Locally-made short film wins Best Animation at San Diego Comic-con

Locally-made short film wins Best Animation at San Diego Comic-con

BY: Patrick Beech

Malaysian-made animated short film, Horologist by cancer survivor, Jared Lee made history recently when it won Best Animation at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) in the United States.

Horologist — which explores the poignant journey of a young watchmaker's quest to save time in a fantastical world — became the first Malaysian short film to win the prestigious award.

The film was also screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival back in May, having been selected for its Short Film Corner.

It’s also in four Oscar-qualifying film festivals—Flickers Rhodes Island International Film Festival (US), Show Me Shorts (New Zealand), LA Short Film Festival (US), and International Animation Festival ANIMATOR (Poland).

According to Lee, "Horologist" started off as a comic book project to occupy his time when he was unable to make films during the pandemic.

However, thanks to a grant from the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation, (MDEC) he was able to turn his comic into a six-minute animated short.

“It was already surreal to be able to premiere our film and share it as a panel at SDCC. Winning best animation on top of that feels like a strong affirmation of what we do,” said Lee.

The 38-year-old is the founder of local production house Grim Film, which co-produced the short alongside animation and illustration studio Dino Howl.

The tale follows the protagonist, Sand, a humble shopkeeper, who stumbles upon a mystical discovery — the ability to sell time itself. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes evident that this newfound power comes at a heavy and unforeseen cost, leading Sand on a journey of self-discovery and consequences.

Horologist draws its inspiration from the first instalment of The Grimoire, a four-part comic-book collection jointly created by Lee and local comic artist Cross.

Translating the comic onto the silver screen, the animation brings to life the intricacies of the characters and the enchanting world they inhabit.

The talented Malaysian filmmaker stated that he had always wanted to tell stories that he could not describe properly in words

"I have no words other than a big thank you to everyone who said yes to this project, and everyone who has supported the manga. Friends, family, and wife who believed in stories I've wanted to tell, and visions I couldn't describe properly in words. Will keep pushing for as long as I am able," Lee wrote on Instagram.

Lee was raised by a single mother who ran a hair salon and had always dreamt of becoming a comic artist and an animator.

However, during his college years, he realised that animation takes years to make and instead decided to work on improving his writing,

He enrolled in a mass comm programme at IACT College and was able to get a small taste of filmmaking when doing a small video assignment.

Inspiration for the movie

Lee said he got his inspiration for "Horologist" from his own story.

Back in 2018, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and this led to research on adoption and eventually children abandonment around the world.

The issue stuck with him, and during the first lockdown, he ended up using it as a basis to write ‘Horologist’.

He said there are talks about turning “Horologist” into a feature-length film, but he would have to continue writing it before anything else could happen.

Lee was also congratulated by communications and digital minister Fahmi Fadzil in a Facebook post, which read: “This is a great achievement for Malaysian animation, as it is the first Malaysian animated film to win this award.”

A total of 56 films from seven different pop-culture genres were screened at this year’s SDCC event, which featured filmmakers from countries including Canada, China, Egypt, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

This year’s judges were award-winning film composer Nami Melumad (“Thor: Love and Thunder”, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”), award-winning concept artist and artistic director Phillip Boutté Jr (“Black Panther”, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”, “Inception”), and film director, producer and writer Anthony C Ferrante (the “Sharknado” series, “Nix”).

Lee expressed his appreciation to MDEC and the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (Finas) who contributed to the success.

"I have no words other than a big thank you to everyone who said yes to this project, and everyone who has supported the manga.

"Friends, family and wife who believed in stories I’ve wanted to tell, and visions I couldn’t describe properly in words.

"Will keep pushing for as long as I am able," he added.