Pushing the boundaries to make animation for all ages

KUALA LUMPUR: Josee, the character in the Japanese animated film Josee, The Tiger And The Fish, revolves around a teenager who uses a wheelchair and wants to live life to the fullest.

The film allows the viewer to follow their journey and shows that realism – or slice of life – can exist in animated works. This kind of slice of life in anime is becoming popular because it is more accessible and appeals to people of all ages.

However, the situation in Malaysia is quite different from that of other countries because most of the anime series or movies here are aimed at children.

Brainy Bones Studio General Manager Muhammad Hilmi Ismail said anime evolved and expanded from action cartoons to realism because those who started watching it young grew up. In Malaysia, there is a bit of a conflict between animation studios, investors and customers.

“For example, the slice-of-life animation is famous, but it’s not shown on Malaysian TV. The focus here is on children’s stories like Pokemon, Beyblade and superhero stories.

“This is the cause of the conflict; many still think animation is just for kids,” he told Bernama.

Many people are involved in the production of an anime series besides the animators.

“There are audiences who want to watch more than children’s animation, people who still think cartoons are for kids, producers and customers who will show the cartoon.

“Maybe we can’t control this group because they hold the purse strings. This is one of our difficulties because we do not sell directly to the end user (audience). It is sold to a producer, TV channel or partner unless we have the funds to publish it on an open source platform like YouTube,” said Muhammad Hilmi.

Many people don’t know that animation is used to convey meaningful messages, like Kring!, a silent animated short from Brainy Bones Studio.

“Some of our friends watched Kring! with their children and tears rolled down their cheeks. It had a lot of impact but failed to reach a wide audience due to a norm that is hard to change and requires initiative,” he said.

Kring! won the award for Best Animated Short Film at the 4th International Film Festival On Disabilities 2020 in Lyon, France.

Muhammad Hilmi, who has been involved in the industry for eight years, said producers play an important role – and must be brave – in creating full-length animated works that can be promoted on channels like Netflix.

“But I think it might be difficult to get 100% acceptance of a cartoon that’s not just for kids, because there’s going to be people who can’t accept it and the stigma – and remarks like ‘you’re an adult and you’re still ‘watching cartoons’ – persist,” he said.

The President of the Malaysian Animation Educators Society (PPAM), Assoc Prof Ahamad Tarmizi Azizan, said that many initiatives have been taken since the establishment of the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation and by the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia to support the industry.

“But many can’t achieve sustainability because market acceptance hasn’t increased like in the West due to a small population.

“Demand and awareness are also very low, while the cost of producing an animated work is very high,” he said.

Professor Ahamad noted that the motto of PPAM is “Animation for All”, which means that it caters to all ages and all walks of life.

He suggested that animation be taught from primary level. Graphic designer Nik Mohd Hasmazi Hassan said research is key to creating on-topic storylines.

“The legendary P. Ramlee said that a director he looked up to and considered a mentor was Akira Kurosawa, Japan’s top black and white filmmaker.

“After studying Kurosawa’s works for a month, I finally understood why P. Ramlee considered him a legend. We were introduced to Japanese warriors through Seven Samurai,” he said during an animation webinar.

Nik, better known as Ihsan, said simple stories become extraordinary because the research is thorough.

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