Pop Culture and Art with Tsu Ann + Jaemy Choong of Kickatomic Creatives

source: Tsu Ann + Jaemy/ Kickatomic

The artworks produced by the creative duo of Kickatomic are brimming with a fun energy that’s tinged with cheeky humour, which is also a description applicable to the partners – Tsu Ann and Jaemy themselves. Their friendship burgeoned when they met in university; it continued as they worked together at 8TV, and soon they eventually partnered up to create Kickatomic Creatives. Together, they’ve worked on multiple 8TV television programmes, as well as projects for Tiger Translate, AIG, and more. JUICE spoke to the duo about how Jaemy’s internet-famous artwork came about, their foray into short filmmaking, and more.

Before starting Kickatomic, the two of you were working at 8TV. What was the motivating factor that prompted you two to start your own business?
Jaemy I was craving to see if I had the chops to channel my [artistic] interests into something that profited my own bank account instead of someone else’s.
Tsu Ann I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labour knowing that I will be appreciated by our clients.
J Yeah, so basically, [it was] the moolah. Oh, and passion, can’t forget passion.

What would you say was the biggest hurdle that you two had to overcome when running Kickatomic?
TA Politics.
J Each other (laughs). We have very different preferences, so it is a challenge sometimes when our creative or personality differences come into play.

A lot of Jaemy’s personal works are heavily influenced by pop culture, especially by cinema. Has that always informed your work as a graphic designer?
J Informed? Like influenced? Yeah, I guess. I grew up with lots of TV and film and music – or as Tsu Ann would call it “overplayed commercial tunes.” Projects that involved any of these elements always excited me.
TA Sometimes I try to feed Jaemy with “hipster” ideas by shouting, “More triangles! Moreeeeee!”

Jaemy sort of got notable on the internet because of a series of photos where you strategically positioned movie posters in front of people. And you continued that technique by splicing together two movie posters/characters together to make one amusing art piece (such as your recent exhibition at Kitch and Art). Where did you get the idea from?
J If I remember correctly, it was after we had returned from the premiere of Maleficent and I was holding the poster card in my hand and I was talking to Tsu Ann and her fiancé… I was like, “Hey wouldn’t it be fun if you guys did this for the camera…” This was the result of that conversation:

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TA Yeah, we were his happy slaves.

In the earlier stage of the Kickatomic, was it difficult for you to get clients or did working at 8TV – where you may’ve retained some contacts – helped in that respect?
TA Before Kickatomic was formed, I expressed my interest to the other producers I’ve worked with that I would like to continue doing the same things as we did before in 8TV. So, they became our first client and they have been supporting us ever since – that was a good start.
J Yup. I would like to think that they really liked our skill sets and work ethics so they just couldn’t live without us after we left… When in actual fact, I think they just pitied us-lah.

Based on the Kickatomic’s 2015 show reel, you guys can produce different styles to cater to different clients’ individual needs. But, what would you say is Kickatomic’s signature style?
TA Hmmm, I would say we try to stay “current.”
J Since Kickatomic is both Tsu Ann and myself, the style varies according to who raises their voice loudest during brainstorm meetings…

It’s understood that Tsu Ann is the one who deals with clients, while Jaemy is the one who does the creative, technical work. Does Tsu Ann still dabble in the creative side of things or have your roles been distinctly defined?
TA Because it’s a two-man team, we often brainstorm all the projects together. Occasionally, we get other humans to join in on the fun! Nonetheless, we play to our strengths because I’m the producer in the company, so naturally, I will take on the role of managing projects from start to end. I also handle the administration work, dealing with various parties involved, editing videos, and playing French maid for Kickatomic when we run out of funds to pay for cleaning.
J Yeah. She gets very passionate – aka garang – when it comes to video projects because she has this film producer/director’s mindset. She can handle stressful situations very well around the crew and clients. I prefer to linger around ideas in the comfort of my four-wall room.

How long does it usually take for an idea to be executed for a project?
TA Well, sometimes we have super “tight-until-cannot-breathe-deadlines,” but most of the time, we don’t take suicidal jobs – life’s too short for that. For a video project, we would prefer at least a month, from its initial conceptualisation to the final delivery. Collateral work usually takes one to two weeks. Once again, it varies from client to client.

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You guys were also finalists for Tropfest last year; have you two always had an interest in filmmaking?
TA I have always wanted to make short films. I like the experience and the process, because there is always so much to learn. Working with different people has always given me a lot of joy and pleasure. Also as of late, I have been trying out directing as well.
J I think that being fans of movies and working in the media/broadcasting industry really nurtured an interest in filmmaking in both of us. The more we understood the technicalities behind a film, the more we wanted to make one. We were very surprised when our entry was announced as one of the finalists.

How did the idea for Emma’s Birthday come about?
J It’s funny because when we collaborated with our friends at Junkies Apostrophe Productions to do this short film, everyone – excluding myself – wasn’t keen on producing a film that had elements of paranormal activity in it. When I put this idea about – spoiler alert – a haunted jigsaw puzzle on the table, we started analysing the premise of the story and character and how we wanted to make a “twist” happen at the end. I think that is when everyone agreed that the story was solid enough to be made into a short film.
TA Yeah. It took a whole year of throwing ideas around with our fellow “Junkies” to nail it down. One fine day, Jaemy popped out from his room and said he wanted to do something with an element of a ghost. Because I’m a scaredy-cat, naturally, I protested! But eventually after much thought and debate about the idea, we all went with it.

Which project that Kickatomic worked on has been your personal favourite?
TA I would say the Scanimation project we did for Merdeka. I’ve always wanted to try that. A few other 8TV projects, like Ke Korea Ke Kita8TV Stalker, etc., were also fun. They gave us full creative freedom to work on those, so it felt really great to have that control! Basically, if it’s anything to do with video production (no cerita hantu, of course) I’d be jumping in excitement, screaming “IT’S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!!!”
J We did a self-initiative project called #IfBrandsWereInsects and posted the art consistently on our Instagram for a few months. It got picked up by some design websites like Design TaxiStyleByAsia, and Clickker.In – that was pretty fun.

What would you two say is the most rewarding part of operating Kickatomic?
TA Making Kickatomic a space where creative people can have free coffee, work or lepak together. I like that, because there is human interaction! Yay! Currently we have also turned it into a space where people can stay and work at the Kickatomic space as well.
J The flexibility to do what you wanna do, when you wanna do it (when deadlines, clients, and a Tsu Ann isn’t at your neck, of course). We’ve even started an Etsy store now.

Check out some of their works below:

www.behance.net/kickatomic
www.facebook.com/kickatomic
www.instagram.com/kickatomic