IF there is one word to describe local animator Hassan Muthalib, it is that he is a 'self-made' man. At a talk organised by The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur, entitled Cinema, Animation and Serenity in Japan: Reflections from a Cultural Invitation Programme, the former Filem Negara Malaysia animator and director reveals not only his fascination with Japanese cinema but also recalls his own career in animation. Hassan was invited to speak about his experience being a part of the foundation's Cultural Invitation Programme. He talked about meeting Academy Award-nominated director Koji Yamamura (for Mt Head in 2002) as well as acclaimed director Yoji Yamada. Yamada, 84, is the man who helmed Otoko wa Tsurai yo (It's Tough Being a Man), a 48-movie series released between 1969 and 1995 and featuring the character Tora-san, who was played by the late Kiyoshi Atsumi. Hassan also visited the places where Tokyo Story (1953) was shot as he's a great fan of the movie and its late director Yasujiro Ozu. Hassan's own animation career began in Filem Negara where he started out doing set designs, title designs and little bit of animated graphics for show titles. "I actually started out doing titles for films. It was only two or three years later (in 1972) that I was asked to do animation, something I had never done before," says Hassan (below) during a brief chat prior to his talk. "Suddenly, we were thrown into the deep end and asked to do character animation." He went on to write and direct animated shorts such as Sang Kancil dan Monyet (1984), Sang Kancil dan Buaya (1987), Gagak Yang Bijak (1985), Arnab Yang Sombong (1986) and Singa Yang Haloba (1986). His team comprised three Film Negara staff and later some ITM graduates, all inexperienced in animation, who just followed his orders on the sketches he did. He still has some of the sketches of his earlier works. Hassan's background was literature and so it was easy for him to come up with the stories. He says: "We did all the festival trailers using animation, and graduated to public service advertisements like Mencegah Nyamuk Aedes and Jimatkan Elektrik. "My speciality is humour. When you use humour, people will sit and watch." With no formal training or anyone to guide him, Hassan says he would borrow Disney films from RTM to get ideas. "At that time, it was 16mm. I used a magnifying glass and noted the techniques. The computers came 20 years later. "Everything back then was drawn on paper, transferred to clear acetate and then turned over to be painted. "It was a painstaking and time-consuming process. You have to put each drawing under the camera, shoot and then take it out. Roughly, you would need about 750 drawings for a one-minute film." The Sang Kancil films were each five minutes long and it took them six months to complete one. Still, Hassan never considers himself the pioneer of animation in Malaysia. He recalls a set designer called Anandam Xavier who was doing animation in his free time, something he had taught himself. Anandam started his animation Hikayat Sang Kancil in 1961 and competed it in 1978. "I must applaud him because it was a one-man show. Somebody wrote the script but he designed, planned and even painted [each frame]," says Hassan. "He was Malaysia's first short film animator. I was the second." Nonetheless, it was Hassan who became synonymous with animation, either directing commercials that used animation or even teaching animation in Malaysian universities as well as overseas. He also made an animated feature, Silat Lagenda, in 1998. It took him three years to produce but the film suffered due to poor marketing. Hassan is pleased that local animation studios are now creating content for channels like Cartoon Network. He lauds the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) for having done a wonderful job in helping local talent shine.