Today we’re chatting with Andrea Goh, Sonder's technical supervisor, about a variety of topics including her work on Sonder, her development into a team leader, and her favorite animated films of all time.
Q: Where are you from originally, and where do you live now?
Andrea: I'm from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and now I live in Berkeley, California. I really miss my family and the food back home, but Berkeley is definitely my second home now.
Q: What made you want to pursue a career in animation?
A: I’ve always enjoyed watching animation and movies since I was a kid. Seeing how Pixar could make people believe in toys coming to life made me realize we can tell any story through film. My passion and curiosity about art and technology drove me to pursue animation, as it's an industry that relies on both. I am very inspired to inspire others through media. Lately, I have been very invested in how the stories we tell in the entertainment and media industry can help make a difference in our society. It is a goal of mine to help others through this industry by creating important, relatable and representative content with an inclusive and diverse team.
Q: What are some animation projects you have worked on, other than Sonder?
A: I’ve worked on Cars 3, Coco VR, Incredibles 2, and now I am working on Toy Story 4 as a Layout artist in the Camera and Staging department. I’ve also worked on other short films like Unmasked as a rigger and La Noria as a cloth and hair artist.
Q: How did you get involved with Sonder, and when?
A: In 2013, Yee Sum (our creative department manager) and I met Neth Nom (Sonder's director) at the Academy of Art University where Neth was the instructor and we were students. Neth collaborated with us on various projects such as a VR Game using the Samsung Gear VR called Lily Pad. Through these projects, we figured it would be great to work together on a short film. In 2015, we started gathering our very small team as Neth pitched us the story. Ever since then, I’ve been a core team member, making sure we complete Sonder together.
Q: You served as technical supervisor on Sonder. What were your main responsibilities?
A: I started out as just a core member in charge of building all the technical departments like the Tools, Pipeline and Character Technical teams. I was also one of the point people to explore the Unity pipeline during the early stages of the film, while communicating with the Unity team. As our team grew bigger, we elected technical leads for each department, and my role transformed into forming a brand new team called the Assembly team. Throughout the second half of production, I mostly oversaw the Character TD team and lead the Assembly team, making sure any animated assets and sets got through to Unity.
Q: Were there any specific challenges or obstacles you encountered in making Sonder that you had to overcome?
A: There were a lot of challenges. One of the big personal challenges for me was transforming into a leader during this short film. I was so used to being the one taking up a task to work on, instead of delegating and leading a team. Thanks to the support of many leaders on Sonder, I learned how to lead a team to solve problems.
Another big obstacle was the time constraint and learning curve. Sonder is a passion project, bringing curious people who dedicated their free time to make something great together. Curiosity drove us to try Unity as our main look development and rendering software despite not knowing much about it. And as we were working on this film we were also finding ourselves in different stages of our lives that required time and attention. However, with the amazing team culture of family and open communication, we treated each other like friends and family, and were always there for each other. We supported each other during the lowest times and encouraged each other to learn together without any judgement.
Q: Are there any scenes or sequences in Sonder that you are particularly proud of?
A: I am really proud of one scene in particular. I remember during the story development stage, in order to help, I had to dig deeper with the director, Neth. After finding out the purpose of this story, I pushed for the main character Finn to emotionally break down as he faces his depression head on. [SPOILER ALERT!] And after many iterations, we stuck to the ending where he would shed tears. I believe it is very important to have a male character cry in films to show the emotional side.
Q: How was working on Sonder different from other projects you have worked on?
A: Sonder is different in so many ways for me. It was my first time being a technical supervisor, hence I learned to delegate tasks instead of taking on them. Sonder is also different compared to working in a big scale studio. We got to wear many hats, experiment and pick up new skills on Sonder. For example, I got to do some rigging for the flower and the vines, build a camera rig for layout, build some Maya tools, do early stage research of different tree modeling styles, set the texture and shading styles with the artists, explore different Unity tools, help in story development, and I even got to do some interviewing and recruiting. That’s something I definitely would not get to do on other big studio projects.
Q: Overall, how would you describe your experience being part of the Soba crew?
A: I really enjoyed the challenges we signed up for and also working alongside so many talented artists was everything I’d ask for again. The director and producer (Sara K. Sampson) are both amazing mentors in leadership and team-building, and that helped me so much. I am also very grateful for the Assembly team for forging this new pipeline with me. It was a crazy ride because of time constraints and life events, but the completion of the film proved that we could do it. The friendships formed and skills gained from this experience are priceless. I’ve felt like I have grown as an artist and as a person through this film and the Soba crew played a huge part in it.
Q: One last question—what is your favorite animated movie or tv show of all time, and why?
A: This is the toughest of all! HAHA! I have so many favourites. My recent favourites would be Zootopia and Inside Out. (I really can’t pick, sorry!) I really like the messages both movies bring into the animated world. Often times, we are too afraid to address heavy issues in these films made for kids and families. Zootopia addresses social issues like racism very cleverly by using predators and prey. Inside Out helps us go into a mind of a child and understand her emotions, and the takeaway is that it is okay to be sad. I feel like these are very powerful movies, and they inspired me to make more films like this.