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America's cartoon cat Garfield gets TV makeover in Indonesia

By Eveline Danubrata and Caroline Ng

JAKARTA/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The comic strip cat Garfield was created in America, but the animated television series based on the famous Jim Davis cartoon character is produced at a sprawling studio on the Indonesian resort island of Batam.

Infinite Studios started in 1997 as a film post-production company with 13 people. In part building on the success of Garfield, it has diversified into creating its own content production as well as animation and visual effects, with facilities that employ 200 people in Indonesia and Singapore.

Southeast Asia has been emerging as a film production center, with an expanding local workforce and growing exports to the region or even to the traditional creative powerhouses like the United States and Europe.

"The Southeast Asian region is very new to the media game. I think we've been in the business for about a decade or just over a decade, whereas the rest of the world has had a lot of time developing their creative economy," Infinite Chief Executive Mike Wiluan told Reuters.

"I think it's a great opportunity. When we go out to the world, we come out as a region as opposed to just coming out as a singular country and trying to compete within such a small region."

The film industry in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam is worth a total of $1.15 billion in 2014 through ticket sales (box office) and cinema advertising, and is projected to jump nearly 17 percent to $1.34 billion by 2018, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates.

Britain's Pinewood Studios Group, famous for its James Bond film franchise, partnered the Malaysian government's investment arm Khazanah Nasional Berhad to open Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in June.

American studio The Weinstein Company will use the $170 million complex in the southern Malaysian state of Johor as the shooting site for "Marco Polo", a series about the Italian merchant traveler from Venice, media reported. It will be shown on U.S. video streaming service Netflix.

In Singapore, "Star Wars" creator Lucasfilm launched a visual effects and animation hub in January to work on Hollywood blockbusters and bolster its marketing efforts in Asia.

"CREATION BIBLE"

The learning curve to animate Garfield, which started as a comic strip by Davis in 1978, is not too steep for Infinite's team of animators who are mostly Indonesians, Wiluan said.

France's Dargaud Media, which owns the rights to "The Garfield Show", has come up with a "creation bible" which is followed by the subcontractors in the production process.

"It basically enables anyone to follow the instructions of how this character would look, feel and act," Wiluan said.

"I guess why Garfield has been so successful all over the world is because it's the adventure of a really cute cat and everyone understands it."

On top of bringing to life characters originating in the West, Southeast Asian film makers are increasingly tapping on local culture to create unique content that appeals to both domestic and international markets.

"The Raid 2", an action movie co-produced by Indonesia's PT. Merantau Films about a police officer using the traditional silat martial arts to fight thugs, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year to several positive reviews.

Malaysian animation studio Les' Copaque Production Sdn Bhd produces the popular "Upin and Ipin" television show about a pair of 5-year-old twins experiencing their first-ever fast in the Muslim month of Ramadan.

The show is broadcast by the Disney Channel, Turkey's Hilal TV, as well as television stations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

(Reporting by Eveline Danubrata in Jakarta; Additional reporting by Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur, Editing by Michael Roddy)

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