Geng the animation adventure begins

Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula, the first feature length animation to hit the silver screen in Malaysia raked in the second highest ticket collection in the history of Malaysian film. The film is notable as it is the first 3D animated feature film in Malaysia, a fact recognised by the Malaysia Book of Records. The project began in January 2006 with the development of the main characters in the story, leading to the birth of mischievous twin brothers Upin and Ipin who love to run around finding excitement wherever they go. The project hit a roadblock when the team realised that they were hampered by limitations in the artists’ experience, knowledge and resources. To achieve success, they needed to find the right balance between high-technology animation and a good story with compelling characters, culture and realistic environment. They spent a year researching pre-production and technologies required for the production and produced a pilot of the film to gain some preliminary feedback. To the surprise and joy of the team, the short film won three awards at the Short Film Award 2006 for best direction, animation and overall categories. Armed with these accolades, Les’ Copaque proceeded to win the confidence of sponsors, including the Malaysian Development Corporation who invested in the project. The pilot also gained interest from TV9, a local terrestrial television station who contracted Les’ Copaque to produce a mini-series for children named after the twins. The Upin & Ipin series quickly achieved a loyal following, which led to TV9 investing in a continued series. Eventually, viewership of the series came in second after the most-watched Japanese cartoon series, Doraemon. The process of designing and developing the characters and scenes was time-consuming. Modeling, a process to form the characters and objects in still format, required at least a day per character. Rigging, or specifying the internal skeletal structure and defining the motion, typically takes up another day per character. Rendering is another lengthy process using an ordinary computer. Additionally, there were several other mandatory processes required to ensure quality film, including texturing, animation, compositing, audio, editing, and more. “We understood that we had a relatively low budget, but we knew we couldn’t compromise on the quality of output,” Tuan Haji Burhanuddin, managing director of Les’ Copaque. Art director Safwan Ab Karim selected Autodesk Maya to help fulfill the project as he was already familiar with the software features and functionalities back in school. The open architecture of Autodesk Maya, combined with an industry-leading suite of 3D visual effects, computer graphics, and character animation tools enabled the team to realise their creative vision for the film. Over six months, Les’ Copaque successfully assimilated Autodesk Maya into its production operations and soon, their animators were able to start work. During their initial research, the team developed their proprietary pipeline that not only improved the efficiency of design and animation, but also helped organise files and define the identity of 3D animation products created by Les’ Copaque. Throughout the process of developing Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula, they found that Autodesk Maya worked consistently well with the pipeline they developed. Tuan Haji Burhanuddin added, “We believe that Autodesk Maya is one of the best software tools for movies. The plus point was that our team was already familiar with it. The software is flexible and it worked seamlessly with our pipeline, and we clearly saw the results and value right from the start.” Autodesk Maya allowed them to intuitively help the team discover ways to simplify their job. Maya’s capability with its flexibility and shortcuts allowed faster results, without compromising on quality. Safwan commented, “The software was open and seamlessly integrated with the script we developed for rigging, which significantly cut the total time required for modeling and rigging combined by more than half.” A movie like Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula typically requires about a year to render. Using Autodesk Mental Ray at the Render Farm hosted by MIMOS helped reduce rendering time to about four months. Another advantage of using Autodesk Maya was that the animators, designers and artists (mostly local graduates) were already familiar with the software. They were familiar with Maya and did not have to pursue rigorous training before getting down to work. The project was completed in September 2008, with a total budget of RM4million (USD1.15 million). The film was completed six months ahead of schedule; savings gained from the collective amount of time saved especially from the modeling, rigging and rendering processes. Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula officially opened for screening on 12 February 2009, at 90 percent of its accorded budget, and with half the time and resources required for a typical Hollywood animated feature film. Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula recorded box office collection of RM6.3 million from a total of 813,604 viewers. Not resting on its laurels, the company is now looking to further expand its operations and teams in Malaysia, focusing on discovering home-grown multimedia talents and spurring the animation industry in the country. Les’ Copaque aims to grow its organisation from a staff of 50 to 100 by the end of 2009. “Now is the time to grow the whole ecosystem for the country’s animation and multimedia industry. It is the right time to showcase to the world that Malaysia has the home-grown talent which makes us more competitive than our neighbours Thailand, India and Singapore. It is time to make this a key contributor to our economy,” said Tuan Haji Burhanuddin. As at January 2009, the company received opportunities from across the world, including co-production jobs from Los Angeles, Argentina and Australia. Locally, TV9 has signed Les’ Copaque for 42 new episodes of Upin & Ipin and another new 52-episode series with Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM).

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