#SHOWBIZ: Finas on road to advancing film industry

ART, science and technology are three inseparable concepts.

Similar to how the elegance of the Petronas Twin Towers is a culmination of design and engineering, a simple chair also has its form and function.

"We, at Finas, strongly believe this and are always looking at ways to develop the industry in a more progressive and advanced manner," said Datuk Azmir Saifuddin Mutalib, who is National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) chief executive officer, in a recent interview.

These days, the hot topic is extended reality (XR), which encapsulates a variety of technology, including augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality and artificial intelligence (AI).

"In terms of film and broadcasting, these technologies can be utilised within the three stages of pre-production, production and post-production.

"With AI, for example, many have been using ChatGPT to prepare early script drafts as required by the director or producer.

"The production phase sees the use of a robotic arm-controlled software to capture frames and angles with ease and speed during filming.

"And at the post-production stage, there are many digital plugins that can be used to edit and include visual effects that are matched to the movements."

Azmir said these advances have sped up the process immensely, thereby saving cost and allowing for more creative storytelling through film.

"We know when talking about AI, people in the industry are worried about losing jobs.

"There are pros and cons, but there are more positives as advancements in tech will see the creation of new jobs."

He added that national broadcaster Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) has also been utilising tech and AI at its latest auditorium in Angkasapuri Kota Media, Kuala Lumpur.

"Live telecasts of concerts are able to include the XR component at the new studio using giant LED screens.

"There's also an XR studio for film and TV production at the Iskandar Malaysia Studios facility in Johor."

Azmir said there are plans to build another XR studio at the Finas building in Hulu Klang, specifically for film, advertising and broadcasting.

"Instead of the blue or green screen of old, the backgrounds on film sets with LED screens will present images that flow in tandem with camera movements and angles that result in realistic positioning and lighting.

"All of this is done automatically with software driven by the Unreal game engine, which allows for lots of flexibility in the production process.

"Another facility in Finas that will be announced soon is the upgrade of our soundstage studio to enable sound mixing and production in the Dolby Atmos format.

"According to the Dolby branch in Singapore, this new one at Finas would be the most advanced system in Southeast Asia."

Azmir said he has met tech providers and partners such as Dolby and Avid, which specialises in digital non-linear editing systems, and will be talking to high-end camera systems provider Arri.

"We are now fostering a synergetic collaboration with these tech providers.

"One of the things we discussed was the training of Finas staff and RTM crews to raise competency levels to international standards, and this includes getting certification from these top companies.

"Another key point is long-term investment in research and development, where we have met with various universities here that have mass communication, technology and engineering faculties.

"This will allow us to work closely with the students and professors conducting research in relevant areas," he explained.

"A third point is leveraging our network of tech partners, who have clients worldwide, to spark interest in utilising the facilities and talent here in Malaysia. So indirectly, we can bring jobs here."

Azmir said Finas chairman Datuk Kamil Othman and the board have outlined three strategic goals that are ongoing.

"One is the recalibration of Finas so that it remains relevant in the future despite the challenges posed by digital tech.

"Two, the development of the film industry itself, to make it economically driven through consistent business and high box office takings.

"And finally, human capital development through training to ensure that Malaysia becomes an advanced industry," he added.

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