History of Local Animation
by Anusha Abishegam
Animation- explained by the experts as “the illusion of motion through the rapid sequence of static images that differ slightly from each other”- has been around for quite some time now. In case you’re wondering, the non-experts have described it as either “magic” or “witchcraft”. Animation is a global phenomenon that captures children, incites nostalgic childhood recollections and even fuels adult media; however, what was the journey of animation like, locally? You may be surprised at how early Malaysian culture cast its shadows on the origins of local animation.
The art of wayang kulit has been around as early as 930 A.D. and is an early form of cinema in Malaysia. While the very first cutout animator, Lotte Reiniger, drew her inspiration from Chinese shadow puppetry for her film ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ during 1926, it’s worth noting that Chinese shadow puppetry and Malaysian wayang kulit have similar concepts. (If you’re still in the dark about what the main concept that they share is, turn on a light and look to the clone you cast upon the wall.)
The first locally-made animation short, “Hikayat Sang Kancil”, was released; the project was handled by Anandam Xavier from 1961 to 1978. Obviously, this was a big deal; not only was it the first Malaysian animation, but for someone who supposedly didn’t have much experience in animation, Xavier delivered well.
The animation studio FilmArt was established, followed by the debut of another studio, Lensamation three years later. The rise of the use of animation in the country led to the founding of these studios which in turn led to training opportunities in animation, cementing the field as a career path locally. (“I want to make cartoons when I grow up!” “What, shameful! No more TV!”) Lensamation was contracted into certain processes for Japanese companies, the long term effects being that anime became a set style in Malaysia for about ten years.
Similarly hand-drawn animated shorts were released, two more “Sang Kancil” adventures, along with “Gagak yang Bijak”, “Arnab yang Sombong”, and “Singa yang Haloba”. Hassan Abd. Muthalib, who has since written extensively on the subject in “A Brief History – Malaysian Animation”, had written and directed the five aforementioned animations.
Animation began to creep into the opening sequences of non-animated movies produced in Malaysia under Hassan Abd. Muthalib. FilmArt worked on animated movie titles until the 2000s. (Could anyone today imagine a movie title that wasn’t animated? Most these days take up a quarter of the movie!)
The first local animated series hit the TV screens in the form of Usop Sontorian. Muthalib credits this as the true building block of the local animation industry, manifesting in jobs for artists and a new path for art and animation graduates. (“I want to make cartoons when I grow up!” “Oh girl, it is much more than making cartoons… it is not just magic, you know!”)
The first animated feature film, Silat Lagenda, was produced. It took three years and the animation was done in Indonesia, while certain backgrounds were painted in the Philippines. After all, what strengthens international ties more than slaving over a work of art?
Among other original storylines in local animation, a great stride was taken in the production of Anak-anak Sidek, from Pengedaran JAS. (Who doesn’t remember those Sidek comics?) It featured real-life badminton stars, the Sidek brothers. The plot was centered on their childhood and badminton training,and the character design was somewhat different than previous styles; making this popular among local audiences.
The first computer-animated animation was the film “Nien Resurrection”, heralding the use of digital technology in production houses. However, 3D elements had been in use already in the late 1900s, namely by Kamn Ismail in the “Keluang Man” series. “Skyland” was the second effort at digitized animation and sold well in Hong Kong; although labels on the product claimed that they were made in Japan, according to Muthalib.
The animated show “Upin and Ipin” was launched on local channel TV9 as a holiday special. The series went on to succeed eight seasons, debuting internationally on Disney Channel Asia, and becoming a household name. (Seriously, there can’t be a single Malaysian who’s not heard the name “Upin and Ipin” carried on the wind, whispered in the trees or printed on childrens’ schoolbags!)
“Saladin: The Animated Series” debuted, and took Malaysian animation to a higher level globally. Prodced by the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the show gained recognition in awards shows in both Korea and Japan. The same year, “Geng: The Adventure Begins” was launched as an accompaniment to “Upin and Ipin”.
Since 1995, more than 130 animation projects were done in Malaysia, with a breakdown of over 120 animated series, six feature films, and three feature length, direct-to-video movies. International film markets were utilized in selling the series, and local studios became involved in international collaborations. This year also marked the first broadcast of “BoBoiBoy”, an animated series produced by Animonsta Studios, which had a suitably modern feel and unique storyline. The show spanned three seasons for five years.
Glue Studios released “Rimba Racer” (which had launched in December the previous year) on TV3. Featuring an original plotline, a sharp style and vivid characters, thirteen initial episodes soon proved too little for fans of the show.
“BoBoiBoy: The Movie” was released in early March, garnering much success after clever advertising and the anticipation of the original series hitting the big screen. It is said to be the biggest success in the local animation industry thus far.
With clear-cut animation and promising storyline (heroes, villains, and double lives), “Ejen Ali” has very recently debuted on television. Wau Productions are behind this latest venture into animation, and we have yet to see just how much “Ejen Ali” manages to “wau” us.
These highlights of local animation are a testament not only to the growth of the field, but to the advancement of Malaysia. The animation industry has certainly not fallen behind in global development.