Meet the an­i­ma­tors be­hind Myan­mar's hottest web se­ries

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NYO ME ny­ome@mm­times.com

IT’S late at night. You’re curled up on the couch watch­ing a scary movie. All of a sud­den the tele­vi­sion screen opens to a por­tal and a ghost slowly crawls out from the screen. You trem­ble; you pre­pare to scream – but then the power cuts off, as hap­pens some­times in Myan­mar, and the ghost be­comes half stuck in the TV.

No this isn’t a re­make of the 2002 Amer­i­can psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror film, The Ring. This is “The Trou­ble of Being a Ghost in Myan­mar”, an aptly named video of many in a se­ries called Gwen Univer­sity, all up­loaded to Face­book by Myan­mar an­i­ma­tion com­pany Joosk Stu­dio.

Gwen Univer­sity is a fic­tional univer­sity that only ex­ists on­line, with videos fol­low­ing the lives of four main char­ac­ters: Soe Tay (fea­tured in the ghost video), Doon Kyi, Sai Lamin, and Cherry. With a cast of around 40 char­ac­ters, the Gwen Univer­sity page posts videos and hu­mor­ous sto­ries re­flect­ing the lives of or­di­nary univer­sity stu­dents in Myan­mar.

The char­ac­ters are in­tended to por­tray the av­er­age, ev­ery­day stu­dent, each with their own “awk­ward” qual­i­ties. One char­ac­ter, for ex­am­ple, is named U Hand­some Lolly Poppy Sexy Whity Pinky. He is al­ways shown play­ing on his smart­phone, never talk­ing to any­one in real life. When the teacher calls roll, he even re­sponds “present” via a mes­sag­ing app.

“The an­i­ma­tion named Gwen Univer­sity comes from a univer­sity name, called Gwan [cot­ton wool] Univer­sity where a lot of cot­ton trees are planted in its com­pound in the story of writer Ko Min Thu Kyaw (later, the script writer of Gwen),” said No­bel Aung, the co­founder and cre­ative lead of Gwen, ex­plain­ing the fic­tional back-story.

Joosk Stu­dio first started after four of its five founders – No­bel Aung, Thet Paing Kha, Ze­yar Win­htet and Myo Thura Htun – met as il­lus­tra­tors for Pan­za­gar ad­ver­to­ri­als that made up an anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paign. In­spired by blog­ger Nay Phone Latt, who led that team and was elected last year to rep­re­sent Thin­gangyun township in the Yan­gon Hlut­taw, the four be­came friends and de­cided to branch out on their own.

They all share a pas­sion for edu­tain­ment, com­bin­ing an­i­ma­tion and ed­u­ca­tion to send a wider mes­sage. Since its cre­ation, the stu­dio has worked on projects with Face­book and NGOs in­clud­ing the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion to fight against slave labour, ac­cord­ing to co-founder, Thet Paing Kha.

“At first, we didn’t have our own of­fice and shared work­ing space with a start-up. We had to use our own equip­ment. After six months, we could rent an apart­ment with fund­ing from projects. And grad­u­ally we could buy more and more equip­ment,” he said.

The apart­ment hous­ing Joosk Stu­dio is also home to a small sound stu­dio, where their di­verse team of di­rec­tors, an­i­ma­tors, colourists, de­sign­ers, sound en­gi­neers and more cre­ate their own sound ef­fects. Be­fore work­ing at the stu­dio, most of the staff worked in other fields such as medicine, IT and en­gi­neer­ing. In fact, only two of Joosk’s em­ploy­ees ac­tu­ally have a back­ground in art – in their case, paint­ing.

“Our tar­get au­di­ence for Gwen is Myan­mar. We would like to show [that] we, Myan­mar, can do an­i­ma­tion and give a taste of Myan­mar an­i­ma­tion, be­cause peo­ple nor­mally watch English lan­guage an­i­ma­tion from the Car­toon Net­work and Ja­panese anime,” he added.

Joosk Stu­dio was in­spired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki of Ja­pan’s leg­endary an­i­ma­tion com­pany Stu­dio Ghi­bli, as well as Walt Dis­ney. After learn­ing an­i­ma­tion skills on­line on YouTube and other sites, they tested the waters, re­leas­ing videos on­line to see how view­ers would re­act.

“Myan­mar an­i­ma­tors ex­isted be­fore us. How­ever, be­cause of lim­ited fund­ing, they dis­ap­peared,” said No­bel Aung. In Myan­mar right now, an­i­ma­tion can hardly make a profit com­pared to the boom­ing film in­dus­try.

De­spite lack of fund­ing and re­sources, Joosk Stu­dio is de­ter­mined to be­come more ef­fi­cient and pro­duc­tive. A one-minute an­i­ma­tion takes 10 staff mem­bers four weeks, after draw­ing at least 24 frames per se­cond.

The stu­dio held a one-week-long char­ac­ter work­shop for all stu­dio staff mem­bers, even sales and mar­ket­ing em­ploy­ees. Ev­ery­one at the work­shop had a chance to learn about the process and give their feed­back on what qual­i­ties would make the best

char­ac­ter. “Each of us pre­sented a char­ac­ter. Should he be thin or fat? Tall or short? Have acne or not? Things like that. And we col­lected all of the good points and drew char­ac­ters from the sug­ges­tions. After the work­shop, we cre­ated all 40 char­ac­ters of Gwen,” said No­bel Aung, the “univer­sity’s” di­rec­tor.

Al­ready, Joosk and the se­ries have proved suc­cess­ful with over 60,000 fol­low­ers on Face­book. Their 2015 short film, “My Life, I don’t Want,” was awarded an an­i­mated hu­man rights award in the UK, Ro­ma­nia, In­dia, Italy and Ire­land, all within four months of pro­duc­ing last May.

Cur­rently, Joosk Stu­dio up­loads one short video ev­ery two weeks to the Gwen Univer­sity Face­book page. But the founders dream big, hop­ing to make an­i­ma­tions as long as 15 min­utes about or­di­nary life in Myan­mar, from the joys of Thingyan wa­ter fes­ti­val to the stress of ma­tric­u­la­tion ex­ams.

Photos: Nyo Me

Soe Tay, one of the char­ac­ters in the Gwen Univer­sity videos, hangs out at Joosk Stu­dio with cre­ator No­bel Aung.

Joosk Stu­dio has al­ready been in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised for a short film the team pro­duced in 2015.

Photo: Face­book/Gwen Univer­sity

This car­toon came out dur­ing the Poke­mon Go craze of Au­gust 2016.

An­i­ma­tors laugh as they come up with new con­tent for videos and so­cial me­dia posts.

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