Sonic the Hedgehog, Transformers, Upin and Ipin are not always just about fun and games. In reality, there's lucrative money to be made in the animation business.
According to MSC Malaysia, the global creative industry (which encompasses video games, visual effects and animation) is valued at US$200 billion or RM750 billion in 2010.
Which is why HELP International Corp Bhd's recent announcement that it will introduce in January next year a course that focuses on animation production is certainly welcomed.
The course will be conducted by experts who have worked with big names from Hollywood such as Dreamworks and Pixar, which produced popular films like Avatar, Shrek and the Toy Story trilogies.
Students will also complete their internship at one of the reputable animation studio houses in Los Angeles prior to their graduation.
Malaysian animation has come a long way over the years.
One of the animation industry pioneers, self-taught animator Hassan Abd Muthalib, in his 2006 paper "From Mousedeer to Mouse: Malaysian Animation at the Crossroads", traces back local animation to the Sang Kancil cartoons by Filem Negara Malaysia.
That project started in 1963, was completed in 1978, and screened in 1983.
Since then, Malaysia has already produced animation feature films (Silat Lagenda in 1998), 3D animation films (Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula) and Animated TV series (Lat's Kampung Boy, Upin dan Ipin, and Saladin).
Local film producers have also started to incorporate more visual effects in their movies.
MSC Malaysia, through its Animation Creative Content Centre (MAC3), is doing its part to provide technology and resources, develop talent, and offer funding to budding and passionate content developers.
Through a RM80 million Co-Production Fund, MAC3 hopes to help fund high-quality, international co-production projects in the fields of animation and games.
"This will in turn lead to the employment of 600 people over the next two years, who will be involved in content creation and production," MSC Malaysia says on its website.
Yet challenges remain, says Hassan, as there is not enough support for local animation coming from local TV stations and viewers to push Malaysian animation to a higher level.
This is a shame, as there is still a lot of potential to develop local content that will not only promote and preserve Malaysian culture and history, but also find a market in the region and globally.
Some examples that come to mind include video games with a Malaysian identity (Legend of Hang Tuah, Sepak Takraw, Badminton), and more TV animated series (Malaysian historical figures, folk heroes, or teenagers struggling with every day challenges of growing up).
The way kids today can memorise the dialogue for an entire episode of Spongebob SquarePants, it is plausible that information presented in an entertaining animation format will have far greater impact on our youth than trying to force them to read about it in plain text.