In a studio in Kajang, Selangor, a group of animators are hard at work building a world in which five pint-sized superheroes join forces to protect a city and keep evil forces at bay.
“We need to keep going!” Ely, Jango, Riko, Bepop and Rexx cry as the giant robot suit which they operate as a team comes under enemy fire.
Reminiscent of childhood icons like the highly popular “Power Rangers” series, “Robozeta”, the brainchild of animation firm Red Circle, is designed for the youngest members of the population.
But while its bright colours and comic book style speak volumes about its target audience, they also demonstrate just how far the country has come in terms of its animation industry.
With local hits like “Upin dan Ipin” long established in other countries like China and Indonesia, Malaysia has made rapid progress throughout the years, landing a spot as the main driver of the regional animation industry.
Yet with its advancements have arisen concerns about originality, with some locally produced series seen as mere copies of other programmes that came before.
At the Red Circle studio, though, the aim of the team was to produce their own animated series.
That was the start of “Robozeta”, a series based on the evergreen theme of good versus evil.
The initial idea made its debut in 2016 as a proposal to the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation.
“We managed to get first place at that session,” chief animator Muhamad Hafiz Abd Samad recalled in an interview with MalaysiaNow.
“After that, we came up with a teaser clip which we further expanded into 13 episodes.”
Within a year, the studio had succeeded in finishing the first season of “Robozeta”.
In 2020, it experienced a breakthrough when Singapore’s Media Corp bought the series and began screening it in the city-state.
“Robozeta” was produced with the company’s earnings from its core business.
“We did apply for a grant in 2017, but the amount we received was not as much as we had asked for,” Hafiz said.
But despite its financial constraints, Red Circle pushed on. Today, it has completed a second season and is in talks for a spot on local television stations.
Company director Dzahiruddin Ahmad Zabidi said they were optimistic that the series would be able to penetrate the local market and compete with other established shows.
“The series already available in Malaysia are mostly focused on children,” he said.
“Not many are targeted at teenagers and adults. For ‘Robozeta’, we went with the superhero theme.”
He added that it was important to have variety in genres and not to simply copy and paste from existing animation series.
For the second season of “Robozeta”, the company plans to further solidify the relevant data before exporting the series to other countries.
Even now, though, Hafiz said efforts to promote the series on social media have received a good response, with increasing numbers of followers.
The team is also looking for business partners to produce “Robozeta” toys and souvenirs.
Dzahiruddin sees the second season as proof of what Malaysians can accomplish, even in a short period of time and with limited resources.
“Normally, animation companies in the country are not sustainable,” he said.
“Once one season ends, the company closes shop. The business cycle of animation in Malaysia is not too stable yet, even though the audience is increasing.”