Thursday, 4 September 2014

'Ribbit' is one giant leap for Malaysia's animation industry

Kartun Studios' animated movie about a frog breaks new ground.

THE recent launch of Kartun Studios’ first 3D animated film Ribbit in Petaling Jaya, Selangor was a rapturous affair. It’s all thanks to the presence of popular comedian Johan Raja Lawak, who provides the voice for the titular character in the Bahasa Malaysia version. The funny guy of Raja Lawak fame joked with Ribbit director Chuck Powers about his so-called prowess in English.

“I’m afraid to speak in English because then you (Chuck) wouldn’t understand because it’s so deep,” he said to the media at the launch.

But for KRU Group CEO and executive president Norman Abdul Halim, Ribbit is Kartun Studios serious entry into the local animation industry.

“Making high-quality animation costs a lot of money. Take for example Disney’s Frozen. For a 90-minute animated film, it was an investment that cost US$150mil (RM475mil). We know that we don’t have that kind of financial resource here. But we do have the talent,” said Norman.

KRU Group CEO and executive president Norman Abdul Halim (left) and Ribbit director Chuck Powers (right) with voice talents Johan Raja Lawak and The Glam Girls.
KRU Group CEO and executive president Norman Abdul Halim (left) and Ribbit director Chuck Powers (right) with voice talents Johan Raja Lawak and The Glam Girls.

Launched in June, Kartun Studios is an animation arm under KRU Group.

Set in the Amazon rainforest, Ribbit tells the story of a frog who believes he is a prince trapped in an amphibian body. Together with friend Sandy – a flying squirrel – they go off on a journey to help Ribbit discover his true self. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy actor Sean Astin voices Ribbit in the English version. The film also features voices of English actor Tim Curry and comedian Russell Peters.

“The story is essentially about someone trying to find their true identity. I feel that most kids these days just want to go out and be someone else. Using that as an inspiration, we wanted to do a story that will appeal to the global market,” explained Norman.

Road trip: Directed by Chuck Powers, Ribbit tells the story of a frog who goes on an adventure to discover his true self. He takes good friend Sandy - a flying squirrel - along for the ride.
Road trip: Directed by Chuck Powers, Ribbit tells the story of a frog who goes on an adventure to discover his true self. He takes good friend Sandy, a flying squirrel, along for the ride.

The idea for Ribbit was first conceived five years ago. Powers fondly remembers meeting Norman for the first time in 2009 and how he immediately said “yes” to the project.

“I had previously done audio work for Saladin: The Animated Series. One day, I got a call from one of Norman’s people and we set up a discussion. Norman had this idea about a frog with an identity crisis. There was no script but I thought the concept was amazing and I can work from there. I was sold,” said Powers, who is also the chief creative officer of Kartun Studios.

Norman said turning Ribbit from an idea to an actual animated film in 3D was itself “a journey”.

He added: “But we took it one step at a time. We did some of the post-production in India, we had to do some of the voicework in Los Angeles, Texas and even Switzerland. It’s truly a global project. We also had the financial support from the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).”

Powers added that the film truly belongs to Malaysia: “It was conceived, written, character- and background-designed in Malaysia. We started with pre-production in Malaysia. Don’t doubt for a second that this is a Malaysian film.”

To dub Ribbit in Bahasa Malaysia, Norman enlisted the expertise of film director Mamat Khalid.

“Mamat Khalid helped us to adapt the script from English to Bahasa Malaysia. In the English version, Ribbit meets animals who speak in different accents. For example, there is a spider who speaks with a French accent and a crocodile with an Australian accent. In the Bahasa Malaysia version, these characters will be speaking in different local dialects. We’ve got (singer and actor) Awie doing a voiceover in the Perak dialect.” Norman explained.

He also revealed that it took him a long time to get Johan Raja Lawak to agree to join the project but it was worth the wait.

“Johan is a very busy man. We had a lot of meetings and finally, we said it will just take two days to do the voiceover work. It was fun to have him voice Ribbit. He was able to improvise and deliver great lines on the spot. He even inserted a Hindustan song into his lines!” While Johan quipped: “It’s a good thing Mamat Khalid was there to pantau (monitor) my progress in the studio.”

The Bahasa Malaysia version also features the voices of Elfira Loy, Datuk Aznil Haji Nawawi, Izzue Islam and Jihan Musa.

Ribbit already has an award for Best Family Film at the Niagara Integrated Film Festival in Canada.

“When we produce films, we didn’t expect to win awards or anything. We just hope to make decent returns on investments, cover our cost and make a little bit of money. We’re in it for the long haul.

“Even if we don’t recoup from our first venture, we believe our next few films will be profitable projects. We must look at the bigger picture,” Norman said.

In 1998, Norman and his brothers Yusry and Edry of KRU produced the soundtrack for Silat Lagenda. It was, then, dubbed as Malaysia’s first animated film. Today, Norman is spearheading his own animated film.

“We started out as KRU in 1992. From being a singer, songwriter and producer in a hip-hop group to doing films like Vikingdom (released last year) and Ribbit ... it’s been an amazing journey.”

Ribbit opens in cinemas nationwide today (Sept 4).

Related story:

The evolution of Malaysia’s animation industry

Tags / Keywords: KRU , Norman Abdul Halim , Ribbit


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