Aspiring local filmmakers, animators and storytellers recently attended an exclusive storytelling masterclass with creators of Disney’s newest film “Raya and the Last Dragon”.

Ahead of the release of the animated feature film, the virtual masterclass which was held at Mahakarya Insitute of the Arts (MIAA), focused on how writers and story artists work together to create an animated film, and how the makers of this film were inspired by their connection with Southeast Asia.

The masterclass was led by screenwriters Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, and Head of Story for “Raya and the Last Dragon” Fawn Veerasunthorn who discussed their creative process and advice on how to bring ideas to come to life on to the big screen.

The animated movie follows Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess, Raya on a quest to find a dragon and reunite the tribes of Kumandra, a land that had been fractured by wars and a plague. 

Lim, who is a Malaysian native of Chinese descent, shared that growing up in a Southeast Asian household, she was always surrounded by strong female leaders, which inspired and embodied the female hero, Raya.

She further said that it was important for her that the first Southeast Asian Disney princess represented and truly embodied the fearlessness, leadership and the love and responsibility for the family on the big screen with whom women like her could identify.

She further said that it was important for her that the first Southeast Asian Disney princess represented and truly embodied the fearlessness, leadership and the love and responsibility for the family on the big screen with whom women like her could identify.

Meanwhile, for Veerasunthorn who has since contributed her talents to the Oscar-winning feature films, “Frozen” and “Zootopia”, as well as Walt Disney Animation Studios “Moana”, there is a lot that goes into the world-building and character design of “Raya and the Last Dragon”.

During the masterclass event, the audience also had a chance to catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes works, character sketches and storyboards of the world of Kumandra and its characters.

Although Kumandra, a world divided by five separate lands which are named after a part of a dragon, Fang, Talon, Tail, Spine, and Heart Land is fictional, it was inspired by real and rich cultures and traditions of different countries in Southeast Asia.

The film took six years to complete, where during the journey, the creative team behind the animation travelled to Southeast Asia for research along with a team of consultants and experts, taking a melting pot of inspiration from countries, including Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines.

For Qui Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American playwright and screenwriter best known for his shows “Vietgone” and “She Kills Monsters” shared with the audience that there is a lot of attention to detail that goes through every aspect of the film’s design not just in the architecture and clothing but also in the movement of the characters.

An audience of the masterclass Lizzie Hj Marali who is an aspiring animator and filmmaker shared that she enjoyed the creative process and storyboard behind making the animation.

“The Masterclass has been quite interesting. I think it’s everyone’s bucket list goal to know what goes behind the scene of Disney and to know how the artists make their visions come true with the help of an empowering team,” she said.

“I like the part when Fawn herself was doing the voiceover and animatics and then it cut to the actual scene being played. It was so mesmerising to watch and see a scene that was created from her head and on to screen,” said the UBD student.

She further said that it was delightful to watch the trailer and saw the Southeast Asian concept being posted online. 

“I was happy to see us being represented more on the big screen like Disney because when people say Asia, it is always just Japanese and Korean,” said Lizzi, who also dreams of representing Brunei as a Pixar or Disney movie.

Meanwhile, for creative designer from Oddbox Production, Nur Hanani Harpan, the Masterclass inspired her to explore more on concept art.

“I’m not good at drawing but when I saw how they drew their vision and the intricate details of the environment (the world of Kumandra), there was a lot of meaning and passion that goes into their artwork and that really inspired me,” she shared.

According to the Dean of MIAA Dr Alex Fischer, for many attending, Mahakarya is the first step towards a career in the creative industry. 

“We are pleased to collaborate with the US Embassy, Disney and University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts to provide rare opportunities such as this for students to interact with leading professionals,” said Fischer.

The US Embassy hosted the event to promote storytelling and the creative arts in Brunei as an emerging industry for economic diversification. 

The event also provided an opportunity for students and filmmakers to consider university-level digital studies, including filmmaking and animation, in the United States.

Through various capacity-building and funding programmes, such as Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and the Small Grant Program, the US Embassy has consistently supported Bruneians telling their stories in their own voices and honing their creative skills.

Through various capacity-building and funding programmes, such as Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and the Small Grant Program, the US Embassy has consistently supported Bruneians telling their stories in their own voices and honing their creative skills.

One such success story is U.S government grant recipient Play Naturally, a Bruneian conservation theatre programme run by local youths, raising awareness of environmental conservation and indigenous cultures.

“As future filmmakers and story artists, you have the ability to educate, inspire, create awareness, shape the cultural narrative, and perhaps raise awareness of history too,” said Public Affairs Officer at U.S Embassy, Jeff Barrus.

“The US Embassy is proud to support the creative arts in Brunei and the promotion of arts and culture remains an important objective for us. We also want to make aspiring filmmakers, animators and other creative artists aware of the incredible range of digital studies available via higher education institutes in the United States,” he said.

THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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