Lemon Sky - the Malaysians behind Avengers and Starcraft

Faisal Asyraf

Modified 24 Oct 2020, 3:07 pm

MALAYSIANSKINI | Avid gamers will be more than familiar with massive game titles such as the Final Fantasy VII Remake, Spiderman, Last of Us Part II, and Marvel's Avengers.

But what they are likely to be oblivious to, is that those are just some of the games designed by homegrown CGI art studio Lemon Sky Studios.

The Final Fantasy VII Remake alone sold 3.5 million copies in the first three days when it was launched in April this year, while the Last of Us Part II sold 4 million copies in its first week.

Met at his office in Shah Alam recently, Wong Cheng Fei (above, right), the studio's 45-year-old chief executive officer told Malaysiakini about his journey, from aspiring artist to a force to be reckoned with in the global game and animation industry.

"Since I was six years old, I have been fascinated by art, comics, and cartoons. I used to imitate drawings from Japanese artists and all the works of Hong Kong artist Ma Wing-shing" he said.

Aside from Ma, he cited Fujiko F Fujio (Doraemon), Akira Toriyama (Dragonball), and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) as inspirations who introduced him to the world of drawing and cartoons.

Today, Wong’s office is filled with posters and action figures, many of them graced by the autographs of celebrity artists.

Meanwhile, next to his room, some 200 artists are busy working on the next undisclosed projects. 

Right now, gamers around the world are busy playing the newly-released Marvel Avengers, one of the recent projects the studio was involved with.

Press start

Looking back, Wong said he grew up in a family that didn't understand art. His father is a businessperson and his three siblings are engineers and architects.

"In my time, every parent wanted their kids to be a doctor and engineer. But my parents noticed that I was into drawing.

"My father was clueless as to how a creative line can (allow one to) make a living in Malaysia.

"Luckily, one day, he found out that his friend's daughter, who was working in the advertising industry, did pretty well in her career and he thought that actually, you can make a living in the creative line," he said.

Wong graduated from One Academy in 1996, majoring in illustration, and climbed up the ladder from being an artist for a local comic to a 3D animator and art director.

He went on to form his own studio with his buddy Ken Foong as chief creative officer.

In the early days, the studio worked with Blizzard which produced the famous title StarCraft.

"We got lucky to have a chance to work on the StarCraft Remastered project. We managed to solve all of its problems for Blizzard. They lost their original files which contained crucial documents.

"We had to create everything on the art side for the game. Eventually, the title became successful.

"Because of StarCraft, another studio company EA saw our names in the game credits. They were thinking of remastering Command and Conquer and so we were invited to the United States and signed a contract to help them with the game," he added.

Multi-cultural exposure helps

For the uninitiated, Wong explained how his studio works.

"First we need to come up with the concept art, which is - what sort of thing do we want to build. Once we confirm that, then we go on to build it in 3D.

"We actually give solutions to clients such as how the environment is going to look like. A lot of people think video games are all about programming, but 60 percent of the game is art."

As to how international studios have put their faith in local artists to design something representing other cultures, Wong attributed the talent of local artists to the adaptation of pop culture among Malaysians.

"Malaysians are really into pop culture. We are no stranger to the Japanese, Chinese, and Western cultures. Just throw us anything from the West to the East, chances are we can do it because we grew up with them.

"The Japanese and Americans I have met are often surprised by Malaysians' knowledge and passion in pop culture," he said. 

"You see, StarCraft is famous in South Korea, but in the end, the company hired us, not Koreans.

"Warcraft is huge in China, but the developer ended up coming back to us to help design the game," he added.

However, according to Wong, passion is only half of the equation.

"It comes with a package. We have to be outstanding in our work, communication, and the commitment to deliver.

"Of course, the budget is another factor. We produce designs with a reasonable budget but at top-notch quality," he said.

It pays to be animated

While the studio is known among industry players as having been involved in video game production, Wong said in recent years, they have been expanding their portfolio in animation too.

Lemon Sky's animation series Astrolology, uploaded on Youtube, garnered over 280 million views and earned at least a dozen international awards.

Another animation series, Santiago of the Sea, which tells the story of a pirate, is expected to air on Nickelodeon in October.

Commenting on the future of the creative industry in Malaysia, Wong viewed a promising prospect for aspiring artists.

"Universities and colleges have started to offer courses on creative programmes. But the quality is not there yet.

"There are still not enough good lecturers to teach, as many professionals are working.

"It takes time to see improvement. To grow faster, we need more good teachers and lecturers in this line," he added.

Nonetheless, he is very confident that for the coming generations, the creative industry holds a bright future.

"From now to the future, it's very bright. Look at the film industry, there are blockbusters around the world. In Malaysia, we have animations like Upin & Ipin and Ejen Ali.

“It has created a lot of jobs. The same applies to video games, we get a lot of enquiries. We are expanding our company. The industry is expanding."

Wong also urged the government to inject more funds to help the industry grow by giving a boost to the education sector and promoting the industry.

He praised the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation for supporting local industry players.

Hard work spawns talent

Wong admitted to having a single-track mind about his pursuits. When asked about other interests, he responded with: “I have none. What I know best is video games and drawing.”

As for personal growth, Wong said being hardworking is more important than having talent: "Personally, I know a lot of talented people."

"If you are hardworking enough, you will develop the talent," he said.

MALAYSIANSKINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.

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