Malaysia’s Great Leap For­ward

KRU’s Kar­tun launches its first CG fea­ture, Rib­bit. By Mercedes Mil­li­gan and Tom McLean.

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Visi­tors to last month’s Ni­a­gara In­te­grated Film Fes­ti­val last month were there for an event mile­stone: for the first time, an an­i­mated fea­ture was in­cluded in the com­pe­ti­tion pro­gram. The CG-an­i­mated film, Rib­bit, is a fam­ily friendly movie and the first project for Malaysian stu­dio KRU’s new an­i­ma­tion di­vi­sion, Kar­tun Stu­dios.

Writ­ten and di­rected by Kar­tun’s CCO Chuck Pow­ers, the “frog-out-of-wa­ter” story fol­lows am­phibi­ous dreamer Rib­bit (voiced by Sean Astin), who doesn’t fit in at all with his frog brethren. De­cid­ing he is a hu­man prince trapped in a frog’s body, he sets out with his fly­ing squir­rel buddy Sandy (Cherami Leigh) to find a hu­man princess to break the spell. He’s helped along by wise bat Deepak (Rus­sell Peters) and stylish tou­can Ter­rence (Tim Curry), but dan­ger lurks in the Ama­zon rain­for­est.

“I’ve always thought of my­self as a sto­ry­teller whether it’s as an ac­tor or as a writer or as a direc­tor,” says Pow­ers, a first-time direc­tor who has climbed up the an­i­ma­tion lad­der since mov­ing to South­east Asia 13 years ago in search of voice-over work.

“It was a bit of a step­ping stone. I didn’t come from a tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tor back­ground like a lot of di­rec­tors come from. They’ll ei­ther be animators or more of­ten they’ll come from the story depart­ment, they’ll be sto­ry­board art- fi­nally set­tling on Crest, which had re­cently com­pleted Al­pha & Omega. What fol­lowed was three years of pol­ish­ing the con­cept and div­ing in to pro­duc­tion.

Some­thing to Croak About

Adding to the film’s global ap­peal — Rib­bit is cur­rently slated in 80 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, China, the United King­dom and Ger­many — is the high qual­ity voice cast, put to­gether by L.A.-based cast­ing direc­tor Bernie Van De Yacht, who also worked on Al­pha & Omega. Pow­ers is es­pe­cially pleased that most of the cast were his first choices for the roles.

For Deepak, who has an In­dian ac­cent, Rus­sell Peters was a per­fect fit. While less well known in the United States, Peters is one of the most pop­u­lar co­me­di­ans in the world and is known for his bits about grow­ing up in an An­glo-In­dian home in Canada. Pow­ers like­wise had Tim Curry in mind for Ter­rence from the first. Curry’s ex­ten­sive theater, live-ac­tion and voice-over ex­pe­ri­ence was a boon to the pro­duc­tion.

“Get­ting Sean Astin was re­ally in­ter­est­ing,” says Pow­ers. “One of the things I liked about Sean’s voice is that he has a gen­tle, kind qual­ity to his voice, and Rib­bit is like the eter­nal op­ti­mist. In real life, he would be like a com­puter geek or some­thing, he doesn’t re­ally fit in with the in-crowd but he’s just such a nice guy and I kept find­ing that about Sean when I’d lis­ten to his voice in all the dif­fer­ent shows he did.”

The direc­tor shares that when Astin re­ceived the script, which in­cluded a pic­ture of Rib­bit, he re­al­ized it was meant to be since he and his wife had filled their home with frog col­lectibles.

With Rib­bit set to roll out world­wide, Pow­ers con­tin­ues to fo­cus on driv­ing Kar­tun’s IPs and pur­su­ing co-pro­duc­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially in North Amer­ica. He notes that as South­east Asian stu­dios con­tinue to im­prove their artis­tic and sto­ry­telling qual­ity lev­els, larger stu­dios would be wise to push more an­i­ma­tion and devel­op­ment work to the re­gion where it can be done for frac­tions of the costs of pro­duc­ing in the United States.

And Pow­ers has picked up some im­por­tant ad­vice for di­rec­tors ev­ery­where: Stay out of the artists’ way as much as pos­si­ble. “I tell peo­ple some­times that I think a good direc­tor is more like a head cheer­leader; our job is to let some in­sanely talented peo­ple be mo­ti­vated and to let them feel like it’s not paint by num­bers.” Rib­bit pre­miered at the Ni­a­gara In­te­grated Film Fes­ti­val last month, and opens in the­aters in late sum­mer.

Rib­bit fea­tures the voice of Sean Astin as a frog who thinks he is a prince and seeks a princess to break the spell.

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