When you watch Kung Fu Panda 3 and see a building blowing up, a tree burning or a stone falling into water, chances are you’re watching something that Malaysian animator K.C. Ong created.
The Kuala Lumpur-born Ong (full name Ong Kiem Ching) is an effects animator for Dreamworks Animation, and works on the background effects that not only enrich the entire movie, but also play a big part in some of its major set pieces.
“What I do on Kung Fu Panda 3, and the two movies before that, is animate the effects in the background, like explosions, destruction, magic, water or fire,” he said during a phone interview from California.
“We have 40 people in the effects department, and we create all these elements. So whenever you watch someone fall in the water and you see splashes … we do that. We don’t do character animation. There is a separate department for that,” Ong added.
Ong, 44, had always been very interested in computer graphics ever since he watched Jurassic Park when he was 22 and was blown away by it.
He did his undergraduate and Masters degrees in the National University of Singapore, and later worked in a computer graphic research lab in the university, where he learnt all the software used in animation.
He then moved to China to work for a new animation studio for four years, before getting an offer from Australian animation studio Animal Logic.
There, he worked on his first ever animated feature, the Oscar-winning Happy Feet in 2005, and that got him hooked on working on feature films. Two years later, he ended up in Dreamworks Animation.
Ong has been with Dreamworks for the past eight years, and previously worked on the first Kung Fu Panda movie as well as its sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Home.
According to him, each Kung Fu Panda movie he has worked on has been more challenging than the previous one.
“The first movie was the first time we see a big fluffy panda doing kung fu, so we were all very excited to work on the movie!” he said.
“Before the movie was released, we already knew it would be successful because even within the company we loved it.
“For the second and third ones, the novelty of a kung fu-fighting panda had worn off, so the director wanted to up the ante in terms of visuals and action. So, work wise, it has been more and more demanding and more complicated from movie to movie,” Ong explained.
“For instance, destroying a building was a lot more demanding as it needed more details, and we needed more new technology to help us. The third movie has a lot better visuals (compared to the other two).”
Among the memorable scenes Ong has worked on within the franchise is the one where Tigress destroys a wooden bridge in the first movie, as well as a pivotal magical scene in beginning of the third movie.
According to him, the best part of being at Dreamworks is the team he works with. “The most rewarding thing is to work with people who are very good in their job.
“In my department, I have a lot of seniors who are very experienced, and they are open and like to share their knowledge. It’s a good team to work in,” he said.
“It’s also satisfying to see all the effects I’ve worked on, like the beautiful splashes of water and the big explosions on screen, after spending so long in front of the computer running simulations!”