If you’re looking for something remarkable in today’s CGI and animation scenes, you might find yourself a bit lost – with an abundance of new artists, companies and studios one can easily get buried under a ton of content. But Illusion, the international award-winning CGI studio based in Bangkok, surely stands out with not only one thing.
Established in 2001 by Surachai Puthikulangkura and having started as a photo retouching company, Illusion now has a number of awards under its belt and it is quite evident for experts and non-experts that their work is absolutely ground-breaking. Total achievements of Illusion since its start ranging from world class advertising festivals to smaller ones, add up to a whopping 2,714 awards altogether, 38 of which are Grand Prix awards.
Trusted by domestic and international agencies alike, the CGI studio is staying true to its style while revolutionising the industry project by project. But what makes their work so special? LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to founder and CEO of Illusion, Surachai, to find out more.
A start with a Bang!
Quickly after having graduated from Chiang Mai University in 1988, Surachai went to Japan to pursue his further studies in visual communication design, where he collided with Adobe Photoshop for the first year and, evidently, it was a perfect match. Soon after he returned to Thailand to work as a retoucher, which took him on his journey of researching and studying art in technology. There is where Surachai came to the conclusion that the next visual illustration evolution was, indeed, CGI.
As a retoucher, Surachai did post-production work, which meant that his job was “secondary to the photographer”. “Back then, I thought we had such a minimal chance of expressing the idea in work. Hence, I believed that CGI would make us stand out by giving us more opportunities to communicate visual ideas”. The trust in this process is what launched Surachai’s dreams this high up. In a time when CGI was not thought of much, he was the one who saw the immense opportunities presented by the digital workflow that CGI provides.
“Therefore, in 2001, when I envisioned CGI as the future, ‘Illusion CGI Studio’ was founded. We struggled through our first steps as both hardware and software still lacked efficiency, and we were short-handed in addition to CGI being barely known in the advertising industry. On the other hand, photography was more prevalent, making clients chose it over CGI. Consequently, we were mainly working on photo retouching at the time.”
As the years rolled by, Surachai did not give up on doing several CGI experiments and assembling a team. Finally, in 2009, when they were “certain that CGI was in the bag”, they introduced it to a couple of creatives at Ogilvy Thailand. This was followed by the production of a 100^ CGI innovative piece of work for WWF: Ivory, which was later given a gold in Craft Print – CGI at the B.A.D Awards 2010.
“Our accomplishment made us more confident; all of a sudden, it was like BANG!! This was where our journey started,” shares Surachai.
The first steps to a unique outlook
“It took eight years after the company’s establishment to get CGI work offers. In addition to the achievement of WWF, we received a couple of CGI work opportunities that took us to another level of success; Karana Travelgear: Rolled Up Bed from Ogilvy Thailand was granted with two silver Press and Outdoor from Cannes Lions 2010.”
During this time, even though Illusion was confident that they could develop CGI better than when they had started, pitching for CGI jobs proved to be infrequent in Bangkok, as clients tended to still rely on photography for most of their work. This made the team point their gaze to overseas clients. “Ultimately, in 2011, we had a chance to work with one of the Middle East agencies, FP7/BAH Bahrain, where we won two Grand Prix in Print and Print & Poster Craft at Dubai Lynx 2012”.
Even with the sparsity of the projects in the beginning of the journey for Illusion, one can easily see a consistency in their style – an incredible attention to detail that can mesmerise anybody. Surachai himself graduated in a fine arts field and was interested in working on hyper-realistic paintings that were detail-oriented. “I am still attracted to the realistic imagery and extreme detail-oriented work,” shared Surachai, “so I brought that perception to initiate Illusion’s work as well. Many of these projects are still being widely mentioned”.
“Generally speaking, making the idea come to life is our duty. Advertising is a fast-paced industry, requiring us to work under pressure and time constraints. In addition, we have to keep working as a team, and delegate work depending on specialty. The interpretation of the idea and the message that the creatives want to convey is vital. So together, we genuinely shaped each piece of work at Illusion”.
With a vast portfolio of projects, Illusion stands as one of the most well-known and trusted CGI and retouching studios not only in Bangkok, but also internationally. When asked to point at one project dear to his heart, Surachai struggles to answer. “I don’t have any specific ones that come to mind, because all of them are fascinating and distinctive in their end result, as well as their working processes”. One particularly distinctive that we, at LBB appreciate is the Sour-Faced Man, Sour-Faced Woman for Super Zuper Sour Candy from Hakuhodo Indonesia. Still loyal to its signature detail-oriented style, Illusion uses simplicity and straight-forwardness to translate an idea – the candy is…super sour. And how effective is that?
Another cool piece of work is what Illusion did for Lego, called Build the Future (Astronaut) from Ogilvy Thailand, that showcases kids building their future through LEGO. Featuring LEGO sculptures of an astronaut, a firefighter and a rock star, built by kids from the inside, the ads are hard to miss. This is one to stare at for a bit.
Same can be said about their project with Cheil Worldwide for Chupa Chups that offered "A Sweet Escape" even for children who can be swamped by homework and other activities. The campaign utilises the shape of the lollipop and plays with character design, colour and shape.
And Samsonite - Heaven, known as the world's most awarded print ad of all time and the first ever Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Asia in 2011.
“We can learn from every project we worked on,” tells us Surachai. “Some started off easily, but we had to tackle problems along the way. Some were difficult at first, but since we are in good hands of all the finest creatives, they built trust and gave us confidence that helped us perform to our best ability. Accordingly, we learned from our mistakes, which later became the most valuable experience. However, we are still eager to discover the new challenges that are yet to come”.
The future is now
Illusion has for revolutionised the usage of CGI and is not planning to stop here. “Our future is now,” says Surachai. “Before, I spent too much time looking towards the future. But, in business, putting too much focus on it and overlooking the present causes issues, I found. I am still working on research and development, up until today, and sticking to the present more than ever”. The company still lives up to the standards it set for itself back when it was established, and when CGI didn’t look like it had much to do with advertising.
Now, on a new and improved path, Illusion is still thriving and producing work even better than the one that it started with – the peak has definitely not been reached. It seems that the company’s most significant goal and inspiration resonates with its own slogan – “Make a masterpiece”, to support creatives from around the world in reaching their own masterpiece, “until it eventually becomes the world’s masterpiece”.