Insights & Sharing: Batik Girl

All storytellers face the same challenges anywhere, regardless of background, location, upbringing. From Hollywood to Cyberjaya, getting through those challenges are what make great stories

Rogue, CEO R&D Studios

Lessons from the Batik World

Community sharing from the Digital Content Creator's Challenge 2019 stage

20 June 2019

Rogue from R&D Studios shared his thoughts and insights from the studio’s journey and their award-winning title Batik Girl

Digital content creators constantly face the challenges of creating compelling designs while making content that has commercial or critical merit.

Held as part of the DICE workshop and a part of the digital content community, one such creator graciously spent an hour with the community to share his journey, the lessons his picked up along the way.

In the beginning: think about markets and target audience

If someone wants to put money in your project, the project needs to have commercial angle.  Rogue, CEO and co-founder of award winning digital content R&D Studio entered the “Syok Sendiri phase” in 2011, bringing them experience but not the expected commercial success. The first IP idea was a movie targeted to teens which is one of the hardest audience segments to win. In 2013, R&D Studio went through the “Out West the West phase”. They found out that it was hard to beat the established players from Burbank, as they were more experienced and having more resources. They learnt that it was a mistake where R&D Studio was talking to only one party exclusively for one of their IPs in a year time. As a result, many other opportunities were missed along the way.

Junglemajig - their next IP, inspired by South East Asian or Nusantara myths and legends. It gained traction with an invitation to pitch in Annecy 2017; the first Malaysian project to do so. They were invited for workshops on how to improve the IP by French experts. They met people from all around the world in Annecy whom also shared the similar stories from their own local legends and myth leading to the realization that local story set with universal stories resonate with everyone.

Telling local stories to an international audience: the birth of Batik Girl

During the Bologna International Children’s Book Festival in 2017, they saw Westerners were admiring the batik table cloth at Malaysian pavilion.  There was an idea in their mind from that observation which led to the creation of Batik Girl animated short film later. They were impressed that a “kain basahan” and “alas meja” would attract the attention from Westerners and seem to have an special value in their eyes.

What is the emotional core of the story? Determine that..

Star Wars: Luke’s journey is the central core, his path is ours Batik Girl: Cucu and nenek relationship is the journey

….and then add in conflicts

Star Wars: the conflicts/challenges from the Empire/Darth Vader. In Batik Girl, the challenge in the relationship between the grandchild; a girl who just lost her parents and her grandmother

The Craft

Beatboards is an important part of the storyboarding process. Batik Girl is not a script driven animated short film. It started from an idea that led to a few pages of story treatment and then straight to beatboards.

Rogue, CEO R&D Studios

The beatboards contain one image or important scene per beat. Batik Girl is a non-dialogue animation which require greater emphasis on the quality of both visual and music. Beatboards focus more on the different points of story instead of camera angles.  

Concepts - Real World

There are two locations in Batik Girl : a batik workshop and a kampung house. The story team of R&D Studio did a research trip to Terengganu, Malaysia and learn from a local batik producer; This batik producer is a sole proprietor who had generously share the knowledge beyond batik designs, the research trip also brought back the knowledge of batik craft and the main inspiration behind batik creation as well as how the batik workshop is operated.

Real world locations were modelled in Blender and digitally painted over. R&D Studio did a lot of research in Malay architecture to better understand the timber construction which became a big help in the 3D modelling process for Batik Girl.

We all need friends: partnering with an experienced animation production house

R&D Studio decided to form a partnership with Tudidut Studio and get the studio to do character animation for Batik Girl. Tudidut Studio used a 2D program with 3D principles (example: rigging on a 2D asset) to achieve more complex camera movements. In a non-dialogue animation, colour schemes and the expression of emotions are very important. R&D Studio did a colour-script to enhance these parts.

In the production of Batik Girl, visual styling from other animation pieces were shared to production team.

  • Backgrounds with a water colour style look
  • Clouds stylised as spirals
  • Waves and hair to follow directionality (example left to right, but not up and down)

Design: the look and feel of the Batik World

Batik World is the most challenging part to design since there was no prior reference anywhere. R&D Studio did an in depth research into batik design and formulate a set of guideline to design the batik world based on their research findings.

In the jungle scenes, “batik” motifs such as Siti Fatimah, Daun Berjalan (creeping vines), etc were used. Gradient colours were used to fit various batik designs.

Ocean scenes were inspired by the swirly lines, and multiple canting lines (parallel lines). Geometry and abstract shapes in batik were explored and designed  to represent real world textures (example: cracked batik design to represent mountains and rocks).

At last, Batik World is designed in a long horizontal piece which is similar to the real batik design.

Music: emotions through audio in a Batik World

Having an inspiration and learning from the music played in non-dialogue Pixar’s “Up” animation movie, specifically the part of opening sequence when both Ellie and Carl were seen, R&D Studio decided to spend a significant cost in music production for Batik Girl.

The studio worked with Faculty of Music  from UiTM to produce the music  with mixture of modern and traditional influence. Different music set were done for each character in Batik Girl to make it easier to identify and let the characters to have their own leitmotif.  For instance,  Mas (the little girl) and Tok Ma (the grandmother) had their own leitmotif with different music set in Batik Girl. Audience can identify the characters through different music sets.

Lessons on festivals: balancing commercial obligations with critical acclaim

Some of the creative festivals will not accept the short film or animation series which had been broadcasted in both tv or online platform before. Creative company are advised to upload the short film or animation series to YouTube or Vimeo and set it as a private link before apply to any festival. Vimeo Pro provide the flexibility to update the same video and retain the same URL Link. is a festival aggregator website providing easy access to different festival circuits. Majority of creative festivals are accessible here even though some big ones are not there. It is advisable to go to the individual festival site to submit your short firm or animation series.

It is advisable to allocate some budget of your production cost to participate in international festival if you are targeting to reach the global audience. In this case, please allocate RM4000 to RM5000 from DICE winnings for festival submissions. Batik Girl was submitted to over 100 festivals and shortlisted into 20 international festivals (20% acceptance rate).

Batik Girl is a good short film but it has only been chosen in the smaller/medium sized festivals. It missed out the big festivals like Annecy and Zagreb - win awards here will be  automatically longlisted for Oscars Award. This is the future goal for R&D Studio and setting their targets on higher aspirations.

Top tips from recent Annecy workshops and engagements

  • Batik Girl is too long and the better format is less than ten Annecy prefers 5-7 minutes animated short film.
  • Batik Girl has linear narrative – a very clear start, conflict and Annecy prefers the sort of endings require thinking and interpretation (e.g. the Inception ending)

Final thoughts

In the Luang Prabang Animation Storytelling Workshop in Cambodia, Rogue had opportunity meeting up a few key figures in animation industry including Aron Warner, Head of Sony Pictures Animation International, Academy Award winning producer of Shrek and Book of Life.  One of the key learnings was storyteller face the same challenges anywhere, regardless in Hollywood, USA or Cyberjaya, Malaysia. It is in overcoming those challenges, problems with the third act, getting characters to be invested in, having a message worth telling, that the truly great stories emerge.

Message to DICE contestants

As a whole, the Creator's Challenge is a chance to be mentored and funded, use that opportunity wisely

  • Listen to your mentors, but don’t compromise your own Their inputs are important, but you may take it as a guide instead.
  • Talk to subject matter experts in various industries as well as the researchers to expand your horizons. In R&D Studio, they tried to engage the industry experts in animation, music as well as academicians.
  • The R&D team had fun making Batik Girl because they could explore many other things that they hardly get in the commercial projects.
  • In Batik Girl, they can put in the extraordinary visual cues like circles in frames for congruence and themes. Think about design, think about themes.
  • Story structure has many ways to unfold. In Batik Girl, it was decided as a ring: having a correspondence between the beginning and the end where the sort is structure as a circle or mirror image

  • Bear in mind the time it takes from pre-production to completion. In Batik Girl, 8 months for used story development (and can actually start before the intake of IPCC/DICE) and 4 months of production
  • Factor in your total production cost. For Batik Girl, it was
    • Production cost RM75k; research and development of story : RM25k (around RM100k).
    • The current prize money of RM100k in DICE is the right amount, balancing production with the development for creating compelling digital content

Q&A: Selected questions from the floor regarding Batik Girl & R&D Studios

  • Is there a sequel?
    • Batik Girl was created as a festival piece. But people are asking for R&D Studio is looking at monetize the IP now. Expansion to movie is also something the fans were asking but it is still under consideration.
    • Tokyo Broadcasting System likes Batik Girl and interested to work directly on this IP together. As such, this will potentially bring in a significant financial gain for R&D studio
  • Would you still do it if there was no IPCC/DICE?
    • Yes, but it will be MDEC is the only one institution in Malaysia offering a significant grant for short films production amounting RM100k. Europe has a long history of giving out grants for short films production and resulted the EU creative companies to push their boundaries in the artistry of short films.
  • What are you guys doing next?
    • R&D Studio next short film project: The Last Dalang - a project to submit for Annecy Festival due in the next few weeks for submission