Pioneering Producer Auchara Kijkanjanas on Animating Thailand’s Entertainment Industry

A pioneer of animation in Thailand, producer Auchara Kijkanjanas is no stranger to copyright infringement. The founder and head of Big Brain Studio produced the nation’s first big animation hit, which was pirated shortly after it was released. Hence, Kijkanjanas takes both personal and professional satisfaction from witnessing the changes in attitude and behavior toward intellectual property that have occurred in subsequent years. She also holds out hope that something like Thailand’s generous and successful production incentives for live-action projects from overseas might one day be introduced for the animation sector.

The absence of a domestic animation industry meant that Kijkanjanas took a roundabout route to the sector she was instrumental in creating. After studying architecture and developing an interest in art, she opted for a degree in industrial design, which she felt contained elements of both.

Realizing she would have to go abroad to achieve what she was really aiming for, Kijkanjanas headed for Houston, Texas, to study English. That was followed by a master’s degree in computer graphics design at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York State, where she encountered real animated graphics for the first time.

After additional animation training in New York, Kijkanjanas returned to Thailand in 1990 and secured a role that allowed her to learn how to operate 3-D graphic specialist machines. After honing her craft on commercials and VFX for films, she began working as an artist and producer in the nascent domestic animation field.

“Advances in animation ran in parallel with the progress of the computer hardware and software,” she noted.

At Kantana Animation Studios, a division of Kantana, Thailand’s biggest film and television production company, Kijkanjanas began producing her first long-form, 24-part animation series, Zon 100%, in 2001. Series director Kompin Kemgumnird had also studied and worked in the US, including as an animator on Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Tarzan, and Ice Age.

Kijkanjanas and Kemgumnird teamed up again on Blue Elephant (Khan Kluay), which became Thailand’s first computer-animated feature in 2006. Based on a historical tale of war elephants during the 16th-century Burmese-Siamese War, the film took the domestic box office crown that year, landed awards at international film festivals, and put Thai animation on the map. It still holds the record for the highest-grossing Thai animated feature and spawned a 2009 sequel.


“Being the first feature of its kind, theaters didn’t give Blue Elephant many screens when it was first released,” said Kijkanjanas. “But a lot of people wanted to see it.” 

This combination of high demand and a lack of awareness at the time around protecting IP set the stage for a major setback.

“I was in the office early when I got a call from a young guy who asked if I was the producer of the film. He told me he felt bad for me, and when I asked why, he said there were guys selling pirated DVDs in the market. I almost fainted.”

Kijkanjanas says revenue took a hit because of the pirated copies, though the film went on to show on more screens and had a long theatrical run. As that run was nearing its end, she received another unexpected call.

“A lady called to complain that there were no subtitles on her DVD. I had to tell her the film was still showing in cinemas and that the master was in my hand, as I was about to send it to the home theater company that had bought the license. She had no idea her copy was pirated, of course.”

According to Kijkanjanas, people in Thailand didn’t really understand the concept of IP or piracy at the time. Education campaigns on the subject have been a game changer, she said. “Now it is not seen as cool to buy fake things.”

In 2012, she collaborated with Kemgumnird again on Southeast Asia’s first 3D stereoscopic animated feature, Adventure Planet (Echo Planet), whose English-language release featured the voices of Jane Lynch, Brooke Shields, and J.K. Simmons.


The following year, Kijkanjanas founded Big Brain Studio to give herself more freedom to create content. In addition to their own productions, the studio has partnered with India’s Toonz Media Group on a project and does commissions for corporate and academic entities in Thailand. Last year, animation fan Conan O’Brien visited the studio while filming the Thailand episode for the recently premiered Conan O’Brien Must Go travel show on HBO Max.

Though Blue Elephant did receive some government subsidies, Kijkanjanas says that the animation sector doesn’t see the kind of incentives that have brought several high-profile international TV and movie shoots to Thailand. “We are jealous of the Malaysian animation industry as it gets a lot of support from the government there.”

Kijkanjanas believes this is partly due to the long timeframes involved in animation productions, meaning it can be years before the results are seen. “But I hope someday they [the Thai government] will realize the value of animation; I’m still waiting for that.”

Looking ahead, Kijkanjanas eagerly anticipates her daughter’s return home after nine years of working in Japanese anime. She hopes she will leverage her knowledge for the domestic industry. As for Big Brain, her mission is to keep “making animation for our kids to watch that has both Thai and international flavors to it.”

For more interviews with filmmakers taking big swings in Asia, check these out:

Reimagining Korea’s Dynamic Film & TV Industry With Wow Point Executive Producer Yoomin Hailey Yang

From Feudal Japan to Tokyo’s Neon Underworld: “Shōgun” & “Tokyo Vice” Director Takeshi Fukunaga Unmasks Japan

Featured image: Auchara Kijkanjanas.


Gavin Blair

Gavin Blair has been covering the Japanese entertainment sector for The Hollywood Reporter since 2007, and writing about Japan for more than two decades, from business, crime and politics to sport and culture. His work has appeared in publications, as well as on the radio, in Europe, America and Asia. Author of four books including An Illustrated Guide to Samurai History and Culture: From the Age of Musashi to Contemporary Pop Culture and Zen in Japanese Culture: A Visual Journey through Art, Design, and Life