Despite being only a year old, Shah Alam-based Studio Firepulse has been gaining a reputation in the local music scene for their music videos.
If you’ve been following the Malaysian hip hop scene, you’d know about the animated music video for Yonnyboii, Zynakal, and Asyraf Nasir’s single, Tak Sangka, that the studio in collaboration with Atypical Visual had worked on.
The music video has earned praise from the public, the musicians themselves, and even local newspapers, as being “world-class”.
For the uninitiated, let me tell you, it is remarkable enough to stir feelings of pride for our home-grown talents.
“The animation is very detailed, and would make anyone watching feel proud of the work they’ve made,” Kosmo’s Haikal Isa wrote.
“I was impressed and attracted to the bazooka firing scene that led into the chorus!”
The visual media studio was established in August 2020, founded by UiTM graduates, Hakeem Roshdi, Amirul Najihan, and Imran Mansur, with a focus on motion graphics, 3D and 2D animation, and illustrations.
While there have been enough articles on the music video itself, Eksentrika talked with Studio Firepulse to learn how they started.
In speaking to one of the three founders, Hakeem, we discovered how the studio that mushroomed in the midst of a pandemic successfully made connections, coped with restrictions throughout the nationwide movement control order, and their process in handling creative projects.
How did the three of you co-founders link up, and what was the spark to start Studio Firepulse?
Imran Mansur and I are cousins; it’s been a lifelong dream of ours to do arts professionally together.
We’ve been drawing and learning about the arts together since we were young. Amirul Najihan was my classmate during my degree course at UiTM.
When my mentor, Udeen Majid of Dabster Studio, approached me to work on a music video for Yonnyboii’s single, “X Missing U”, I had roped in both Imran and Amirul to work on the project.
We were lucky to be trusted to deliver on the job and while working on this first project together, we found that we shared similar creative visions and passion for the technical know-how.
We saw the potential in ourselves to work as a team, and it led us to founding Studio Firepulse together!
What preparations did you go through to set up as a studio? What was the process towards getting registered?
We had limited knowledge of setting up a company, so it was challenging to begin from scratch.
Ultimately, it was somewhat of a leap of faith. We were hit pretty hard mentally since the economy wasn’t doing good when we started.
The three of us divided research work to learn about management structures and study organisation skills.
We then made it a point to present what we had learned to each other.
We also reached out to a number of people who have had more years of experience in sustaining their business in the creative field.
We had to learn up about the details of paperwork, from setting up and signing Terms and Conditions, partnership agreements, non-disclosure agreements, and forms, with a friend of ours that studied Business Law.
Eventually, we registered our trade name as an enterprise with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM). They also provided a template for the pre-requisites in setting up a partnership business, and we had followed the guidelines provided.
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In one year since Studio Firepulse began, other agencies have come to you to collaborate on projects. You’ve worked with prominent artists such as Faizal Tahir, Yonnyboii, Khai Bahar. How do you promote your services?
We still remain in disbelief, yet honoured every time someone approaches us to work on projects!
Before Firepulse, the three of us founders of Studio Firepulse have worked on several gigs here and there.
As I mentioned earlier, I was an intern under Udeen, where he was my mentor and he remained so even after my internship stint ended.
We managed to introduce our business by keeping in touch with connections gained from our initial gigs. This type of networking was essential to establish ourselves.
We did also allocate resources for marketing through our social media pages and our own Behance page.
Ultimately, I believe maintaining a quality of work is what industry peeps take notice of and they will then spread it through word of mouth. It’s what we believe got our work out there.
I would advise new studios or freelancers to focus more on honing their craft to deliver their best. That’s the best way to promote ourselves.
We notice that each of the music videos (MVs) you have made pulls off a different art style. What’s the creative process like, from taking input from musicians and designing the world and characters?
It’s pretty much a collaborative effort.
The art style is often brainstormed between us and what the musician wants.
We usually create mood boards and look at many references to get a gist of the visuals.
Most of the time the genre of the music, the entire feel of the music is what we want to capture and visualise.
We really appreciate the artistic freedom that the musicians trust us with.
You get approached a lot by other studios and agencies. How do you choose the productions you want to work on?
We choose the productions we want to collaborate with solely on synergy and compatibility.
The most important thing is to have a synced mentality and cohesive expectations for the outcome.
For example, in many of our recent projects, we collaborated with Atypical Visual, with Thaqif Saadon as director, and Zulfadhli Wahab as producer.
The brainstorming process was a breeze because we could speak the same technical language.
The entire production would then go on with manageable hiccups and participative solutions from all of us.
How long does it take for an animated music video to be created; from the start of an email, to publishing it on YouTube?
Every project is unique. There is no set turnover time for an MV to be done; because it depends on the complexity of the visuals.
Some projects could be done in weeks, others could take months.
For example, “X Missing U” took us 10 days, and “Tak Sangka” took almost 3 months altogether.
But usually, we like to spend ample time for experimentation. On average, it takes at least 2 months from pre-production until post-production.
We’d also have to submit the deliverables around two weeks before release due to the publication process.
A part of their styleframes from “Tak Sangka”, taken from their Behance portfolio page.
How did you communicate with your stakeholders, such as the musicians, record labels, and other collaborators during the lockdown? How did you ensure that the drafts, proposals, and progress are in line with the set vision?
Our producer, Zulfadhli Wahab does most of the heavy lifting of communicating with clients.
We utilize Zoom, Google Meet and Discord for most of our communication between the team and client.
For file management, we use Google Drive that can sync all the files easily for all of the team members and we keep track of the progress with a simple Google Sheet checklist. (Thanks, Google!)
The Tak Sangka MV has sparked tons of fan art, and praise for the quality of animation, said to be comparable with internationally acclaimed artists. How do you feel about it?
Alhamdulillah, we’re extremely honoured and thankful for the amazing and overwhelming response from netizens.
We honestly didn’t expect any fan art to emerge, as it’s never happened with our previous music videos before!
Being compared to artists worldwide is uplifting for all of us, but we believe there’s still a lot for us to learn and improve.
The positive response definitely empowered our passion. We feel validated that the general public and art community have acknowledged and supported what we Malaysians can achieve.
You did something unique for a Malaysian music video; blending 2D and 3D animation. It’s pretty impressive. What was your inspiration for that style?
Here’s a fun fact, the original idea for “Tak Sangka” was supposed to include live-action + full CG sets, but due to the MCO, we had to improvise!
We love to experiment and mix different mediums of animation. We built and researched different pipelines for each of the styles we’re trying to achieve.
Our main inspirations are cinematics and music videos from Riot Games. Their music videos are the absolute standard that we are trying to achieve for the Malaysian music video industry.
And how did Yonnyboi react to the final draft?
Yonnyboii, Zynakal and Asyraf Nasir didn’t see the final video up until 19th of August which was the night of the exclusive premiere.
They were very happy with the final outcome! We spent quite some time listening to the gist of the music and understanding the lyrics.
We tried our best to have the visuals complement and accentuate the overall vibe of the music itself.
This might seem a bit early to ask, but are there any plans to expand beyond the local music industry, perhaps delve into different creative sectors or even go international?
Going international is our endgame. We also want to delve into animated series and feature films, or maybe even big-budget, international live-action VFX films.
Having our own IP is something we are working on as a long-term plan.
We received a grant from MDEC’s Digital Content Creator Awards last year for Motion Comics but we’re definitely planning to expand beyond motion comics. It was a start for us.
It’s going to require a lot of time and finances as our team is quite small.
For now, it’s a matter of keeping our operations aloft. Music videos are also something we are quite passionate about.
Since they’re also short films, we can explore new methodologies with them as we’re often given artistic freedom.
Your team has been working fully online since its inception. After the pandemic, do you plan to keep the work routine and communication mostly online, or do you wish to have some physical interaction in your work process? Tell us how you feel about it.
We’ve been working remotely even before the pandemic arrived, so we consider ourselves quite lucky that we were not as affected by the MCO, although some projects did have setbacks and even cancellations. We try to focus on the positives.
That said, someday, we’d love to have our own render farms, servers, and whatnot that will require a physical location!
The brainstorming sessions and file management pipeline could definitely improve with having a physical location for the transfer process hierarchy, but for now, we believe we have an efficient system online to overcome all these setbacks.
What are your hopes for the animation industry here in Malaysia to grow outside of cartoons, and establish itself as a medium that can also be consumed by teenagers and adults?
Our hope for the Malaysian animation industry is to have our local artworks viewed on the global stage.
To have animation as a medium that can be consumed by adults and teenagers alike in Malaysia particularly is something that will take a lot of planning.
It will require a paradigm shift for the whole industry; a more comprehensive and inclusive ecosystem for the art industry as well as more exposure and education for the overall public’s appreciation towards arts.
All images in this feature were supplied by Studio Firepulse.