April 4, 2022
Quảng Nam Province in central Việt Nam is a magnet for tourists with its ancient yellow wooden houses on the banks of the Thu Bồn River in Hội An City. Yet, very few know it is home to skillfully carved miniatures of Japanese and Hollywood animation characters.
Young woodcarver Trần Duy, a native of the province, is putting a new twist on his family’s traditional craft by carving comic book superheroes from wood instead of conventional rural landscapes and gods.
“I am not a big fan of manga, but there are some that I repeatedly read, like Dragon Ball,” the 25-year-old said.
“I had wanted to do this for a long time. I choose animation characters because I like them and Son Goku is my favourite. I waited until I was skilful enough.”
Son Goku was among the first animation creations he made. He shared the video of the carving process without expecting many viewers.
When Duy carved Son Goku, it was just an experiment.
“When I shared the video, I was worried that it was not good enough and might affect our family’s reputation. But people warmly welcomed it, and it helped me gain confidence.”
His Goku video has earned more than 7 million views on his YouTube channel.
His four-year-old channel has more than 1 million subscribers with nearly 217 million views as of March 2022.
His works feature a range of characters, including Spider-Man, Hulk, Batman, Godzilla and Kong, transformer T-Rex, Goky, Majin, and One Piece’s Luffy.
Duy was born into a family with strong woodcarving traditions.
His father was the first in his area to learn wood sculpture and has been doing it for over 30 years.
He taught young men in the village about the trade and know-how so that they too could become wood sculptors.
Thanks to his father, woodcarving developed in the village and became a key craft there.
After Duy graduated from high school, he went to the Huế University of Arts for a month before dropping out and returning home and continuing his family’s work.
“After one month, I didn’t feel like studying. So I came back home and continued our family’s work. That was seven years ago.”
Duy’s family workshop now has 25 workers. However, the number of people his father taught is about 100.
The main products made in the village feature landscapes, nature or Buddhist themes.
Though delicately carved, these works did not capture Duy’s interest.
“When I started to learn to be a sculptor, I didn’t like those products because I had seen them every day since I was a kid. They left me feeling bored, but I kept learning the craft to enhance my skills,” Duy said.
“I learned for a year and a half. After that, I was done with practice and not really in the mood for doing anything.”
Rather than just following traditional themes, Duy found inspiration in animation.
He started to carve miniature anime characters out of wood, and shared his videos on the internet.
His videos were warmly welcomed, and he started to receive compliments from his friends.
“I felt thrilled because back when I was still practising sculpture, it was rare for me to receive a compliment from anyone,” he said.
“I kept doing more and got better every day. Now I am confident in my woodcarving techniques.”
Duy serves both Vietnamese and foreign customers.
“If my customers live abroad, they could place an order for their goods. They must have heard about me through my channel,” he said.
“When I found inspiration, I started to create works that people liked, and I know I am more than capable. When we are happy doing something, it turns to passion naturally. The quality of the creations depends on the sculptor’s sense. It is very important,” he said.