Since we got back from the regional TBS DigiCon6 awards last year, JUICE has been taking the time to dissect the animation industry in Malaysia and see where we stand now on an international level. Unbeknownst to the average television watcher until about a month ago, an international Visual Effects company has actually been producing VFX for Hollywood right here in Malaysia.
Rhythm & Hues (R&H) has had a hand in many major VFX heavy Hollywood blockbusters like The Nutty Professor, Batman Forever, and even Stuart Little before they decided to expand to Malaysia. Fast forward to 2013, and they’ve got an office full of excited employees in Cyberjaya basking in the glory of winning an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for the movie Life of Pi that they had worked tirelessly on.
Though possibly the one that’s gotten the most media attention, there’s more to R&H than just Life of Pi. Their body of VFX work include The Cabin in the Woods, The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Yogi Bear, and some upcoming movies like Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and 300: Rise of an Empire just to name a few.
We caught up with Hasnul Hadi Samsudin, the Senior Manager of R&H Malaysia, and also the Deputy President of The Association of Post Production, Animation & Creative Content Malaysia (POSTAM) to talk about the situation with animation in Malaysia.
“The scene here has always been strong,” said Hasnul. “We already have a large pool of artistic talent here, that’s why R&H decided to base an office here. Though the same can’t be said about the technical side of things here. We need coders who can help develop software.”
He points out how in the US, VFX companies will have tech guys from NASA helping them develop the back end side of the development. But the problem here is that the technological experts would prefer to be in bigger tech companies. “But we still take the initiative to boost the creative talents with our own programmes.”
R&H offers three main programmes to cultivate the scene which include the Finishing School Programme, the Faculty Education Programme, and the Master Class Programme. The training involves three months of using off the shelf computer software like Adobe After Effects to learn high level CG work that isn’t necessarily thought in schools and colleges locally.
The industry is has an ironic way of working though. A VFX house only knows that it’s done its job when people aren’t able to tell what is computer generated and what isn’t, which means the better you are at your job, the less noticeable you will be to the audience.
So you can’t blame people for not being aware of how active the industry is in the country. Most are still in shock that Malaysians were directly involved in the post-production work on something as big as Life of Pi. “People never knew that we have people working on this level of work,” he explains. Many of the nominations are specifically for the visual effects work that Rhythm & Hues did.”
Regarding the efforts by MDeC and and TBS DigiCon6, Hasnul says that he’s all for it. In fact, he used to be personally involved with Malaysia’s DigiCon efforts. “It gives exposure on many levels. It’s not just about winning the award, it’s a platform on an international stage. Allowing these talents to network with the rest of the world.”
He pointed out that most of the works being submitted to compete are student works, and that many of which have proven to be comparable to actual industry work. So why no recognition for these talents?
As an industry insider, Hasnul believes it lies in the need for a more business minded culture in the industry,“The reality is that our local content creators are on par with the rest of the world. But the problem is that you see many of these companies focusing so much on creating beautiful works with no plans on how to sustain themselves as a business and get their work out there. There’s more to running an animation studio than just being creative. You have to be able bring in the money to support the costs of producing what you want to produce.”
There’s actually many localised content that’s doing very well for themselves like BoBoiBoy and Upin & Ipin. But according to Hasnul there’s an ocean of undiscovered works out there whose creators are not business-minded enough to find the right avenues for their works, “We have so many different screens these days. You don’t always have to aim for the big screen. You can focus your content for the web, for mobile content, or even a channel on Youtube and find a way to monetise on that. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone found a way to make money off of the ‘Harlem Shake’.”