Singaporean lights up hit Disney movie

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 16, 2013

A Singaporean talent literally lit up the scenes in this holiday season's charttopping Disney flick Frozen.

Lighting artist Roger Lee, 35, had a hand in creating the perfect light settings in the wintry scenes of the Walt Disney animated feature.

Speaking to Life! over the telephone from California last week, he explained that he was involved in the last few stages of the production pipeline.

"It's kind of like set lighting, but doing it digitally. I use a software to mimic the time of the day and to get the direction of the sunlight right," said Mr Lee, who works at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California.

The 3-D animation movie Frozen follows Princess Anna's quest to find her sister Queen Elsa, who has fled for fear of causing harm to people with her frosty touch. The film has grossed about US$147 million (S$184 million) since it opened in the US on Nov 22. It opened in Singapore on Dec 5 in the No. 2 spot at the box office and climbed to No. 1 last week.

The soft-spoken Mr Lee is particularly proud of adding his touch on a 22-second sequence where the ice palace is bathed in a sea of red as Queen Elsa struggles to suppress her powers of conjuring ice and snow. "The entire palace was red and there were ice spikes growing. The scene reflects her emotions... I was lucky enough to light the entire sequence myself. Usually for such long sequences, you have a few artists working on it," said Mr Lee, a graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Film, Sound and Video course.

The school boasts distinguished alumni such as award- winning directors Anthony Chen and Boo Junfeng.

Being a part of the Disney magic was a dream come true, Mr Lee said. "Disney is one of the companies that I really wanted to work in. Since my childhood days, I've been watching their cartoons such as Mickey Mouse."

Mr Lee, who has also worked on the 2012 Disney animated film Wreck-It-Ralph, added: "Most artists in Asia will want to work in the headquarters in America where you can learn from the masters."

He jumped at the chance to apply for a job when he found a vacancy on the Walt Disney Animation Studio's website two years ago. Within half a year, he had snagged the job, packed his bags and moved to California with his wife and three infants in tow.

It was no easy decision to uproot his family to a foreign land with no family support, said the father of triplets, who are almost three years old now.

"When I brought them over, they were barely one year old. It was an almost 17-hour plane ride, it was crazy moving everyone over," said Mr Lee, who had worked at Walt Disney Television Singapore and production house Lucasfilm Singapore.

While he misses family and the food back home, he will be staying put in Burbank to learn from the best at Disney for now. He said: "Right now, there's still a lot for me to learn here."

His biggest fans are his two sons and daughter. He recounts fondly their reactions when he showed them the Frozen trailer that features the talking snowman Olaf. He said: "One of my boys imitated snowman Olaf by crawling on the floor. They watched it more than 10 times and kept laughing."

Frozen is showing in cinemas here.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 16, 2013

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