3D Animation: The Next Generation

24 April 2018

In Malaysia, the popularity of local intellectual properties (IPs) like BoBoiBoy and Upin & Ipin signal a new era of Malaysian 3D animation focusing on child-friendly content. Get to know the studios at the forefront of this boom.

In 1978, Malaysia’s first animated short was completed: Hikayat Sang Kancil, a humble hand-drawn cartoon based on the classic Malay folktale. Fast-forward 40 years later, and the industry has evolved to produce world-class computer animated features for children, thanks to the proliferation of design colleges, video streaming, increased government support, and a few brave investors. We speak to three 3D animation studios in Malaysia that have found success in producing kid-friendly content.

Les Copaque
Les Copaque is often seen as the pioneer of Malaysian 3D animation. Best known for its 3D animated series, Upin & Ipin, the studio has released an additional three original IPs largely focused on local culture and folklore: Pada Zaman Dahulu (Once Upon a Time), Puteri (Princess), and DaDuDiDo.

Syed Nurfaiz Khalid Syed Ibrahim is the project and technical director at Les Copaque. A success story of local animation graduates, Faiz went to Universiti Kuala Lumpur’s Malaysian Institute of Information Technology to study animation. According to Faiz, the 3D animation industry started booming about the same time Les Copaque released their first 3D animated film, Geng: The Adventure Begins in 2009.

Before Geng, investors saw 3D animations as a big risk. "When you see 3D animation as a business in general, it’s very expensive, you don’t know if you’re going to get back your investment; they might invest 1 or 2 million [ringgit], they get back RM500,000 or RM50,000 – it had that track record. Lucky for us, our producers [Haji Burhanuddin Md. Radzi and Hajah Ainon Ariff] are crazy enough to try new things.”

Syed Nurfaiz Khalid Syed Ibrahim, the project and technical director at Les Copaque.

Les Copaque has grown quickly since its inception in 2005, and now employs close to 200 people. Upin & Ipin, a show about Malaysian twin brothers growing up in a kampung, is now screened in over 17 countries, and was the first Malaysian animated series to be picked up by Disney Channel Asia. With the guidance of its producers, Les Copaque has expanded beyond just animation; it now also hosts an annual three-day carnival, owns F&B outlets based on its IPs, and even has its very own Les Copaque Animation Academy (LCAA). In a few years, Les Copaque will also be launching one theme park in Malaysia and two in China.

Animonsta Studios

Founded by Nizam Razak, formerly of Les Copaque, Animonsta Studios is well-known for BoBoiBoy, a series that chronicles the adventures of a young boy and his friends as they battle against aliens invading Earth for coffee. A departure from the nostalgic Malaysian village setting of Upin & Ipin, BoBoiBoy takes place in an intergalactic universe that still pays homage to its Malaysian roots.

For brand and marketing head Faiz Zainal Aabidin, BoBoiBoy’s science fiction world has a universal appeal. "This is the beauty of BoBoiBoy: you cannot say he is Malay, Chinese or Indian. We target everybody,” says Faiz. “Even though the title is BoBoiBoy, the ratio of boys and girls watching the series is about 50:50.”

Faiz Zainal Aabidin, head of brand and marketing at Animonsta Studios.

It’s perhaps this inclusiveness that’s made BoBoiBoy so universally popular since its release in 2011. The IP has aired in close to 60 countries around the world, and the original Malay and English versions have been translated into multiple languages including Mandarin, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino and Indonesian. A subsequent animated feature, BoBoiBoy: The Movie, was released in 2016 in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and South Korea. In Malaysia, the film grossed RM16 million in the local box office.

Faiz believes that local education opportunities have helped make Malaysia a powerful animation hub. “In Southeast Asia we are the leading country in animation,” he says, “especially after the rise of a few universities such as Limkokwing. I think that’s why we can only see the real product of these graduates in another ten years."

For Faiz, Animonsta will keep growing beyond Malaysia. "We want to be a champion of kids’ content and products in Southeast Asia. We cannot stay here and be very comfortable."

Digital Durian
Digital Durian takes a different approach. Realising that most Malaysian competitors were targeting children older than six, the studio decided to create content for a pre-school audience.

In May 2014 Digital Durian uploaded its first YouTube video of a children’s sing-along featuring the characters of its IP, Didi & Friends. By December that year, the video received six million views. In 2015, the team signed a broadcasting deal with Astro, putting Didi & Friends on the small screen with a full series complete with plotlines and an extended cast of characters.

Today, the Didi & Friends YouTube channel has garnered 887,942 subscribers; Digital Durian even released a new IP, Omar & Hana last year. This March, the studio will be releasing its first movie, Didi & Friends’ Hora-Horey Concert.

Digital Durian credits much of its growth to government funding from bodies like the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC). After all, it was by winning an MDEC contest that they were able to get the RM50,000 to do their first trailer in 2012.

Sinan Ismail, CEO at Digital Durian.

“MDEC has nurtured us and the industry. Funds are one thing, but the exposure; they fly in broadcasters so we can pitch, they give us training so we can pitch, they bring us to markets,” says Sinan Ismail, CEO of Digital Durian.

"I think we have quite a few good Malaysian companies doing IPs and animation, but I think it’s still early, we’re not matured yet. It’s not that we can’t – we’re still learning the international game,” he says.

Sinan definitely sees the future of Digital Durian expanding outside of Malaysia. "The world should be the playing field,” he says, “In 2018, we’ll be in at least seven languages.”

While Malaysian 3D animation continues to grow and thrive, the animators involved are still in it for the kids. For Sinan, Digital Durian stays true to its vision of making people happy. “It’s not just about screen time, it’s about family bonding, it’s about reading, creating moments for kids and families, and [educating] young children.”

By Lily Jamaluddin
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi


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