WHILE most businesses venture abroad after establishing themselves in the local market, it was the other way around for home-grown animation production company Inspidea Sdn Bhd.
It was only three months ago that the company managed to secure its first local deal although it has worked with several major international broadcast media over the last four years.
Founders Andrew Ooi Kok Hong and C.J. See, however, did not see it as a choice.
“The domestic animation industry is still at its infancy stage, as demand is mainly driven by domestic consumption,” Ooi said, noting that local broadcasting companies were also selective in terms of content.
See said overseas clients focused on the merits of a product if it fitted into their objectives, while the local market looked at the product's origin.
“This, therefore, sets high expectation on the part of local content providers. That drove us to operate overseas. Moreover, Johan (referring to Inspidea’s first animation) is a pre-school programme and viewing time for such item is limited here,” Ooi added.
Johan, the Young Scientist features an enthusiastic six-year-old and his adventure in learning science.
Bringing local content to the international market, however, was not an easy task.
“Malaysia is not known as a content provider. We had to convince people to look beyond where we come from and accept our products. We didn’t have a reference; it was our first time venture,” Ooi said of the business that started in 2002.
While producing Johan, the company also marketed itself at overseas exhibitions and trade shows, See said, adding that the name Johan was picked for its cross-cultural connotation, which made it easier for the audience to identify with.
While the spelling remained the same, the pronunciation was different in different languages, Ooi said.
“In Chinese, it is pronounced as Xiao Han and in Europe, Yohan,” See said, adding that Johan got its first break from Dubai.
“The pre-sale was important. It proved that locally-made animation did appeal to an overseas audience,” he said.
Subsequently, Johan travelled to Indonesia, Brunei, Portugal, Estonia, the Middle East and the US and was translated into French, Estonian, Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Bahasa Indonesia.
After having successfully produced 26 12-minute episodes of Johan, Ooi said the company was now considering making the second season comprising another 26 episodes.
Inspidea’s second animation was Mustang Mama, which was recently featured on Ntv7 during the World Cup season.
“Johan helped us gauge the market. We went on to develop Mustang Mama, which was launched in March,” Ooi said, adding that the animation featured a grandmother who enjoyed sports such as football. The character of Mustang Mama proves that age is no barrier to achieving dreams.
Ooi said the company encountered a lot of obstacles when developing the animation.
“The general perception is that viewers do not like elderly characters and that animation usually focuses on young characters,” he said.
The response to Mustang Mama was positive, attracting major media like TFI France, Nicklelodeon (Italy), AXN (Central Europe), Cartoon Network of Japan, YLE (Finland) and Air Macau to purchase the 26 two-minute episodes.
Noting that the company was growing organically, Ooi said it would continue to focus on expanding products, and building a record and a strong presence in the global content market.
He added that besides broadcast media, the company also planned to penetrate the mobile, publishing and print markets.
While the business seems to be sailing smoothly presently, it had not always been the case.
Inspidea, which was actually set up by four persons, experienced a setback when two of its members decided to leave after less than two years of operation but Ooi and See decided to stay on.
“We wanted to create a product that is better than what the market has. We felt that we could raise the benchmark and that vision kept us hanging on,” See said.
Ooi added that their passion, persistence and patience were their driving force in keeping the company together.
“We had already burned our bridges so we could only look forward,'' he said, adding that his partnership with See was complementary, as he was involved in project management while See had a finance background.
“We both understand our roles and what we contribute to the company. We are also each other’s worst critics,” he said.
Both him and See believe that the local content industry has a lot of growth potential, if it is nurtured properly. Cartoons or animation could be a cultural export, Ooi said, adding that the country was not short of talent but most were involved in other sectors.
“Being involved in animation is a respectable profession. Other countries are far ahead in terms of content development as it depends on how society appreciates content,” See said, adding that Inspidea was constantly looking for talents to work together.
Their family members are Ooi and See’s biggest fans, as they provide not just the moral support but encouraged the young entrepreneurs mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Needless to say, one of the favourite hobbies of the two 35-year-olds is watching cartoons.
Related Story:Firm gets MDC grant to produce ‘Drop Dead’