Johan Nawawi tells Siti Syameen Md Khalili about his foray into the creative industry
JOHAN Nawawi is in a creative mood again. No, he’s not composing a music album this time. Instead, the award-winning composer is busy working on a made-for-TV musical animation series.
Conceptualised after many brainstorming sessions and scripted by his wife, singer Nora, the project is named Ummi... Ceritalah Pada Kami (UCPK). The 26-episode animation series, which is authored in 3-D, high definition format, features female icon Ummi who tells her children stories derived from the Quran.
Each episode lasts 22 minutes during which the characters sing, making the animation series a musical journey for everyone in the family to enjoy.
HOW IT STARTED
Johan’s venture into the creative industry began in 1999, when he started Cybermusic Asia, an MSC Status company. Cybermusic Asia was aimed at bringing Malaysian songs abroad using the reach of the Internet.
“At that time, there were no iTunes or YouTube. What we wanted to do was a little too ahead of its time, so people did not understand us — we failed to get funding, but soon after, we saw things like MP3.com emerging. We were then quite frustrated at not being able to do something like that. I’m happy to hear people like Yuna and Zee Avi being able to create waves abroad,” says Johan.
Yet the company was not without its own technological milestone. In 1998, together with Telekom Malaysia (TM), Cybermusic Asia hosted a web-streaming session for Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM), the first of its kind in this region.
“We were the second outfit to do it in the world after the Grammy (Awards). The company also founded and maintained the website for AIM (www.aim.com.my).”
His next cyber-venture was xsmusic.com. “At that time, TM had about 100,000 subscribers and we managed to get 15,000 to 20,000 users for this site. We hosted an audio directory powered by the RealPlayer engine where visitors can listen to our tracks, but not download them. Instead they can order albums online, send us the cheque and we send their orders through the post. In those days we manually inserted one CD after another into mail parcels. We had
Raihan’s album as part of our library and it did very well.”
In 2002, Johan started Amacam.com where its offering comprises events, gigs and CD selling. He also played an important role in making startups like Bluehyppo Music and Gua.com.my come to life.
Three years ago, Johan came up with the idea for an Islamic musical 3-D animation series.
“It was after much frustration. Nora and I wanted to buy reading and learning material for our children, but found out that there was not much edutainment content that also fulfilled the Islamic way of life,” he says.
“We decided to go ahead with the animation project. It also allows me to continue writing songs.”
MAKING OF UMMI
To hasten production, Johan roped in a friend, Jeffri Sani, to help out. “Jeffri is a Berklee graduate and has been involved in animation and CGI for nearly 20 years. It took us years to complete the 26 episodes, but if it is not Toy Story or something of that level, then we might as well not release it,” says Johan who says the animation team now numbers 20.
Besides being visually entertaining and exposing young viewers to Islamic values, UCPK’s audio appeal comes from Johan, who included tracks in genres such as pop, hip hop and contemporary. “I don’t believe Islamic songs should all sound like nasyid,” says Johan, who spends hours running his fingers on the keyboard and tweaking tunes using LogicPro wares in his bungalow studio in Petaling Jaya.
His songs were sang by Nora and Voices Of Ummi (VOU) which include their children — Alif Johan, 12, who also voiced the character Alif in the series and Putri Dahlia Johan, 7. Aiman Abbas, 14, Hana Hamdan, 11 and Jihad Hamdan, 8, completes VOU’s line-up.
“We wanted to audition for voice talents, but after much thought, we believed it was easier to get our children, nephews and niece involved. Now that the kids are also in synch with Nora and I, I feel they’re growing bigger even faster,” adds Johan.
In coming up with UCPK, audio is Johan’s main realm. “The audio part is my responsibility, and I got it done early. Nora suggested since we’ve got all the tracks ready, why not bind them into a full album for release? So the songs hit the market eight months ago in August, way before the animation series. The bonus that came out of this was VOU.
“VOU, despite being an accidental project, is famous in its own right and now, event organisers who want Nora as the main act also asks for VOU to be featured as well.
“Working with my children and their cousins is not like working with adults or professionals. They were willing to camp out at the studio during school holidays but we often have to take them out for a treat,” says Johan who says the home-like environment of Hud Hud Media Studio in PJ makes the children more comfortable.
“With the audio part completed and released, I was worried about getting the animation done. Along the way, the song Pedoman (one of the main tracks in UCPK) won AIM award for Best Nasyid Song, and its video received the Nasyeed.com’s award for Best Video. We’ve had repeat orders for the VOU album,” adds Johan.
UCPK the series has also received the NEF-Awani ICT Awards 2011 for Best Animation/Games.
Like many other animation outfits in the country, Hud Hud Media welcomes partners for its plans to take Ummi and the rest of the UCPK characters to the next level.
Johan says: “When we created Ummi, we wanted her to be an icon with a mission. There are many ways we can take Ummi to the next level, but we need partners to not only provide funds but also to share their expertise.”
Hud Hud Media is collaborating with social and mobile games producer, Xadira Games, to develop Ummi apps for the iOS and Android platform. “We are also looking for partners in merchandising, print, character endorsement and co-branding for Syariah compliant products and services.”
Encouraged by how all the elements in his life are coalescing, Johan is excited to see the series on TV airwaves finally. “The ultimate aim of doing animation is to be broadcast. If not, it is just like writing a song that is not recorded. The challenge is to maintain creativity and productivity, and to get resources. It hasn’t been a walk in the park, but the lessons make us more resolute in our ventures,” he adds.
Ummi... Ceritalah Pada Kami will debut on TV3 on July 27.