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Beyond Frames: Unraveling the Journey of Hoang Huy Ha Co-Founder, Art Director, Animation Supervisor

Join us for an exclusive interview with Hoang Huy Ha, the Co-Founder, Art Director, and Animation Supervisor of DeeDee Animation Studio. We will explore the fascinating world of animation, discussing Hoang's artistic inspirations, his pivotal role in creating captivating stories, and the challenges he has overcome along the way. Discover the mind of a visionary whose creativity will leave an unforgettable mark on the world of animation.


Hoang Huy Ha

Job Title

Co-Founder

Art Director

Animation Supervisor

at DeeDee Animation Studio

Based

Ha Noi, Vietnam

Education

BFA in Animation

Academy of Art University, San Francisco, USA

Project

Award-winning short film Broken Being: The Prequel

Disney's Mickey & Friends X CAMP: An Extra Big Adventure

Chimimo

DC's Justice League: Comics Chaos

How to Become a Cult Leader (Netflix Original Series)


Getting there

Can you tell us about how you decided to get into animation?

When considering what major I should pursue in the U.S., I thought about what I enjoy doing the most, and if I want that to be the rest of my life. For a time, I thought it was gonna be creating comic books, because I enjoy drawing, but then I decided that I wanted to follow something that was not widely available as an option in Vietnam. I was going all the way to the U.S. after all, so why not choose something not many people can learn. Also, I was always more into cartoons than comic books, so when the time came for me to choose finally, I picked animation. When I started my first semester at school, I realized that I love it more than anything else, and I could be good at it. The rest is now history.

What made you choose the US instead of Vietnam to start your animation journey? How did that experience in the US benefit you when you returned to Vietnam?

I chose the US because during that time, there hadn’t been any school or institution in Vietnam that taught animation, at least, not in any reliable and professional manner. I was also always a huge fan of American animation since I was a kid because I grew up with Disney movies and Cartoon Network on TV. It’s just a fact that the US is the birthplace of animation as we know it today, as well as the biggest animation industry in the world with billions of dollars to be made off of thousands of animation productions, as well as a lot of schools that provide animation programs. So it’s not even a question that I would choose to go to the US for an education in animation. The US experience benefited me greatly, and not just for when I returned to Vietnam. It gave me one of the best education experiences I ever had with a wonderfully nurturing and supportive environment of people, from the instructors at school, classmates, and the wider animation and illustration artists community in that country. It helped me not only develop and solidify my skills and knowledge as an artist but also grow up and mature as a person. After the years I was living there, I learned a great deal from the American animation industry at large, especially in how to conduct myself as a professional, hardworking and respectable artist. I came back to Vietnam with a considerable body of work and working experience in animation production that was still not exactly a norm in Vietnam. I was always an active member of the Vietnamese artist community even before the US, but after that, I made an effort to establish myself as one with a high level of skills in 2D animation specifically, and I’d like to think it has paid off for my career so far.


How did you end up with DeeDee and became one of the studio's co-founders? What has the journey been like so far?

When I first came back to Vietnam I worked at a different company as well as juggling some freelance projects on the side. But that didn’t work out for me and I looked for different opportunities in an industry that was still very fresh at the time. I went to several interviews with different studios in Hanoi, all of which were very small startups, DeeDee as one of them. I met with Quang, Nhu, and Kiet in a cafe to get acquainted, and later paid a visit to their office. I realized very early on that there was this earnestness within all 3 of them, and that they are all passionate people who only cared about making good art. I worked with them for roughly a year, during which I helped produce “The Silver iOn Squad” and “Broken Being”. Those can all be considered “successful” in one way or another, and they happened to be some of their first big breaks (save for a few others before I joined). Then I accepted the invitation to join their board of directors, thus becoming the 4th founder of the studio.


Since then I was involved with almost all of the projects produced at DeeDee, and we’ve been doing nothing but building up our portfolio with more and more projects with increasing quality. With every new projects we strive to do it better than what we did with the last one. We never stop pushing the envelope., aiming to tackle on harder and harder projects so that we have more opportunities to experiment and explore, hoping to prove ourselves to the world, step by step, no matter how slow it might be. At DeeDee, I constantly have the chance to test my skills and creativity, and I’m always satisfied with the work I did. But more importantly, DeeDee has a culture of support and pushing each other up, where everyone feels welcome and safe, where their voice matter and they can feel heard. That’s the secret behind every project at DeeDee really, they’re all the results of teamwork and putting everyone’s heads together to create and solve problems to make the best animation possible. That’s why everyday feels fresh and exciting to me when I go to work because I know I’ll be allowed to do my best work without any unnecessary worry. I can’t wait to be a part of even more amazing work in DeeDee’s future.


Defining myself

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work and style?

My art style is influenced mainly from Western animation, especially the cartoons from Disney and Cartoon Network during the 90s and early 2000s when I was growing up. I was also greatly inspired by Japanese mangas because they’re such a huge part of the culture here among Vietnamese youth. But if I have to pick some names, I would say the defining source of inspiration for me come from Bruce Timm (Batman The Animated Series, Justice League) for his unique and influential art style that had such an impact on American pop culture, and Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack) for his unique vision in filmmaking and animation quirks.

How do your roles as Co-Founder, Art Director and Animation Supervisor at DeeDee define yourself? How does the combination of these roles benefit you as a leader and a creative? and the projects you are involved with?

Before DeeDee, I was working mainly as an individual artist with freelance contracts. But I have to completely rearrange my mindset and work ethic as one of the lead artists at DeeDee since I have a team to manage. I used to only have to worry about my own work, and focus only on delivering what is asked of me. Now I have to learn to understand my work on a much deeper level, to transfer my knowledge and skills to my team as well as inspiring them to achieve the best work they can do for the projects.



I joined DeeDee when they were just a small startup studio with very few people, that’s why I took on several roles in the projects, which forced me to become very flexible with my abilities. I had to design and animate in several different styles to fulfill the requirements from a wide range of clients. When I work on the projects, I have to stick with it from start to finish, not only to design and animate but also to keep track of the quality overall. We have a process of quality control where every single frame of animation is scrutinized to make sure they’re as close to our high expectations as possible. I also took on the responsibility to mentor our in house animators during their early days of joining the studio. I had to develop and design my own curriculum customized specifically to fit with what the studio expects from them, and personally guide them through each lesson to finally come out with skills that meet our standards.

What is the most challenging animated project you’ve been involved with? Why? How did you overcome the challenges related to this project?

The most challenging project I’ve done so far at DeeDee was probably “Disney's Mickey & Friends X CAMP: An Extra Big Adventure” in collaboration with Duncan Studio from Los Angeles. It’s a relatively simple project, but it was one of our very first completely hand-drawn projects with a team of artists with little experience with this technique, while making sure we’re meeting the highest expectation of animation quality we’ve ever faced from some of the most well-known Disney veterans in the US. It’s even more nerve-wrecking when the subject matter were Mickey and friends, some of if not the most important set of animated characters in the history of animation. The pressure was high, and I had to not only delivering my best in my own animation, but also making sure the rest of my team was pushing the boundaries more than ever before as well. The clips were then supposed to be projected to real human sized screens, so I had to look for any little detail of every single frame in every sequence, while trying to meet a really tight deadline as well. It was very tough on all of us, but it was also one of the most satisfying projects we’ve ever done.


Looking ahead

Are there any other skills that you would like to develop or are currently developing to become an even more well rounded leader and creative?

Right now I’m trying to enrich myself with more knowledge and understanding to one day take on the role of director of my own short films and series at DeeDee. After all these years of working so hard according to other people’s directions and fulfilling clients’ feedbacks, I feel like it’s time I get to have the final say on my films as a director. I’m learning all kinds of cinematic techniques, from cinematography to editing, from screenwriting to camera moves. I already have at least one short film written and ready to be produced and a full pitch bible for a kid show that I’m gonna be the showrunner for DeeDee. All I need right now is the right opportunity and the right moment to test myself.

What is the most memorable moment/best accomplishment you’ve had with DeeDee so far? And on your wish list, what is the Number One goal that you’d like to attain with DeeDee going forward?

The best accomplishment I’ve had with DeeDee so far had to be when I got to go on stage to accept the Golden Kite Award in 2019 with my team for “Broken Being: Prequel” as best artist. That was one of the most prolific film awards in Vietnam, and I got to share that moment with Kiet - DeeDee’s Animation Director. It was a great validation for us in the eyes of the filmmaking community in Vietnam, solidifying our reputation as a studio with serious ambitions for animation, and we plan on doing even more and better things.


Broken Being won many awards, both domestically and internationally, but my own personal ultimate dream is to one day win an Oscar, an Annie for a short film that I direct. The other one is to be able to create the first Vietnamese 2D animated feature film in history. It never hurts to dream a little big, does it?

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