Hassan Abdul Muthalib
Widely regarded as the Father of Malaysian Animation, Hassan Abdul Muthalib is also a self-taught artist, graphic designer, photographer, animator, writer, director, and sometimes actor, who has been actively involved in the film industry for more than 53 years. Throughout his career, Hassan has been involved in numerous films including four feature films, two TV dramas, one music video, one documentary and numerous short films as an actor. He is also an advisor and mentor to lecturers, film and animation agencies, filmmakers, as well as film and animation students.
Hassan Abdul Muthalib was born in 1945 in Kedah. He secured his first job in 1964 in Kuala Lumpur as an assistant artist and assistant window display man at Robinsons, the first department store in Malaysia. “When I arrived in KL, I was wearing a shirt given by my neighbour, carrying a tattered bag with shoes split in the middle and RM50 cash given by an Indian woman who had kindly pawned her earrings for me.” The job involved making commercial art, interior store decorations and displaying sales goods in the store’s huge front door display area. “I learnt a lot on the job and through self-study from books that I borrowed from libraries,” he said.
This gradually became a turning point for Hassan as his passion for visual arts grew. In 1968 he left to join Filem Negara as a Graphic Artist where he said his experience working on signage at Robinson proved useful in coming up with documentary film titles and producing the graphics for the first Bakat TV programme.
In 1972, Hassan was given the opportunity to write the scripts and animate festival trailers for television. “This was when the animation bug bit me!” he exclaimed. “It was trial and error. I borrowed animation films, looked at them with a magnifying glass and copied the effects for use in the trailers.” The trailers Hassan worked on as public service advertisements became a hit due to the humorous approach he applied.
A few years later, he started a Film and Photography Section under the studio’s Kelab Sukan (Recreational Club), where he directed Malaysia’s first short film Harimau Putih Lawan Harimau Gelap (White Tiger Versus Dark Tiger), a parody of kung fu films he had been watching at the time.
In 1978, Hassan started doing work as an animator making commercials for cinema and television. At the same time, he also designed Bank Bumiputera savings coinbox as well as the South East Asian Games mascot, among other projects.
Working his way up the career ladder, Hassan progressed to writing and directing live action public service advertisements in 1981 with his first film winning the Best Idea Award from Anugerah Sri Angkasa. That was when he became interested in directing and in 1983, Hassan created the popular Sang Kancil animation series and Aesop’s Fables stories on the request of then Minister of Information. Hassan’s first documentary in 1987, Hasil Dari Rotan (The Cane), won a jury award for Best Documentary at the Asia-Pacific Film Fest in Jakarta.
In 1995, he co-wrote, supervised the visual effects and directed Malaysia’s first animated feature film, Silat Legenda (Legendary Silat Warriors). “I am most proud of this film as it encapsulates my thoughts and feelings about storytelling through entertainment, to convey something about our people, country and culture. It is important to know our history, traditions and moral values, while at the same time encourage a sense of adventure, show concern for the environment and strengthen our spiritual values. These ‘old ways’ remain pertinent until today,” he said
During this time, Hassan got to impart his experience and trained his team to understand the language of film. Some of them have since became respected professionals and lecturers in the industry.
Retirement did not stop Hassan, and for the next 15 years from 1999-2014, he spent his time lecturing part-time or guest lecturing at many well-known universities local and abroad, including major animation studios. In between, he was appointed as the director of an animation school and an animation consultant in Kota Bahru, Darul Digital, where he trained school leavers, giving them an introduction to filmmaking and animation.
Talking about his work, Hassan Muthalib said, “My work is my life! I cannot take a holiday and relax on the beach. I need to do something.” With his strong commitment and dedication, Hassan has risen through the ranks to become the earliest influence in the local animation world and his contributions have been acknowledged when he was honoured and recognised as an animation Veteran and the Father of Malaysian Animation.
His Sang Kancil series shown over RTM in the 1980s have influenced generations of film-makers and artists. Sang Kecil, a funny and educational animation series running from four to six minutes, was well known for its moral lessons on honesty, diligence, tolerance and other values for young children, while his films and Public Service Announcements contributed to improving the understanding of specific health and safety issues.
Hassan directed Malaysia’s first animation film, Silat Lagenda which has since impacted the animation industry in the country. Silat Lagenda was honoured with a Special Award for First Animated Feature Film in Malaysia at the 1998 Malaysia Film festival.
For his pioneering achievement, Hassan was honoured with an Honorary Masters in Creative Technology by UiTM where he was the Artist-in-Residence in 2008. In 2011, he was acknowledged as an Animation Pioneer by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and subsequently was officially recognised as the Father of Malaysian Animation, a title conferred to him in 2012.
He has sat on many panels of local universities, colleges and polytechnics, developing curriculums and drawing from his own experiences as well as those from other film education practitioners, national agencies and industry-related organisations.
Over the years, Hassan had published two important books – the most recent was From Mouse Deer to Mouse, published in 2016 documenting 70 years of Malaysian animation history that was inspired by Malaysia’s first animation series. The book is currently an academic reference on Malaysian animation, and was published by Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan (ASWARA). The second book is Malaysian Cinema in a Bottle published in 2013, which is an analytical history of Malaysian cinema from 1897 to 2013.
Hassan has written at least 84 academic articles and presented these in Malaysia and overseas such as in Bali, Bandung, Berlin, Hong Kong, Jogjakarta, London, Singapore and Tokyo. He has also successfully published his papers in major international book publications, film magazines and academic journals.
From 2000 till today, Hassan is a researcher on early Malaysian cinema, a creative writer, actor, author and film critic. Currently, he is also a jury member for film and animation festivals in Malaysia and several overseas countries. He is currently working on the history of Filem Negara Malaysia with plans to write on Visual Storytelling for Film and Animation.
“‘Perjuangan belum selesai’ (The struggle is not yet over), but no matter what happens, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”
Message for Young Malaysians
“Connect with your inner self. This comes from a lot of reading, understanding the philosophy behind great films, conversing with highly intelligent people and traveling. This will open your eyes. Once you find that inner self, it will be reflected in your work.”