WE’RE at the concourse area of Sky Avenue in Resorts World Genting and all around, people appear to be anxiously waiting for something to happen. Surrounding my friend and I are large LED screens that provide a spectacular panoramic view from the ground floor. Meanwhile, above us, suspended from a four-storey high ceiling are thousands of little winch balls, still and unmoving.
From the chatter around me, I gather that we’re actually looking at Genting’s latest family entertainment attraction called SkySymphony, a free-to-public performance that showcases an enchanting orchestra of audio, visual and motion graphics programming.
Curiosity keeps us rooted to the spot — just like everyone else. Suddenly, the screens go dark. A friendly-looking sea turtle complete with a cute black maestro ribbon appears, replacing the advertisements that had been playing before. Getting onto a coral and standing upright, he taps the edge with a conductor’s baton. And as if on cue, different types of fishes and crustaceans begin to appear on the individual screens beside him, each producing a different tune played from their respective instruments. One by one, they come together as a unique under-the-sea orchestra similar to the one from The Little Mermaid.
Adding to the already vibrant atmosphere are the tiny kinetic balls that begin to move while flashing different coloured lights in time to the rhythm. At one point, the balls even begin arranging themselves into the image of a sea turtle as well as a manta ray. Standing in the middle of all the heady action, I feel as if I’ve been transported into the ocean’s depth with magical sea creatures swimming ethereally above us.
Unfortunately, the “party” soon ends as the maestro comes to a sudden halt and begins to eye a worm that had been nonchalantly enjoying the musical while attached to a fishing hook. The fishes rush to have him, abandoning their posts. Magically titled Ocean Groove by Maestro Ning, the computer-generated animation, Genting Studios first in-house production, had kept us all transfixed for almost five minutes.
BEHIND THE SCREENS
Genting Studios officially began operations early this year and is currently headed by two executive producers — American Daniel Regis Brown who’s based in Los Angeles, and Steven Lim, who heads the Malaysian office. I get the chance to meet both during my trip up to Genting.
Waiting for me at a quiet cafe in the adjacent shopping mall block, they rise for a quick handshake and a round of introductions. The bespectacled Lim is the first to speak, offering me some background on what I’d just witnessed. “This (Ocean Groove by Maestro Ning) is just one of the many animations we intend to produce under the Genting Studios name. Suffice to say there are already many other production houses in this country, but we hope to be a step above them by bringing our productions to Hollywood or even Europe.”
Nodding enthusiastically, Brown chips in: “Basically, what we’re trying to do is combine Hollywood creatives with Southeast Asian economics and talents.”
The men are no strangers to the animation and film industry with more than 30 years of experience between them. However, for Lim, the slightly more reserved of the two, he never actually saw himself having a foot in the industry after graduating with an engineering and economics degree.
“I started off as a news reporter with 8TV,” he shares, adding: “From there, I continued learning the ropes and ended up as a producer for Malaysian Idol. It was after leaving 8TV and working freelance for a bit that I found my way into doing animation.”
It was through his work with an independent animation firm, Young Jump, which was tendering for a flagship animated production under MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) that he met Brown.
“That was about 10 years ago when MDEC hired me to spearhead their flagship production. That was when I met Lim. Prior to that, I’d been working in the film industry in Hollywood,” confides Brown. His expansive repertoire includes some popular television productions such as the long-running US animated comedy, The Simpsons and Family Guy, also an animated series.
THE MAKING OF OCEAN GROOVE
Suffice to say, with Brown based in Los Angeles and working closely with Hollywood, he brings to Genting Studios priceless creative connections, while as “partner”, Lim deals with overseeing the day-to-day operations here as well as guiding the pool of talents.
“We run a very tight ship with only two of us on it,” explains Brown, adding: “We’re basically built quite similar to many Hollywood independent studios such as Illumination Entertainment (the people behind Despicable Me).”
Essentially, Genting Studios isn’t a production house. “We have executive producers to oversee the projects but we don’t have in-house animators, creatives or designers to work on them. We hire talents and the relevant people, thus allowing us to run the business as lean as possible,” shares Lim.
It took them four months to produce Ocean Groove. There were 40 people on board and very little overhead. “We didn’t need to worry about the equipment and the manpower after the project was done. We hire when necessary,” explains Brown.
Lim chips in: “We had the best of both worlds, with well-known names in the creative industry like Guy Vasilovich (director) and Gigi Meroni (composer) from the US, as well as top animation companies in the country such as Lemon Sky, all working on this with us.”
“It took many discussions and changes across the Pacific for us to produce something as wonderful as this,” confides Brown, adding: “And it’s all been worth it.”
As we continue our conversation over coffee, the guys eagerly share that their short musical film, Ocean Groove, is a stepping stone to greater projects in the future. “It’s our very first production and we wanted it to be simple and fast to produce,” confides Brown. “That’s why we went ahead with an underwater theme, which is quite reflective of Malaysia, especially Maestro Ning, the sea turtle. It’s colourful and fun too.”
“Besides, fishes are easier to computer-generate and render than, say, an orang utan with millions of hair follicles!” adds Lim with a hearty chuckle.
The affable duo aims to have a full-length movie by the end of the second year (2019). It’s their hope that one day Genting Studios would be able to be on par with some great names such as Paramount Pictures or even Universal Studios.
“All these take time, which is why we’re only currently releasing short film works. This is something like what Pixar did back in the days before being bought over by Walt Disney Studios,” explains Lim.
The pair are currently working on a project titled Jungle Jam. The short film will feature familiar characters which are synonymous to Resorts World Genting. All six Genting mascots (Tabby, Allie, Geno, Joey, Benny and Callie) will be getting a makeover.
“Each character will be re-done to reflect the computer-generated works prevalent in the animated film industry today. It’s what audiences want and expect,” says Brown, before continuing: “Children these days are just attracted to that animated look. Perhaps because it adds dimension and volume, like those we see from Toy Story, Secret Life Of Pets and even Despicable Me. It’s hard to go back to the flat 2D look and expect the audience to pay attention.”
As the minutes tick, it’s soon time to leave the men to their next appointment. Before I take my leave, Lim says: “We hope that 10 to 15 years from now we’re able to produce international standard films in-house. We know that we have a lot of homegrown talents that we can tap into and we believe we’re able to put Malaysia on the animation industry map.”
Where: Sky Avenue, Resorts World Genting, Genting Highlands
Showtimes: 10am-midnight (every hour)
* SkySymphony is the largest permanent winch installation in Asia.
* SkySymphony is the first multimedia winch attraction in Asia.
* 1,001 winch balls are suspended from the four-storey high building.
* The fastest programmed winch speed is 17.5 metres in six seconds.