Tom Koh: Interview (2010)
Posted on February 6, 2010 by michael
Please tell us about yourself and how you became involved in directing.
I started my career as a print designer. In 1998 I began designing and animating for commercials and film titles. I’ve loved how good graphic design effortlessly balances communication, problem solving and image making. And if it moves an audience, that’s the kind of stuff that keeps me going. Now serving as a Creative Director, it’s enabled me to focus on the design and production for projects ranging from commercials, network promos and various film projects. Over the past several years, my experience of working with clients has helped me learn to not just follow a brief but to really dig deeply into the potential of the project. Through that time many of my clients returned with more of a carte blanche mindset naturally setting me in a position to concept, write treatments and ultimately start directing.
How have you developed as a director since your first professional project?
Seeing both ends of a production/post production I find that I continually encounter opportunities to try something new, approach something differently or learn more along the way. I’ve learned that projects can be compared to a triathlon, in the sense that depending on the terrain and end goal you strategize when to heavy lift and when to carry a steady stride to make smart, critical decisions.
Please describe the initial brief for the Tara title sequence and Blind’s responsibilities.
We initially received a number of scripts from Showtime, from which I contributed treatments to elaborate on their creative concepts and production methodology. Showtime ultimately settled on their “Out of the Box” script to which we were responsible for the design, production, post-production and editorial.
Please describe the Pre-vis phase and the design process involved.
Once we finished our initial storyboard from the final script, each of the room environments were roughly modeled by Halon to choreograph the camera animation respective to the rooms and talent. This provided us with a diorama or detailed reference for us to dissect and guide us through pre-production. In tandem, we designed and created each of the rooms with detailed modeling, textures, coloring and lighting. It was important to fully realize the rooms prior to the shoot in order to decide on placement of the talents, set pieces and light rigs.
What was the first phase in preparing for the shoot and how was this executed?
We had an incredible production team who put forth a great deal of their attention toward the pre-production. Knowing we had an extremely limited shooting schedule with a extensive shot list (due to need to shoot Tara’s multiples), we organized and elaborated on how each minute of the day was to be spent. As every minute counted, decisions on even the smallest items mattered. We used minimal set pieces and organized the order of Toni Collette’s various hair, make-up and wardrobe changes to expedite the day ahead.
Due to a three week timeline, you had to figure out how to tackle a motion-control shoot without the time to work with a motion-control rig. How was this done?
Referencing the pre-vis, the production team sought after possible solutions that would serve the same purpose as motion control. This challenge joined with our shooting schedule, literally was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Ultimately, a jib arm along with motorized turntable, and some preliminary post-production tests gave us the needed confidence knowing we had a solution on our hands.
How were the cg environments created?
The cg environments were created in either Cinema 4d or Maya. Each of the rooms were built to specifications we had committed on through production.
In the past, have you allowed for additional design development once post production starts?
Certainly. Given the collaborative nature of our business, especially on this project working with the team from Showtime, we had a lot to do with little time prior to the shoot. We tackled most of the broad stroke decisions first, after the shoot followed the finer detail which we incorporated into the animation/post process. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to never get too comfortable with an idea since the collaborative process can be an ever-changing one.
Have you found that your past experience in Design and CG has benefited you as a director?
Definitely. The grasp of both has become invaluable in being able to offer the best creative with realistic means. Especially in today’s economic climate, clients are often on a search for as many possible options to do the extraordinary within practical boundaries. I feel that CG has helped me push those possibilities without compromising the creative.
What has been your greatest career challenge to date?
The first time a client asked me to simply do what I wanted to do. It cast my expectations even farther but made the process far sweeter
What was the last great book you have read? What was the last great movie you’ve seen?
The last GREAT book I read was The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. The last GREAT movie I saw was There Will Be Blood.