HASSAN Abd Muthalib readily admits that he was not the brightest of students in class. In fact he didn’t have much interest in reading. His favourite subject was drawing, but he did not really excel in that too.
“My art teacher even told me not to take the subject for exam,” he says, recalling his days at the George Town Secondary School in Penang.
But who would have thought that the boy from Alor Star, who grew up in Penang, would one day become Malaysia’s father of animation, a recognition he received in 2012 from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
If you are looking for someone who knows everything about animation and has vast experience in the Malaysian animation industry from its early days, Hassan (or Pak Hassan, as he is fondly known), is your man.
The 71-year-old self-taught artist, designer and filmmaker has been involved in the animation and film industry for 52 years. Despite his age, he is still active today as a film critique, historian and academician.
The older generation will probably be familiar with the Sang Kancil series shown on RTM in the 80s.
The funny and educational animation, running from four to six minutes, focused on Sang Kancil with his friends such as the monkey, rabbit, crocodiles and other animals.
Societal values were well presented in these short clips, and Pak Hassan was the main man behind them. It was among the first locally-made animation series, back when the local animation industry was practically non-existent.
The Sang Kancil series was not his first. Prior to that, Pak Hassan did several short educational animation clips for Filem Negara, such as Nyamuk Aedes, Jimatkan Elektrik and Anti Dadah.
In those days, the Government used television and colourful animation to educate the public.
Pak Hassan also directed Silat Legenda, Malaysia’s first animated feature film, back in 1995.
A love for his craft also prompted him to pen books and journals, both locally and overseas.
Malaysian Cinema In A Bottle, published in 2013, is a historical effort and an analysis of Malaysian cinema from the first film screening in 1897 right up to 2013. His latest book is From Mouse Deer To Mouse: 70 Years Of Malaysian Animation.
Pak Hassan has conducted film and animation workshops on story development and visual storytelling in many countries and is also a jury member for numerous local and international film festivals.
For his contributions, he was awarded an Honorary Masters in Creative Technology by UiTM.
How did a kampung boy with no formal education in animation and film industry become so successful in animation, so much so that his skills are recognised not just in Malaysia but in countries such as Norway, India, Sudan, Brunei and Singapore?
THE EARLY YEARS
Unlike today’s animators and filmmakers who are aided by high-tech computers and software, Pak Hassan only had the passion and the will to learn and explore new things when he first started doing animation in the early 70s.
“As I said earlier, I was not good at drawing in school but due to my interest, I learnt by copying drawings. After a while, I became good at it,” he says.
The animation work that Pak Hassan used to do back in the 70s and 80s are nothing like those today, he adds.
“Everything was done manually. It was a painstaking process. The artwork was done by hand from paper to plastic. We made outlines and used paint to colour the artwork,” he says.
The Sang Kancil clips, which runs for mere minutes, took six months to complete. These days, they can probably be completed in a couple of days.
Pak Hassan’s drawing and painting skills didn’t come from the animation work but from his previous job before he became an animator.
“I first came to Kuala Lumpur in 1964 and got a job at Robinson Department Store, doing window display and commercial art,” he says.
Incidentally, Robinson was the only department store in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur at that time.
In 1968, he joined Filem Negara Malaysia, drawing film titles. Four years later, Pak Hassan got the opportunity to do animation.
“At that time, I had no clue what animation was. I learnt through trial and error. The short animation films include those for the Nyamuk Aedes campaign, Jimatkan Elektrik, Anti Sorok and Gas Silinder. At that time, Filem Negara was very popular with these short films,” he says.
THE NEXT STAGE
After his initial success, Pak Hassan was given the task to make the Sang Kancil series.
“At that time, I was the head of creative design. Our efforts sparked the creative animation industry in Malaysia,” he says.
He borrowed the idea from the Sang Kancil folklore but made adjustments to inject humour.
When the digital era came in 1995, Pak Hassan was asked to direct Malaysia’s first animation film, Silat Lagenda. It took three years to complete.
“It’s part digital with the drawings all done by hand,” he says.
This was the first time locally that computers were used to make an animation film.
“The drawing part was still done by hand. We only used computers to scan the artwork and add in colours,” he says.
THE ANIMATION EDGE
Having been in the industry for so many years, Pak Hassan can tell what’s good and lacking in today’s animation industry.
“Malaysia has progressed well in the global animation industry and become one of the big names for major production houses looking for animators. We also have big successful productions like Upin & Ipin, Boboboy, Chuck Chicken, Hogie the Globehopper, etc,” he says.
“Organisations like MDeC have also been playing a big role in boosting the animation industry here,” he adds.
“These days, the animation industry is unlike what it was during my time. Many youngsters today choose the entertainment industry as a career — going into animation, multimedia, film-making, etc.
“We need to have an eco-system like what MDeC has done — get players/start-ups to get involved, provide guidance and monitor the progress until the global stage,” he says.
Pak Hassan stresses the importance of story-telling and film language in animation.
“Attention must be given to story development, scriptwriting and visual development rather than production design. This will give more impact to the animation,” he says.
“This is what’s lacking in many animators and directors today,” he adds.
“Film has its own language. Animators need to learn and understand this, especially on the visual story-telling.”