Together, twins 2SG (NS) Harry and CPL (NS) Henry Zhuang chase their dream of becoming great animation filmmakers.
Ask the Zhuang brothers what inspired them to make animated films and, separately, they give the same answer: Princess Mononoke by Studio Ghibli, which they watched when they were 18.
"Hayao Miyazaki (the director) said that every time he makes a film, people form an impression of his style and he feels the need to destroy that," said 2nd Sergeant (2SG) (NS) Harry, the older of the two.
"We strongly believe in exploring (different styles)," CPL (NS) Henry explained. "To have one skill set is not good for creativity."
This is evident from the pair's work, which ranges from 2D to 3D, and claymation to paper-cut animation. Together, they run animation studio Weaving Clouds, which has won 12 awards.
Their biggest honour to date is the Rising Talent Award, which they clinched for their short film The Tiger of 142B at the 5th China Independent Animation Film Forum (CIAFF) last year. The film also won Best Film at the 1st SeaShorts Film Festival this May.
To think that just four years ago, 2SG (NS) Harry and CPL (NS) Henry nearly gave up their passion for animation.
Like a pair of chopsticks
The 35-year-old Zhuang brothers operate from a modest office space in an HDB flat in Woodlands. They sit side by side at mismatched tables put together to form a long workstation.
Behind them lies a wood-framed sofa with two red cushions, slightly flattened from their regular "thinking" sessions. This is where they lie down to bounce ideas off each other.
They work on the same project concurrently, from conceptualising and storyboarding to animation and post-production.
In fact, the twins are rarely apart. Once, they even convinced an employer to hire them as a pair for a research assistant position at the Nanyang Technological University's Earth Observatory of Singapore.
"We told (the supervising professor) the chopstick analogy," CPL (NS) Henry revealed.
"If you hire both of us, we'll work better. But if you hire only one, you won't be able to do much."
Following a one-year stint there, the twins decided to shift their focus from animation to animation filmmaking. The difference between the two?
"The animator is the actor," 2SG (NS) Harry explained. "For example, his job is to make the character look happy or sad. The animation filmmaker is more like a director, he decides what goes onto the screen and he looks at the big picture." >
But breaking into the scene was tough. After struggling to get jobs and living off their savings for a year, they decided to pursue different careers. Fortunately, those plans did not pan out.
Their breakthrough came in 2013 when veteran local director Jasmine Ng approached them to direct a short film on death for the non-profit Lien Foundation.
"We based it on an interview with a doctor who talked about her personal experience with her father," said CPL (NS) Henry.
"We used the audio clip to create a narrative about a girl on a bus journey, sending her father off."
Their film, Departing, bagged the Silver award at Digicon6 (Singapore region) and was also selected for the 11th Singapore Short Cuts, an annual short film showcase.
After that, more projects started to pour in. Now, Weaving Clouds' clients include Esplanade, Changi Airport Group and Drama Box.
Strength to strength
While the twins were posted to separate vocations during National Service (NS) -- incidentally, the only time their paths have differed -- both credit their NS experience for playing a part in their filmmaking journey.
An Air Crew Specialist in 126 Squadron (SQN), 2SG (NS) Harry is trained to carry out search and rescue missions. "That culture shaped me to always be ready to take on new challenges Because of that, I took on a few projects that were outside my comfort zone and some of them turned out really well."
This included an animation for German bank Volksbanken Raiffeisenbanken. On top of working with Germans for the first time, the twins had to master a new stop-motion software to create the animation their clients wanted.
For CPL (NS) Henry, it is lifelong lessons from his Commando days that keep him determined to continue his craft.
"Creating animation is a long process and it is very much like running a marathon I got that endurance from my experience with the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), where I had the opportunity to serve with the Commandos for a year," said CPL (NS) Henry, who has been redeployed to the SAF Wargame Centre after he discovered a meniscus tear in his knee.
"I still remember our company motto; 'Against all odds'!"