adaptation from text to screen also meant giving a face and adding colours to Dave Chua’s ‘The Tiger of 142B’. While we are big fans of Japanese animation and European animation, we were determine not to imitate their style. Instead, we wanted to create a style that has a fusion of both. For example, the big squarish eyes design is inspired from Japanese anime. And because the protagonist is sort of disillusional, the background art was intentionally kept flat with somewhat distorted perspective. We drew inspiration from french animators Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, the creators for ‘Le Couloir’ and ‘A Cat in Paris’. In addition, to show that the ‘tiger’ is always present, we added furs (short dashed lines) all over the characters and the background arts, and in scenes where the protagonist’s becomes more emotional, the ‘camera’ is placed in ways that utilize visual elements to resembles the Tiger’s stripes. The entire art exploration took us around 2 months.
Drafting out the story also took us some time. Our original intention was to not do any storyboards like what we did for our first animated short film ‘Contained’. But because we were working on a larger scale and had to show updates to David and ET, and National Art Council (NAC), we had to straddle between the usual pipeline production approach and the experimental approach. So instead of writing a script first, we storyboarded the whole film and had it piece them together into an animatic. Only after we feel comfortable with the animatic, we then work on a proper script for NAC to review. However, even then, we were mindful to not get stuck in the storyboards we did. We constantly made changes to the film. We keep adding shots and removing shots even towards the very end of the production. There were quite a few portions where we already had them colored but had to be removed because it did not fit. The ending of the film also went through changes at the very last two weeks of the production.
In all, while the original story was written by Dave Chua, the whole process of adapting his story felt like we were making a very personal film of our life. Even till today when we watch ‘The Tiger Of 142B’, we could still feel that the character in the story resembles a mini chapter of our life. We are really thankful for Dave Chua to write the story and most of all, we are thankful that Dave Chua, David Lee and ET gave us the freedom to adapt the story in anyway we want.