THE creative industry in Malaysia has witnessed a remarkable growth over the years, with numerous talents making their mark in various fields.
Irwan Junaidy, a visionary entrepreneur and creative mind, embarked on a journey that began with a passion for architecture, detoured through the world of gaming and now making strides in the animation industry.
His path to success was anything but traditional. After completing his architecture studies in the UK, he pursued a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree for two years.
However, his true calling lay elsewhere. In 2001, he co-founded MYGO Gamers Online, a game company.
The decision was a bold one, involving the abandonment of his MPhil, but it was a move driven by an unwavering passion to create more than just buildings.
The early days of MYGO Gamers Online were marked by challenges in securing funding.
The tech landscape was promising, but financial support was not easily accessible. Nonetheless, they persevered and received offers from angel investors and venture capitalists, which enabled them to launch MYGO Gamers Online.
Yet, something was amiss.
Irwan felt the need to expand beyond games and his restless creative spirit led to the birth of R&D Studio. Registered in 2011 and operational from 2012, R&D Studio was the genesis of an exciting journey.
Starting From Scratch
Amid the global challenges faced by the entertainment industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic, R&D Studio navigated its own unique path. Irwan and his team focused on animation work, which was less affected by the restrictions that hampered live-action projects.
While some industry peers struggled, R&D Studio found its niche. However, being new entrants in the industry came with its own set of challenges.
The R&D Studio team, comprising 70% of individuals without formal entertainment industry background, had to learn on the job. They gleaned knowledge from their own projects, engaged with industry professionals and turned to resources like YouTube.
In essence, the company was built from the ground up, incorporating best practices from various sectors into its standard operating procedures.
R&D Studio, despite its initial lack of experience, embraced a project-based model commonly used in the live-action industry, which involves forming teams for specific projects and disbanding them once it concludes. They also incorporate lessons learned from the animation field such as a comprehensive pre-production period into live-action projects, enhancing their production processes.
Acknowledging their knowledge gaps, the R&D Studio team adopted a learning-oriented approach. They welcomed new ideas, corrected mistakes and stayed open to innovation.
However, Irwan identified two notable weaknesses in the local industry — story-telling and marketing.
Firstly, he pointed out the need for more sophisticated and comprehensive scriptwriting in the local industry, similar to the standards seen in Hollywood. Irwan and his team have committed to learning and improving their storytelling capabilities through projects and collaboration with international peers.
Secondly, Irwan emphasised the importance of effective marketing where he noticed many artists and creators lack the skills to market their work successfully. In contrast, international companies allocate significant portions of their production budgets to marketing, sometimes ranging from 50% to 200%.
Irwan underscored the need for local artists and creators to upskill in marketing, potentially transforming their ability to reach wider audiences.
Experience Learned From Disney
One of R&D Studio’s significant achievements was their collaboration with Disney on “Wizard of Warna Walk”, which introduced them to the latter’s meticulous operating standards.
“Disney was an eye-opening project. We were very thankful to get selected because we were up against a few large companies who also wanted the job,” Irwan told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
He shared Disney’s unique approach which involved focus groups composed of children from a specific city to evaluate potential actors, actresses and series elements. This method uncovered a surprising detail when a young boy in the audience expressed his interest for one particular actress, demonstrating her broad appeal beyond the intended audience.
Finding the Right Identity
The journey of R&D Studio was not without its financial challenges.
At the beginning of their journey they embarked on a self-indulgent project without considering the audience, investors or clients. This endeavour encountered difficulties securing funding.
Despite the odds, their teaser animation for a proposed feature film called “Sunsas- tera” earned recognition at the Seoul Planning and Promotion (SPP). This pivotal moment expanded the possibilities for their projects to travel globally.
Over the years, “Batik Girl” was the catalyst that shifted the trajectory of R&D Studio. It garnered acclaim at film festivals around the world, gained local media attention upon its Malaysian release and received feedback from Tourism Malaysia and the deputy prime minister. Irwan credited the success of “Batik Girl” to its resonance with a regional audience and the incorporation of local culture into the narrative.
“The familial story of Batik Girl resonates with a lot of people and also the regional setting (batik and Terengganu) made a very good original combination.
“That work allowed us to study and appreciate the different cultures in Malaysia,” said Irwan.
Following “Batik Girl,” R&D Studio continues to embrace local culture in its storytelling.
With two short films, “Framed Memories” and “Kuihpocalypse”, at the Malaysia Animation Film Festival (MAFF) 2023 and another one in the works, R&D Studio is poised for an exciting future in the animation industry.
What Sets It Apart
Irwan described R&D Studio as a unique company structure focused on storytelling and world-building.
“It is neither exclusively a live-action nor animation company, but a dynamic combination of both, harnessing the power of storytelling,” he said.
The future of the animation industry is evolving with the convergence of technology, creative innovation, augmented reality and creative technology.
Irwan cited examples like Netflix’s “Arcane”, a 3D project that gives the appear- ance of 2D animation and R&D Studio’s “Kuihpocalypse”, a 2D animated short film produced using the Epic Unreal game engine. The versatility of companies that embrace these technological advances positions them for a prosperous future.
Looking ahead, R&D Studio aims to continue evolving and embracing emerging technologies. They have already incorporated AI into their pre-production pipeline and are exploring further applications of technology in their projects.
“A lot of our time has been devoted to research other technologies as well to see how we can uniquely apply these technologies to our projects,” he added.
As a long-term goal, Irwan envisions local and South-East Asian intellectual properties (IPs) achieving global recognition, comparable to iconic figures like SpongeBob, Mickey Mouse and Japanese anime.
To realise this vision, he stressed the importance of continuous growth and improvement, fuelled by the support of strategic partners like the Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC), MyCreative Venture and the National Film Development Corp (Finas).
“The creative art industry in Malaysia is rising. There are a lot of opportunities, as well as challenges, but if we work together, we can have more successes internationally.
“For our animation and live-action projects, we are targeting the much larger market overseas to complement our local market,” Irwan said.
He reiterated the importance of unity in the creative industry. As it continues to grow and face challenges, collaboration and innovation will be key to success.
“By aiming high and reaching out to global markets, R&D Studio and the entire creative industry in Malaysia can rise to prominence and make a lasting impact,” he concluded.
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