Peter Chung was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1961. He's worked
as a storyboard artist on the Transformers animated
series, as well as an animator on Rugrats. Most people
will know him as the creator of the groundbreaking cartoon
series Aeon Flux. Since then he's contributed to the
Matrix mythos, when he wrote and directed The Animatrix
- Matriculated, and directed the Chronicles of Riddick
animated spin-off movie Dark Fury. We caught up
with him as The Complete Aeon Flux Animated Box Set
(MTV) was due for release on DVD...
How did you originally get started in this industry?
Chung: I was always into animation. I studied animation at
CalArts [California Institute of the Arts]. I've actually
been making animated films since I was 16. It was always what
I wanted to do and I got my first job when I was 20 and I've
been doing it ever since. I always knew that what I wanted
to do was to create characters and write stories - do the
whole thing, you know, write, design and direct.
took a while. It took about ten years of working in the industry
doing other things like learning the craft, doing storyboards
and designing characters, before I finally got to write and
direct my own character which was Aeon Flux.
Aeon Flux is the series that you're probably best known
for. Looking back over your career what would you say is your
Oh, definitely Aeon Flux. It was a very rare case where
I was really given a lot of freedom to do what I wanted. I
don't know if I'd be able to do that again on MTV. It was
the time when they were first starting to produce their own
programming and they really didn't know what restrictions
to impose on me. They really let me get away with a lot. Lack
of experience on their part worked in my favour.
Did you find being writer and director gave you more creative
freedom, or did you find that undertaking both roles was very
demanding of your time?
I never really enjoyed the process of doing it. I've always
been motivated by the need to tell a certain type of story.
It's all about the product, it's not about the process for
me. It's all about the finished result. I'm not really interested
in talking about the process, or getting absorbed in the process.
I think that's a problem with how a lot of animation is done.
It's such a laborious process and people focus entirely on
the process and apply it to stories that are all the same.
There's not a lot of thinking going into creating different
kinds of stories - just a lot of ways of telling the same
If you could only write or direct, which would you prefer
to do? Where do you feel most at home?
Ultimately, I get more satisfaction out of writing. Although,
the process of writing is even more painful than directing.
Erm... That's tough.
frustrating to write something, which I did in the case of
Aeon Flux, which is then directed by someone else -
not all of the Aeon Flux episodes were directed by
me. It is frustrating to see your ideas being interpreted
by another director, especially when you know you would have
directed those episodes differently.
way, if I'm just stuck with doing one or the other, I'm not
really going to be satisfied. I've been on the other side
too. I've directed from other people's scripts. Dark
Fury was an example of that.
Did you find it hard bringing someone else's script to life?
It wasn't very satisfying, ultimately. I mean, it was easier
to do because I wasn't responsible for the entire process
- I could bluff off the responsibility by saying: "Well,
it's like that in the script." But, there was less of
a feeling of satisfaction at the end when you are looking
at the finished product.
With animation you don't have actors turning up late or storming
off set. Is that a huge relief?
You do have those problems, actually [laughs]. We have animators.
Animators can be very temperamental and you sometimes have
to coddle them. Some of them are great, and very professional,
but not all of them are.
What would you say is the biggest problem in the industry?
The biggest problem is never having enough time. Even though
it's a very time consuming process, and we do usually have
a lot of time, it always feels like there's never enough.
of course, there's never enough money [laughs]. And not enough
Do the studios treat animation differently these days, or
do they still have the attitude that it's something for kids?
It's strange in my case because I do a particular kind of
animation which is unusual, at least in this country [USA].
Yes, I find it very difficult.
I'll give you an example. I wanted to make Aeon Flux
as an animated movie, which seemed to make the most sense
because the idea behind the show, and the character originally,
was to do things that you couldn't do in live action. For
example, making her look the way she does and having the characters
dress the way they are. It's something I wanted to do in animation,
but I don't know if I'd do that in live action - you couldn't
get away with it.
was very frustrating for me, because they wanted to do an
Aeon Flux movie, but they wanted to do it live action
and change it to the point where it wasn't that close to the
source material any more.
that sense, yes. I think that there's not really an understanding
on the part of the studios on what the advantages are of using
animation. All they tend to see are the disadvantages - like
it takes a lot of time and maybe has less appeal to a wider
audience - although it's strange that they'd make that last
argument, because a lot of the top grossing films are animated
Why do you think that Hollywood seems to have a habit of getting
it wrong when transforming comic book characters into live
action movies? And do you think that the live action Aeon
Flux movie fell into a lot of those traps?
Yes, it definitely fell into a lot of those traps. I think
they tend to take things too literally - which when you're
doing something in comic book or animation, you are really
working on a much more mythical level. And you can't help
it because drawings are, in a sense, symbols.
The way superheros characters are dressed, for example, has
a lot to do with creating an iconographic image, but if you
literally had somebody dress up like that it would look ridiculous.
way around that is to create a whole world in which everything
is portrayed in that iconic way. And the ones, I think, that
fail are those that plop this iconic character in a very realistic,
every day environment. And that's kinda goofy to me.
CGI is still not at a level where it's believable yet, but
when it is do you think that this would help animated movies
to be better accepted by the studios?
No, because it's not about realism for me. I think that the
comics that are the least successful, for me anyway, are the
ones that are painted and rendered and made to look like scenes
that have practically been photographed. I find those the
most distracting. The more you try to make them realistic,
the more preposterous it becomes. Keeping the graphics very
stark and iconic I think works a lot better.
If you compare Jack Kirby's superheroes to Alex Ross's...
With Alex Ross I'm always aware of some model posing in his
studio [laughs] wearing some goofy costume. Whereas, with
the Jack Kirby drawing, the drawing is the character. It's
not a drawing of a guy dressed up as a character, the drawing
is the character. That's the strength of the medium.
you look at a Pixar animated film the characters are what
you see on the screen. What you see on the screen - it's not
an actor playing the character - that's the character. That's
the advantage of animation over live action.
It doesn't seem to be the rule when you take a live action
movie and create an animated spin-off, though. Animatrix
and Dark Fury both seemed to work well, and Genndy
Wars: Clone Wars animated series was impressive.
I think there are successful versions of things that have
been adapted to live action. It's hard to do, though.
In Aeon Flux we are offered yet another dark, miserable
future for mankind. Why do you think it is that writers always
seem to picture the future as a bleak place?
I've found this myself. I think that movies in general tend
to try to convey as much as possible by amplifying contrast
in every aspect. That's why movies are always filled with
sex and violence - much more so than people's ordinary lives.
I think it amps up the level of tension in a movie. I see
it being done for that reason. You want to create an environment
which is going to be more dramatically compelling.
of the movies that we see made about the past are also fraught
with lots of violence. We see endless scenes of people fighting
each other with swords [laughs]. It seems like most historical
movies are focussed on that stuff, whereas ordinary life wasn't
like that - that was the exception.
Stylistically there seems to be quite a lot of retro elements
in the design of Aeon Flux. Trevor's lab has large
levers with big yellow knobs on them that look like they belong
in the '60s Batman
TV show. Was that your intention from the start, to give the
show a retro feel?
Well, I never really thought of Aeon Flux as being
set in the future. It was more like an alternate present.
I was really interested in talking about the world we live
in. I made a deliberate decision not to say how many years
in the future it was set.
I think when you set it in a specific time and place then
it becomes less relevant. You can say: "It's their world,
their time and their problem." Whereas I wanted to talk
about our world and our problems.
back to the mythical level that we were discussing earlier,
it's the structure of what's happening - the relationship
between the characters and the ideas - not the specific date
and location and so forth.
think a lot of science fiction on film and TV falls into that
trap of trying to treat their stories literally. Then you
tend to get caught up in a lot of arcane trivia about that
world and it seems that people tend to focus on those things.
where are the Romulan's from? Or the fact that the Romulans
are more technically advanced than the Klingons - and things
like that. And Trekkies are obsessed with things like that.
And this is the point. All that stuff is fictional, it has
nothing to do with anything. You get obsessed with these fictional
details, which are really, ultimately, arbitrary.
Do you find that when you are selling an idea to a studio
head, that those are the sort of elements that they demand
of you too?
Well... they do. And I think it's a big mistake. They think,
for example, that an audience needs that in order to feel
grounded. And I think that a lot of viewers maybe do need
it, which is probably why a lot of people didn't understand
Aeon Flux. But I think that the people that do appreciate
it do so for the reason that it's not about creating some
fictional world. It's really about projecting ideas that are
taken from our world. It's really talking about life as we
live it now, amplified.
If you weren't working in the film making industry what would
you be doing?
Maybe I'd be a painter... like a fine art painter. But I don't
know if you'd still consider that the same field.
What are you working at the moment?
I'm going to be doing a short film for The Terminator
- in the same way we did Animatrix on the back of The
They are preparing Terminator IV right now.
am hoping to do more with Aeon Flux in animated form.
The studio did agree to have me develop more animated Flux,
but we'll see how that goes. I'd
love to do an animated version of what the Aeon Flux
movie should have been. The live action movie is very different
to the animated series - but in spite of that there are a
lot of people who seem to enjoy it. It's not really an adaptation
of the animated series. It's its own thing with the same title
and I'd like to see an animated Aeon Flux movie.
Thank you for your time.
thanks to Kate Dauman and Brian Bosak at Greenroom Digital
Complete Aeon Flux Animated Box Set (MTV)
is released to own on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment
on the 13 February 2006
this DVD for £19.99 by clicking here
interview was conducted on 09 February 2006