The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury Animator
Special thanks to Peter Chung for taking time out of his busy schedule working on The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury to talk to us about how he got his break in animation and about his work on The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury and MTV's Aeon Flux.
by Dell Milton
// 2D Animator
Tell us about yourself Peter; where are you from and how old were you when you discovered that you wanted to be an animator?
I was born in Seoul, Korea. My father was a Korean diplomat, so I grew up in many places around the world, including Korea, England, Kenya, Tunisia and the U.S. I wanted to draw cartoons from a young age, but I didn't realize that it could be a future career until I was about seventeen.For many of us the first animation we created were flip books, Could you tell us what your very first animation was and how old were you when you created it?
I started making an animated film with a friend in
high school when I was sixteen. It was the late 70s
and we used a super 8 film camera to shoot drawings on
paper. The story focused on a couple of characters
who fell out of a building and died, then found
themselves in their respective afterlives, each
somehow relating to the kinds of lives they led before
dying. It was didactic, allegorical, and very heavy
handed, but it was an opportunity to explore
fantastical imagery, which, come to think of it, was
why we wanted to make it.
The animation program at CalArts is very well plugged
into the L.A. animation industry. The school was
founded by Walt Disney and at the time I attended,
most of the animation faculty were veteran Disney
artists. There are two distint programs of
study-Character Animation and Experimental Animation
with distinctly different approaches. I was in both
programs for one year each. Then I was hired by
Disney studios. Most of the animators at CalArts
opted for a job at a studio rather than stay and
graduate. Among those who attended during my two
years were Gary Trousdale, John Hays (Wildbrain),
Kathy Zielinski, Wes Archer, Kelly Asbury, Chris
Sanders, Joe Ranft.
Of course, it differs depending on the type of project
and my role in it. If it's something I'm writing as
well as directing, I resist doing drawings or visual
development until the ideas and story are carefully
worked out. My writing process is slow and rather
torturous, yet for me, it's ultmately the most
rewarding. Unlike a lot of animators I know, I
actually dislike the technical process of animation
itself. To me, the animation process is just a
necessary means of bringing my ideas to the screen.
It's the ideas which drive the project, and which have
the most importance to the audience in the end.
Only in that there is a social interaction which
occurs in a school environment. For many, the network
of relationships one develops in school (especially
CalArts) is invaluable to an animation career.
Otherwise, I've met plenty of self-taught artists
whose skills far surpassed those of those who attended
Between my two years at CalArts, I worked one summer
for a small illustration and animation studio in
Maryland while I was nineteen. At twenty, I did
character design for Hanna-Barbera, layout and
animation on Bakshi's Fire and Ice, then started at
Disney in feature development.
Through Jules Engel, my mentor at CalArts.
I was working at Colossal Pictures (now gone), an
animation studio in San Francisco that produced mostly
T.V. commercials. They used to do a lot of station
I.D.s for MTV. Colossal had sold MTV a series of
animated shorts called Liquid Television, and they
were looking for submissions for original pieces. The
show would air late at night, and would be aimed at
adults. Aeon Flux was my idea of what animation for
adults should be.
During the Liquid TV days, I was completely free to do
what I wanted. Looking back now, that's quite
Could you tell us what it felt like to have your creation air on MTV? How did it affect your life?
Obviously, it was thrilling. At the same time, it
felt like a great responsibility. Having gone to art
school and making the decision to stick with animation
at a time when the medium was at a low point in its
history (the eighties) and was generally dismissed by
the public and the "serious" artists among my peers, I
felt vindicated. I was reaching an audience with one
episode of Liquid TV greater than the number of people
who would view a painter's work in his entire
lifetime. The fact that people appreciacted my films
stoked my desire to push further and attempt things I
hadn't seen done before and wasn't sure I could do.
Towards the end of Aeon Flux voices were added to the characters and the show went to a half hour format, at that point the show lost a lot of it's edge and the things that made the original shorts so great, What happen??
The half-hour shows were certainly less violent than
the shorts. So viewers who wanted more action may
have been disappointed. Other than that, I'd say
they were just as "edgy", if not more so. The scripts
for the half hours contained more character
development, psychological depth and narrative scope.
I find that viewers who saw the half-hour episodes
before the shorts usually prefer the longer episodes.
It's true that there was far more censorship from the
network with the stand-alone series, but I'd expect
that, and took it as a challenge. There are other
practical factors for the difference. I could spend a
month storyboarding a four minute short, thus making
the staging as tight as possible. That was a luxury I
didn't have on the longer episodes.
You wrote and directed The Animatrix - Matriculated, how did you get involved in The Animatrix?
I heard from my friends at the Japanese studio
Madhouse that they were making short films based on
the Matrix. I called a producer I knew at Warner
Brothers and told him I'd like the chance to do one
myself. He forwarded my request, but told me that all
the episodes had already been assigned to other
directors, and not to expect anything. After about a
month, I heard from him that one of the Japanese
directors had left the project and that the Wachowskis
were offering me a spot. It probably wouldn't have
happened if I hadn't made that one phone call. It was
a case of knowing the right person at the right time
and acting on it.
How long did it take to create The Animatrix - Matriculated and how large was your team?
A total of fourteen months, including script to
post-production. I spent two months working out the
story, which went through a lot of changes. In terms
of preproduction, it was just myself and one other
designer who helped with the robots. As for the size
of the rest of the team, I'll refer you to the end
credits of the dvd.
OK I have to ask you this, a lot of us here at Animation Arena are big fans of Aeon Flux and The Matrix films the question is, do you think that Aeon Flux had any influence on the development of The Matrix? The character Trinity to be more specific, many of us see her as an Aeon Flux rip off could give your thoughts on the matter?
Well, the scene of the bug being implanted in Neo's
navel reminded me a lot of the AF episode "The Purge".
As for sources of influence on the Matrix-it appears
that the Wachowskis were influenced by so many things,
it would be difficult to parse. Of course, the Matrix
itself has gone on the influence a lot since then.
We read on ain't it cool news that Charlize Theron has signed on to play Aeon Flux in the live action Aeon Flux movie what do you think of this casting choice? Personally I think Carrie-Anne Moss is Aeon Flux who would your choice have been?
I think the choice reflects the direction in which the
character is being taken for the movie version. The
movie Aeon will be a take on the character from
different writers and a different director. I won't
comment on who my own choice might have been.
How involved are you in the development of the Aeon Flux live action movie?
At this point, I'm reading the script as it is
developed and offering notes.
You just finished working on your new project The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury can you tell us about it?
It's a 32 minute film depicting the events following
the movie Pitch Black and focuses on the surviving
characters. I didn't write the script. It's very
different from other projects I've done in terms of
narrative. It's a very straight forward action piece
aimed at fans of the Riddick movies. There was plenty
of room to create striking visual set-pieces. The
music and sound design are very rich and elegant.
There's a poignancy in the end as well, which enhances
the moral ambiguity of the Riddick storyline.
How did you get involved in The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury?
Well, a producer I happened to know at Universal
called me one day. When I began on Riddick, Animatrix
was just being released. Animatrix was definitely the
model for an animated spinoff we were aiming for.
Were you a fan of the original Pitch Black movie?
I hadn't seen it before being offered Dark Fury. I
don't watch a lot of horror films, so it wasn't on my
How long did it take to complete The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury?
Ten months from the time I received the script to when
I delivered the finished piece including the final
The great thing about the character Riddick besides being a Badass is the raspy voice of Vin Diesel does he provide the voice for Riddick in The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury I know he has experience lending his voice to animation (Iron Giant)? If so how was it working with Vin Diesel?
We recorded during the busiest period while Chronicles
was being shot. It was difficult to schedule, but the
good thing was that Vin slipped right into character.
He revised a lot of his own lines to fit more with the
character he was playing in Chronicles.
So when can we buy the The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury DVD? Are there any special features we should look out for?
The DVD is being released on June 15, a few days after
the movie opens. There will be some kind of preview
of the movie, some interviews with me and other staff
who worked on the animated episode, and some
Well when it comes to creating Animation features that tie into feature films you're the man film studios turn to, do you have any more film tie-ins or projects on the horizon?
There could be. I can't say right now. The chances
will be higher if Dark Fury is successful.
Do you think these animation tie-ins will become common for summer blockbuster films?
I'm not the one to say, since it's the studios that
make those decisions. For someone like me, it's
certainly a lot better than doing T. V. series based
on movies, which are usually very restricted by
budget, schedule and broadcast standards and
practices. There is a downside, though, in that I'd
like to see animation which stands on its own terms
rather than being a spinoff stepchild of live-action,
which is regarded as more glamorous and important.
What do you think of the state of animation today and the move away from traditional 2D animation into 3D animation? Is 2D animation a dying art form?
This is a complicated question, which is the subject
of heated debate among animators. There are certainly
fewer young animators entering the 2D field, while
older 2D animators retire or switch careers. So
there's numerical attrition. On the other hand, for
me, it's a better time than ever to be doing 2D since
the technical aspects today are so much more flexible
and efficient than in the days of hand-painted cels
and shooting on film. Also, there's an acceptance of
a greater range of subject matter than ever before.
Do you have any plans to move to 3D animation? Do have any desire to create a 3D short?
I'm incorporating more 3D elements into my work. I'd
like to do full 3D animation eventually, though I'm
disappointed that the user interface isn't getting any
easier to work with, as I'd hoped. I'd say that I
prefer to look at good 3D animation these days than
hand-drawn 2D. At the same time, that sets up the
challenge for me to push my 2D into new directions.
What steps should an aspiring Animator take to break into the business?
For myself, my greatest asset has been versatility.
Learn as much about every aspect of the craft as
possible. Over the years, I've worked as a character
designer, background designer, storyboard artist,
layout artist, animator, writer, and director.
Somehow, I've always managed to keep busy doing
challenging work which has allowed my skills to grow.
I find I most enjoy working with other artists as well
who have a variety of abilities, in that it allows a
deeper level of involvement. That is always reflected
in the finished product.
Do you have any advice for the aspiring Animators out there?
Be willing to travel. A lot of 2D animation work is
still being done in other countries.
Thanks to Peter Chung
for agreeing to answer the questions I had for him.