From Animation To Life

Benny Razali met up with Nelysa Nurshafira Mohd Roslan, a lecturer from the Animation department of Faculty of Film, Theatre & Animation, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) to have a little insight about the local animation industry.
Benny Razali

The Malaysian animation industry began in 1946 when The Malayan Film Unit – which was later renamed to Filem Negara Malaysia – was created for the purpose of producing documentaries and service announcements of the government. Since then, the industry has been slowly growing from the animated shorts of Hikayat Sang Kancil to Usop Sontorian that coloured our childhood, and now our kids are growing up with Upin & Ipin and BoBoiBoy.

For an animation enthusiast since her younger days, having been observing the growth of this industry helped Nelysa to make up her mind about starting a career in it. A graduate of Master in Animation & Visual Effects from University of Dundee, Scotland, she walked me through her experience and thoughts of the industry that we have today.

Entering the industry

After completing her Bachelor of Creative Technology (Animation and Screen Technology) in 2014, Nelysa went to work with Creatvtoon Studios as Junior VFX Animator for one and a half year. Her project involved an animation series, Trucktown from the Canadian animation company, Nelvana. It was a great opportunity for her, but over time, she felt less and less belonged to this line of work.

‘The animation industry is based on projects. You usually stay with the company for as long as the project takes to finish, and then you’ll be shuttled somewhere else. And I realised that I wasn’t prepared for that,’ she explained.

Looking for a change of career, she looked for an option on how to become an academic and went back to her alma mater for a chance. She applied for a scholarship under Skim Tenaga Pengajar Muda UiTM and went for the multiple stages interview, and managed to pass.

‘I already prepared a long list of universities I wanted to apply to, but I still think it’s a miracle that University of Dundee finally accepted my application,’ she added with a laugh.

Imagine realistically

Nelysa believes that while passion should be a drive to become a good animator, it shouldn’t be the only ultimate reason for one to jump into this field.

‘Animation is a very wide field; the three main categories within are 2D, 3D and visual effects. You don’t simply enter the animation field just to become an animator. For instance, underneath 3D alone you can become a 3D animator, a rigger, a modeller or a background artist, just to name a few.

The moment you begin your course in animation, whichever specialisation you are in, you have to know which one of these categories is your interest, and you have to plan your path so that you’ll be ready for the industry.

If we only follow our passion without really knowing the pipeline of our interest, it’s going to be so hard for you to find a job that you will be good at,’ she added thoughtfully.

Sensitivity of your audience

‘To become an animator is to become a storyteller,’ she muttered, ‘and it takes a lot to come up with a storyline that won’t offend anyone in your audience.’

She shared a story of the time when she was still proposing her idea for her final project during her postgraduate in Dundee.

‘In the beginning, I came up with a dark storyline. It was about a soul who struggled to escape a very dark place, it came out as a water droplet into our world. But then it still got stepped on, splashed everywhere and disappeared.

One of the panel was offended with my storyline because it reminded them of a dog they once had. They believed that once a beloved pet passed on, it would be in a happier place, but my story suggested that their soul will still suffer even after they’re gone, and that got me thinking.

It’s true that your storyline comes from your own perspective, but each person who watch your animation will have their own story connected to it in some kind of way, so it is very important to be very careful with your plot.’

The growth of an industry

Nelysa believes that the local animation industry has the potential to achieve Hollywood standards in another few years, but before that can happen there need to be a number of improvements at work.

‘It’s going to take some time for us to build up the animation industry in Malaysia, as it is a costly industry since the software and gadgets used are high-spec. It’s also hard to find the professionals with the passion, skills and visions needed for animation. But it’s not impossible.

The faculty recently had a talk with Les’ Copaque Production, and they shared with us the making process of their latest movie production, Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal which took five years to complete. They showed us the first ten minutes of the animation, and I was impressed to see the quality of animation and plot. 

I think if we’re talking about technicalities, Malaysia has quite a number of companies and experts in animation that even made it as far as Hollywood. But even so, we’re still lacking the planning for the storyline. 

We need to really teach our current students on how to create a good storyline. A project can only be visualised once we pin down the right storyline for it and it’s not an easy process. Take it from me; I took the whole semester to come up with a one-minute storyline for my master’s degree project. it’s hard to come up with a storyline that would cater to the interest of the general audience.

But right now, especially with animation companies like Les’ Copaque, Lemon Sky, Digital Durian, Inspidea and Creatvtoon Studios on our shores, I think we are already on the right track towards the growth of this industry in Malaysia,’ she ended with a smile.