Dain Said’s second film, Interchange, is set to be released in Malaysian cinemas on December 1. Eksentrika catches up with the man behind the visualisation of the film, Augustus Tan, who began sketching since he was a kid. 

But first, here’s a taste of Interchange.

During his school days at Petaling Jaya’s La Salle School, Augustus Tan regularly made the extra ringgit drawing stuff for his schoolmates.

Little did he know, his hobby would foreshadow his eventual career.

Now, at 36, Augustus has been instrumental in creating the conceptualised visual direction for Dain Said’s Bunohan and Interchange, Jeffrey Chiang’s horror flick, Mawas, several Reshmonu music videos, and numerous television commercials abroad – India’s Killer Jeans being among them.

Image credit: Augustus Tan
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Storyboard for Killer Jeans, India. Image credit: Augustus Tan

Beginning his journey as a storyboard artist in 2007, Augustus has seen it all – the good, the bad and the ugly of the local creative industry.

The Ipoh-born says shady work ethics and unprofessionalism in the local filmmaking industry posed challenges that he had to meet head on.

“Producers demanding 20% of your fees without telling you and expecting to conform, production houses that delay payment for several months so they can roll the money and other storyboard artists undercutting and spoiling the market,” he says.

The challenges of a Malaysian storyboard artist doesn’t end there.

Many, he observed, did not even understand film and lacked the clarity to tell stories visually – hence the lower fees charged.

Some of Augustus' work include Dain Said's Bunohan. Image credit: Augustus Tan
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Some of Augustus’ film works include Dain Said’s Bunohan. Image credit: Augustus Tan.

There are also those of the mentality that it is a waste of budget to invest in storyboard artists.

“These are just some of the challenges, and if you don’t learn fast enough, then be prepared to get burned.

In a nutshell, Augustus sums the predicaments to, “Politics, money and plain ignorance.”

He even did storyboard for Goldkartz' music videos! Image credit: Augustus Tan
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Augustus was the man behind the visual concept for Goldkartz’s music video. Image credit: Augustus Tan

Three years was long enough for Augustus to become seriously fed up with all the underhanded tactics, and just like the bloody bad ass visuals he has become known for drawing, Augustus turned bad ass on the industry.

He and like-minded peers started “fighting back” as early as 2010, by compiling a black list of production houses that kept unethical practices.

He says, storyboard artists these days, regularly compare notes with each another to update their respective lists to safeguard themselves.

His rebellious but necessary methods naturally earned him a bad (ass) reputation in the local creative industry.

Bad assery aside, what makes a terrific storyboard artist?

For Augustus, it is doing the homework before putting pencil to paper for each storyboarding project.

“It takes a lot of research to come up with the art behind the films and advertisements. Stuff such as, what does the cast look like, down to their style, right up to the vehicle model even. Not everything will be provided to you apart from the location shots, and even that is iffy,” he says.

Augustus is definitely a bloody good storyboard artist, alright. Image credit: Augustus Tan
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Augustus is definitely a bloody good storyboard artist, alright. Image credit: Augustus Tan

His typical work day starts once he gets a brief from the director.

“The director will give me a shot list or brief me on how he sees the scene(s). Angles, camera movements, mood and lighting, placement of furniture, things like that.”

Some directors also provide a detailed script and the director’s shot list, which is mighty helpful for a storyboard artist. Augustus opines Dain Said is a good example of such a director, making their collaboration a sweet success.

“For Bunohan and Interchange, I was provided the necessary materials. This gave me free reign to work to the best of my abilities.”

Occassionally, Augustus gets roped in to create storyboards for corporations and groups. This one was for Mastermind Group. Image credit: Augustus Tan
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Occasionally, Augustus gets roped in to create storyboards for corporations and various organisations. This one was for Mastermind Group. Image credit: Augustus Tan

A project, on average, takes about a month and a half and can be mentally and physically draining due to the gruelling hours.

Augustus also admits there were times when he resorted to employing a junior storyboard artist to help him chase up to a looming deadline.

“Not many people who usually work on short form (five-minutes or less videos) can survive a long form project.

I have, and I can tell you that there are days (and sometimes weeks) I wish I was on something else.”

Dain Said (left) and Augustus Tan. Image credit: Augustus Tan
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Augustus Tan (right) and Dain Said. Image credit: Augustus Tan

Augustus believes that a good storyboard artist cannot shy away from taking on the perspective and role of a film director.

“Not only do I have to translate the script into visuals, but I have to do it in a way that would capture everything, as close to the final product as possible.”

Image credit: Augustus Tan
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Image credit: Augustus Tan

The lover of comics and 80’s sci-fi flicks has some favourite tools to work with such as 4B and 6B pencils, a putty eraser and ever since he discovered it, a smudge guard, a handy tool for drawing.

Aside from storyboarding, Augustus now aims to take it a step higher by widening his range of services in the creative industry by providing sculpts, maquettes and dioramas of locations or sets for camera movements.

Augustus Tan can be followed on Facebook or can be emailed at varsung@gmail.com. Are you an artist or a filmmaker and want to share some of your projects or stories with us? Drop us an email at editors@eksentrika.com