Seamus, a 33-year old male Irish animator in his prime, captured by authorities while bus touring through Kuala Lumpur in 2007, is one of the reasons hope remains for the Malaysian animation industry.
Vacationing world-class animators once roamed all across the tropical regions of Southeast Asia, but their numbers were decimated the last few years as the global economic meltdown forced travelers to venture closer to home on their holiday breaks. Prized in China for their ability to create episodic animated children’s programming on time and on budget, without storyboards or any understandable plot, these vacationing animators from the West, captured and put to work in studios, were once plentiful across the region.
Now, there are fewer than 20 animators like Seamus in all of Malaysia, until recently working in a handful of studios on a few non-descript animated children’s series broadcast in Australia or English speaking Asia. They have been classified as critically endangered, according to the Association for the Conservation of Highly Skilled Western Animators, a group funded in part by the UN and ASIFA International.
But a dedicated group of Malaysian art conservationists and venture capitalists are determined to bring this animator group back from the edge of extinction though a captive breeding program. Housed on a heavily guarded and expensively equipped compound near Sabah, in the northern most region of Borneo, the newly constructed Happy Worker Animator Preserve has brought together the majority of the remaining Western animators in captivity in the hopes that controlled breeding will sustain the threatened gene pool and restore the population to healthy, and productive, levels.
Much of the program’s hope lies with Seamus, who walks with a cane due to poorly healed leg injuries sustained during his capture, and several colleagues, all Europeans, all taken by force between 2005-2007 while vacationing in various parts of the country.
Initial attempts at forced breeding were not encouraging, as language issues and excessive drinking drove panicked young females from the compound’s recreation center before mating was consummated. Also unsuccessful was an attempt to introduce much older women who had done cleanup and ink and paint during the 1980s. That meeting quickly escalated into a shouting match filled with vicious taunts and a sticky rice fight. Another mating event is planned for early June, this time with fertile female art students brought in from the Philippines.
Overall, Seamus and his colleagues seem to have taken well to their captivity, gaining an average of 6 kg since their arrival this past February 1, though they did struggle initially while doctors determined which animators had the most viable sperm. Authorities are convinced their newest plan, which involves busing in the attractive art students from Manila along with a promise of funding for the production of an animated feature film, will provide proper incentive for the animators to mate successfully.
Barring the success of the June event, there has been talk of implementing an artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization program modeled after programs currently being used at San Diego, California’s Wild Animal Park.