Animator and filmmaker Raman Hui is known in Hong Kong as the “The father of Shrek” thanks to his pivotal role in the animated feature. He has also lent his talents to films including “Antz” and “Kung Fu Panda.” Based in the US, he recently returned to his hometown to direct “Monster Hunt,” his first live-action feature. He tells Andrea Lo about struggling to break into Hollywood, what he thinks of his nickname, and why he wants to move back to Hong Kong one day.
I’m a Hong Kong boy. I grew up here and went to the Polytechnic. I studied graphic design.
I wanted to be a painter, because I loved to draw—but there was never any goal.
It wasn’t like, “I have to do this.”
I was more of a passive person, just going with the flow.
My family said, “Are you sure you’re going to get a job?”
I was just a kid. Who would ask a 17-year-old if they knew if they could make a living out of this?
I watched a lot of “Ultraman.” My mom said that I was stupid for watching the show, where the same thing happens every episode—the monster shows up, the Ultraman fights the monster, then everything goes back to normal.
I loved Disney. I remember seeing “Pinocchio” in Tai Kok Tsui; “Fantasia” at the Ocean Theater in Tsim Sha Tsui; and “The Aristocats” in Mong Kok. I don’t know why I remember.
In 1988 I was flipping through a catalog and saw a three-month computer animation course in Canada for CAD$600.
I thought: “I could afford that.”
I hadn’t been abroad before. I didn’t even bring any winter clothes. Growing up here, you couldn’t imagine how cold it would get in Canada.
I worked there for a few months and bought some winter clothes. It was hard for me, being my size.
Pacific Data Images in Silicon Valley [later acquired by Dreamworks] gave me a job offer.
When my co-workers made jokes, I’d laugh a second after them because I had to pretend to understand them.
It took three to four years before I understood everything fully. I remember one day, I was walking around the company saying, “Hey, it feels like home now!”
The most difficult part [of a Chinese person making it in Hollywood] is the cultural difference. There were times where I would have no idea what my co-workers were talking about.
When “Kung Fu Panda” was in production, I said, “I’m willing to do anything for it.” They asked why I was so desperate to be part of it. I told them it’s because I’m Chinese. They said, “Oh, you’re Chinese?”
I think the name “The father of Shrek” is an exaggeration. I’m more like the uncle of Shrek. I made him talk, smile and cry— made him alive. The father of Shrek should be William Steig, who wrote the book.
It’s weird to say, but Shrek is in my blood.
I thought if I could be an animator on a movie that a lot of people would watch, that would be fantastic. “Shrek” gave me more than that.
I’ve been with Dreamworks for more than 20 years. I told them that I needed a break. They said, “We understand—you’re going back home to do something you want to do.”
But they didn’t know it was going to take that long!
I hope that the audience can see the hard work that we’ve put into “Monster Hunt” and the love we try to bring. We tried to make a new standard for films in this genre.
My favorite thing about Hong Kong is the food. I had an egg tart this morning and a chicken pie just now.
I have thought about moving back permanently. If there’s another movie I can make here, then I would.
There are too many chain stores now. I went through a period of collecting tin toys. Nowadays, there’s not many shops left.
People say, “Why are you so lucky? You’ve had lots of opportunities.” If you look at my experience—nothing comes easily.
I’ve been animating for 30 years. It’s all through years of hard work. The first time I got to animate a movie was after I had been working for a decade.
When I watched Disney as a kid, I would think, “This just came out.” Later on, I realized that those movies were made 20 years before I watched them.
I hope I can make something that people will still watch 20 or 30 years later and feel what I’m trying to bring to them.
Need to Know…
Raman Hui made his start as an animator in Hong Kong. He was supervising animator on 1998’s “Antz,” as well as “Shrek” and “Shrek 2,” later co-directing “Shrek the Third.” His new live-action fantasy feature “Monster Hunt” stars Jing Boran and Bai Baihe.
“Monster Hunt” opened in theaters on July 16.