Animatics and Anti-Communism: Payut Ngaokrachang Animates Hanuman for the USIA

We work on a lot of cartoons in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab. Some were made for military service members. Some were made to illustrate the dangers of drug use. But the most consistently surprising cartoons are the ones we find in the films of the United States Information Agency (USIA).

Title card for The New Adventures of Hanuman (Source: 306.2091)
Title card for The New Adventures of Hanuman (Source: 306.2091)

During the Cold War the USIA produced films to be distributed all over the world, and they often partnered with local film production companies to make them. The production history of many USIA films is often shrouded in mystery, likely due to Cold War efforts to conceal the funding source for many works of propaganda. When film titles are sent to the Lab for inspection, we usually receive the cans of film and little else.

Several months ago I found myself working on a cartoon titled The New Adventures of Hanuman (1958). I had already identified the original color negative, so I was surprised to find that we’d also received a black-and-white copy of the film. Upon close comparison, I discovered that the black-and-white reels appeared to contain the animated film’s storyboard.

A storyboard image alongside the final product. (Source: 306.2091A and 306.2091)
A storyboard image alongside the final product. (Source: The New Adventures of Hanuman, 306.2091A and 306.2091)

Though I was familiar with storyboarding in filmmaking and animation, I had never seen an animated storyboard that contained camera movements and paper cut-outs of characters leaping through a pencil-sketched background. Some quick research determined that I had found an animatic, which is something animators create to test how the story and pacing of a cartoon work before they do the painstaking work of animating it frame by frame. The animatic may also contain a rough recording of the soundtrack, as Hanuman’s does. You can see how it works in the clips below.

Clip from the animatic for The New Adventures of Hanuman (306.2091A)

Completed animation for the same segment of The New Adventures of Hanuman (306.2091)

An example of how the animatic syncs to the final version of the film (306.2091A and 306.2091)

Just finding the animatic reel would have been rewarding enough, but The New Adventures of Hanuman (Hanuman Pachon Pai Krang Mai in Thai, alternately known as The Adventure of Hanuman and Hanuman in Danger) is also significant in its own right. The animator who produced it is Payut Ngaokrachang, a man considered to be the Walt Disney of Thailand. He would later go on to direct Thailand’s first full-length animated feature film, The Adventure of Sudsakorn, in 1979.

Hanuman was made to be shown at the American Embassy in Bangkok. It incorporates several characters from the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic, which is derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana. In the Ramakien, Hanuman is the god-king of the monkeys and an ally of Pra Ram. Thotsakan, the king of the demons, is his adversary.

In Payut’s cartoon, a group of Communist monkeys paves the way for Thotsakan to rush in and take control of Pra Ram’s domain. Hanuman, always ready to support Pra Ram, trains his sons in combat and they fight back to liberate the monkeys who have been enslaved by Thotsakan and the Communists. (Click here for a more detailed synopsis from someone who can actually speak Thai.)

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Payut worked with Toei Animation in Japan to animate The New Adventures of Hanuman. Soon after, he worked with Toei again on The Children and the Bear (another favorite film of ours) for the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. Both are films that could only have been made at the height of the Cold War, as the anti-Communist allegory is not at all subtle. After making the films, Payut continued to work for the USIA in Thailand as an artist for over thirty years, pursuing his own animation work on the side.

Further information about Payut Ngaokrachang’s career, and the animation industry in Thailand, can be found in the following selections:

Rudyard Contreras Pesimo, “‘Asianizing’ Animation in Asia: Digital Content Identity Construction within the Animation Landscapes of Japan and Thailand” in Reflections on the Human Condition: Change, Conflict and Modernity, The Work of the 2004/2005 API Fellows (The Nippon Foundation, 2007), p. 131-133.

John A. Lent, “Thai Animation, Almost a One-Man Show” in Animation in Asia and the Pacific (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2001), p. 185-192. (Available to borrow from the Internet Archive.)

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