ANIMATION FOR FEATURE FILMS
Mat Sentol was the first local to get the opportunity to make stop-frame sequences and animated titles and credits for Cathay-Keris’s films. For the series of Mat Bond detective films, Mat Sentol used cutout photographs and shot them against stills of the sky or relevant backdrops with a Mitchell camera. More films followed utilizing his photo-cutout animation: Mat Bond (Mat, the Private Eye, 1967), Mat Rajor Kapor (Mat, the Swindler, 1967), Mat Lanun (Mat, the Pirate, 1968), Mat Toyol (Mat, the Spirit). With Mat Magic (Mat, the Magician, 1971), Mat Sentol was in his element creating his own magic with in-camera visual effects acting alongside John Calvert, a visitng magician.
The next animator to be involved in animation for features was Hassan Abd. Muthalib. In 1984, he animated the longest opening title sequence (5 minutes in length) for the feature film, Mekanik (The Mechanic) under the animation studio, FilmArt by Norhan Mat in 1982 (Malaysia’s first animation studio). Hassan differed in his approach to animated titling from that of Mat Sentol. Mat’s titles were mainly letters and words in random movement and were mainly for effect. Hassan discussed with Mekanik’s director, Hafsham, about creating a storyline that had a connection to the events in the film. Hafsham came with a series of notes and rough drawings that he had made and outlined some of the effects that he wanted. Hassan then came up with a storyboard for Hafsham’s approval. The final animation had the names of the actors and crew animating to appropriate sound effects that were edited by Effendi Raja Din. The opening sequence had the name of Azmil Mustapha (the hero and a newcomer to the screen) panning across the screen with a learner-driver’s sign dangling from his name. An editor’s Moviola panned up from the bottom of the screen, with the name of the editor projected on its screen. The film screen then went blank after a simulated ‘film tear’ in the projector. This segment was effective enough to have the audience turn to look at the cinema projector, who thought that the film had actually torn! Effendi won a Best Editor award for the film at the Malaysia Film Festival in that year.
Hassan then created animated sequences for the feature, Mat Gelap (Mat the Detective, 1990), which was the first (and only film since), to incorporate animated characters and also the first to combine animation with live action. Imuda, the hero in the film, played the role of a cartoonist and was, in reality, a cartoonist himself. Imuda designed the animated characters and backgrounds and supplied a rough colour scheme. In effect, Imuda became the first cartoonist to have his characters animated for the cinema screen. Under Norhan Mat’s company, FilmArt (set up in 1982 and the first animation company in Malaysia), Hassan planned and animated the scenes and also did the inking on cels with Norhan later doing the painting. The total duration of the animation for Mat Gelap was about four and a half minutes with an animated opening that also included the main title of the film. The ending had the animated character interacting with the live hero. A number of short sequences served as inserts throughout the film sometimes acting as a transition.
As the film did not have a written script, Hassan had no idea as to what the director wanted precisely for the animation sequences (unlike Hafsham who had a concept and even some detailed suggestions for Mekanik). All that he received for Mat Gelap were some vague notes as to what was intended. In desperation, Hassan wrote a detailed storyline for the animation sequences and also came up with idea for the ending where the hero meets the animated character (Mat Gelap). Only then was the director able to ‘see’ the story and suggested changes. As the animation over live action was not budgeted for, Hassan agreed to do it for free and only charged the producer for the expenses of the art materials used. Hassan also suggested some visual effects such as an animated brush wipe to reveal the live action as well as match dissolves from a rotoscoped scene to the live action. For his efforts, the film garnered a Jury Award for Best Visual Effects at the Malaysia Film Festival for that year.