From Finance to Pioneering Cambodia’s Animation Sector

Yok Chivalry was born to work in the field of art, but was forced to abandon his passion to follow his parents’ dream of him working in finance. Today, he is the founder of a leading animation studio
Yok Chivalry, (center) poses for picture with his team inside a studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/supplied
Yok Chivalry, (center) poses for picture with his team inside a studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/supplied

Yok Chivalry has harbored a passion for the arts since a young age. However, he abandoned his dream to follow his parents’ desire for him to work in banking and finance. Today, the talented animator is the founder of Sil Animation Studio, creating world-class productions.

The word “sil” translates as magic or art as part of moving images. It refers to a way for actors to perform without speaking but characters move by using gestures and facial expressions.

Chivalry was born in Kampot province with an innate talent for painting - a different skill from his siblings, who are mostly in business. The 33-year-old recalls being an introverted person who loved spending his time being creative.

The co-founder of Sil Animation Studio came to live in Phnom Penh with his family when he was studying in secondary school in Kampot province. He went on to finish school at Sisowath High School before starting his bachelor's degree in finance and banking at the National University of Management in 2009.

Animation work by Sil Animation Studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Meas Molika
Animation work by Sil Animation Studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Meas Molika

Chivalry knew when he was in high school that he had a talent in drawing and painting but due to everything being classical there was not enough materials for him to research and self-study, so he decided to follow his family’s desires when he passed his Grade 12 exams.

Everything will turn to digital

In Phnom Penh, Chivalry lived next to the Royal University of Fine Arts and many of his neighbors worked in the field. This environment pushed him to love art more than ever before.

Luckily, he knew a female teacher who taught at the university. She noticed his talent and invited him to study with her. Later on, his school cooperated with foreigners who worked in the animation field, giving him the chance to study with them.

In 2005, he had the opportunity to study short courses in the United States, which was an incredible experience. He then started to post some of his work on social media, and got a response from several people who said they wanted to work with him.

“I love to create something that we can see as animation and we see as a result, without thinking it is popular. But if I think about this sector now, everything will turn to digital,” Chivalry said.

Work at the reception of a hotel

Chivalry used to work at the reception of a hotel. After finishing work, he spent his spare time learning animation. He then found work at a studio that was working on PC Gaming. This is when he started to work on 3D animation, including sound for the whole process. He spent two years working and learning at the family-run company.

After he finished working at the studio, he went on to work at an Australian-owned studio in Cambodia. Here, he created websites as well as worked on 2D productions, such as 2D animation and gaming in 2D.

In 2011, Chivalry started working as a digital artist and producer and creative director, before establishing his own studio in 2016.

Animation work by Sil Animation Studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Meas Molika
Animation work by Sil Animation Studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Meas Molika

International acclaim

In 2016, due to his experience working in animation, he started to have more ideas about animation besides gaming. His first achievement was Asva, a monkey animation game that went on to receive international acclaim.

“We wanted to do one animation beside gaming products because I saw our potential and we wanted to expand our knowledge beside gaming,” he recalled.

In 2018, he taught a short course related to animation, with about 30 students - mostly men - studying. During the pandemic, the number of students dropped.

Being a leader in his field, he has met a lot of challenges as it demands people to be creative and more technical. But his passion has kept him going and he decided to continue to push the field to become a recognized art form.

“It is different from what we think of other skills. We need to learn the basics and then keep practicing because there are always new things that we haven’t done before. So, it needs more research and takes time and the content creators demand a lot of things.”

Digital age

Driven by passion, Chivalry said he does not expect to earn a lot of money in the field. He only hopes that animation will become a part of an important sector used in the digital age as Cambodia continues on its digitalization journey.

He hopes that in the future, there will be support from other youth, as well as short courses to teach the new generation these skills.

Animation work by Sil Animation Studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Meas Molika
Animation work by Sil Animation Studio in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Meas Molika

He added that animation is used in many sectors, such as in education, health, entertainment, TV commercials and films to deliver simple messages to young children.

“For the education field, if we want to give key messages and use a real actor, it is hard and children don't like these types of messages, so animation is one media form for our target.”

The specialty of animation is the need to think in depth that is different from visual production. He believes society should have dedicated schools focused on the sector, especially the animation industry.

Golden passions

“Youth nowadays, I think they have more abilities to do a lot of things by themselves. The thing is that we try to fight, even when we meet the problem. Sometimes we need to stop and sometimes we need to keep in demand. The harder you work the luckier you get,” he said.

Yok Chivalry (left) when he was a child. Kiripost/supplied
Yok Chivalry (left) when he was a child. Kiripost/supplied

“My gold achievement after production animation gaming was I changed my career. I have my own personal studio. I have my own stuff. That is one of my golden passions because all this work has turned from us not having a formal studio into us now having our own studio, and I have to inspire somebody who loves this skill so we can keep going forward together.”

Sil Animation studio today employs about nine staff, mostly young men.

Animation demands that producers write stories and draw a storyboard before developing 3D assets and other technical processes, such as coloring, materials, lighting, editing and adding sound to match the video rigging, a digital skeleton, and animation.

The studio offers a variety of media services, such as character development (mascots), 3D and 2D animation, creative concepts, shooting and more.