ImagineX Studios, the audio heroes behind "Jailbreak" and more
Writer: Erny Suzira
ImagineX Studios' Head of Studio, Boon (Left) and General Manager, Jazzlyn (Right).
As one of Asia's premier music, sound design and mixing studios, ImagineX Studios continues to deliver award-winning audio works for live-action and animated feature films, television series, games of all platforms, online or mobile content, and thousands of TV and radio commercials worldwide.
Founded by Mike Bloemendal and Leon Tan, who combined possess a total of 30 years' experience in building digital media businesses in the region, ImagineX Studios has been breathing life into every form of audio it touches for the past 19 years and counting.
Some of the Malaysian based studio's most notable works include Malaysia's "Polis Evo", "Munafik", "Harry and Bunnie", "Saving Mr Wu", "War of the Worlds: Goliath", "Bunohan", and "Seefood".
One of the studio's bigger projects is the highly-anticipated Cambodian martial arts feature film, "Jailbreak", directed by "Hanuman" director Jimmy Henderson and produced by Loy Te.
The upcoming action film is sort of like "Prison Break", starring international cinema martial artist and stunt choreographer Jean-Paul Ly, who has been involved in several blockbuster movies including "Marvel's Doctor Strange", "Lucy", "24 Live Another Day", "Now You See Me 2","Grimsby", "The Girl with all the Gifts" and more.
Jean-Paul Ly and Dara Our are the main characters of the movie.
The film also stars Dara Our, star of Khmer first action movie "Hanuman", Savin Phillip, Céline Tran, Tharoth Sam, and also Sisowath Siriwudd.
Set to be screened in Cambodian cinemas on 31 January 2017, "Jailbreak" is about Playboy, the leader of a gang who sell out his members in return for a reduced sentence. Getting into a high security prison, Playboy meets the real leader of his gang and a deadly riot in the prison ensues.
Head of Studio, Raja Ahmad Shaidaley or better known as Boon, as well as General Manager, Jazzlyn Loh, talked to us recently on what ImagineX Studios is all about and how working with audio can be something really inspiring.
How ImagineX Studios operates
Most of the time, the team will first sit with the directors and producers before starting a project.
"The approach for advertisement and film is almost the same. But for film, before everything starts, we always have a briefing session with the director and producer. They will convey to us what sort of feel they want for the movie, because if you noticed, some movie is very minimalist – meaning less sound, while some movies are loud and are right in your face, especially for action movies," said Raja Ahmad Shaidaley AKA Boon, Head of Studio.
The briefing session was done so that the team won't have to do anything twice. So after the session, the team will first do a small significant section from the movie and show it to the director to ensure that everything is on the right direction and approach.
With "Jailbreak" plotted to be a non-stop action film, can you imagine the amount of audio work that would be required to make every punch, kick and slap sound real?
The meeting room where the studio team has a briefing session with the directors and producers.
As a creative designer
There are also times when the team has to decide the sound and music because some directors may not have an idea. Thus, the team will usually brainstorm and come up with some ideas that are suitable with the vision of the directors.
"So in a way, we are also creative designers as we sometime come up with sound designs for them and most of the time, they do like what we do. We have done sound design so often that we already became very good at it. So most of the time, we would help them in the process of creating sounds," said General Manager Jazzlyn Loh.
The audio recording room.
Hardest part of the process
According to the two talented people from ImagineX Studios, the hardest part of the audio process is always to convince a client why it takes time, why the process costs a certain figure, and why more people are needed to complete the job.
"To be honest, even one person can do a whole movie, but the quality won't be as good unless the person has the whole year to do it. So, if they want a movie to finish within two months while the sound is great at the same time, obviously we would need a team of people to be in charge of different departments such as dialogue editing, sound effects editing, sound designs, foley works and mixing. So it takes a lot of people and that would ultimately increase the cost, but at the end of the day, the quality will increase as well," Boon explained.
Jazzlyn and some of the people behind audio production.
Misconception on audio production
According to Jazzlyn, there's a misconception when it comes to doing sound where a lot of people think that it is an easy job, when it is not.
"When you watch a good movie, everything sounds so perfect and natural. But if you look behind the scenes, a lot of the sounds were remade and re-added to make it sound realistic."
"I'm not surprised that people think the process is easy, because the target is to make the movie sound natural, like how people would normally hear it in real life," Boon added.
Boon also explained that not everything will be shot on location as some scenes may be shot in a studio which is very quiet, and a lot of sounds need to be put into that scene to make it the environment of the scene sounds realistic, because if you shoot a scene on location, there are certain factors that you cannot control such as the noise and weather, whereas in a studio, you can control your time, lighting, and avoid all sorts of disturbances.
Similarity with visual effects
The audio production is more or less similar to visual effects production where they have a lot of layers to create a scene. Similarly, audio also deals with a lot of layers of sounds in a particular scene.
"Our job is more about bringing life to the whole movie. There's a reason why people stop watching silent movie, and there's a reason why cinemas keep investing in better speakers, and why people coming up with better audio equipment," Boon said.
One of the studios.
When asked about their most satisfying and proudest work up to date, the audio experts mentioned Hong Kong-Malaysian production horror "Hungry Ghost Ritual" starring Nick Cheung, which won Best Sound Mixing at the 27th Malaysian Film Festival (FFM 27).
However, Boon and Jazzlyn also said that the reason they love working on the movie was not just because it won an award, but the collaborative process of working with the director was also very satisfying as the team were given a lot of creative license to work on the project.
Another project which they are proud of and really had a lot of fun working on, is an animation TV series called "Insectibles".
"We've done quite a lot of TV series before, but this series has really good script and making the sound design was really fun!" Jazzlyn exclaimed.
The animation series was an international collaboration because the sound was done in Malaysia, the animation was done in Singapore and Indonesia, while the talents are mostly from America, Canada and Malaysia too.
Trailer of "Insectibles".
Not enough recognition?
As the people who work behind the scene of movies and series, Jazzlyn and Boon admitted that sometime, they don't get enough recognition from the industry even though what they do is very crucial in making a film.
"It's kind of sad that even though we do get recognition, it's always like an afterthought. Our ceremony is always separate from the main event," Jazzlyn said.
"We do hope that people will start recognising the hard work of all the people who work behind the scene, and realise how difficult it is. Not just audio, but visual-wise too. Look at "Life of Pi", the ones who get recognition is the director and the actor, but do you know how difficult it is to create the CGI scenes and effects in "Life of Pi"?", she added.
"We just hope that the producers and directors realise the kind of effort and dedication we put. We don't need recognition on the big screen, we just need recognition from the producers and directors' sides, and hopefully they will continue to support us in the future because that too is a form of recognition."
ImagineX Studios wins Best Sound for "Hungry Ghost Ritual" at FFM 27.
Give Malaysian talents a chance!
Even until today, many people still believe that international works are always better than local works. While many have started to change their perception with the recent good flow of local movies that are in the market these days, some still remain with the same mind-set.
"Some producers always have this mind-set that going out of Malaysia is better, but it's not necessary so, because we have seen sound works that comes from outside that are mediocre at best," Jazzlyn said.
This is because Malaysia is still considered one of the youngest countries to start in post-production, but the industry has certainly grown a lot throughout the years.
"There're a lot of experience people here too so there's no need to go outside of Malaysia when you can get things done here. It's unfortunate that not a lot of people are given the opportunity to prove themselves because work still trickles out overseas. The local should be given an opportunity to at least try."
ImagineX Studios is currently working on two movies. One as mentioned earlier is "Jailbreak"; the result of Leon Tan who was in Cambodia and after meeting the filmmakers offered ImagineX's services to work on complete audio production of the movie including sound design and final mix.
The visual post-production of the film was done by Malaysian production house, Basecamp Films, who always work very closely with ImagineX Studios.
ImagineX is also working on a disaster movie called "Destruction LA", a production shot out of Los Angeles, where 80 percent of the post-production was done here.
Words of advice for those who wants to venture into audio production
"I would say 'don't!'," Boon jokingly said.
"First, they have to make sure that they are in this line of work because they love it and they are willing to sacrifice a lot of their time to be in this industry, because being in this line of work is tiring and there will be time where you will have to work extra hours, and on late nights and weekends as well. So it is always important to have the passion because that is the main force that will continue to carry you forward in the future."
"Because in my experience, some people work in this line because of the glamorous title like Sound Designer or Sound Engineer, these people cannot go far because they didn't get into this business due to their passion, but more because the working environment seems relaxing" he continued.
"So my advice to anyone who wants to get into this industry is, sort yourself first and ask, "Do you really want to be in this industry?" or you just like the idea of working in this industry?"
Cinema Online, 22 December 2016
Boon and Jazzlyn pose outside of ImagineX Studios' office.