Awang Batil breathes a new life in the digital era through metahuman technology

08 Dec 2023 02:11pm
The masks of Awang Batil. Picture from Internet.
The masks of Awang Batil. Picture from Internet.

Romli Mahmud, a name that might not echo in the halls of Malaysia's vast multi-ethnic society, is nevertheless spoken with profound respect among those who dwell in the realms of cultural administration and traditional artistry.

As the sole torchbearer of Awang Batil, a performance art steeped in Malay tradition and recognised by Unesco as a “Living Heritage,” Romli’s influence stretches far beyond the confines of his native land, imprinting on the global tapestry of traditional arts.

Originating from Perlis, a northern state in Malaysia, Awang Batil is a vibrant tapestry of storytelling, woven with threads of humor and entertainment. The art form is visually striking, with performers donning colourful traditional attire, elaborate turbans, and occasionally, masks or facial decorations that add a layer of mystique.

The performance’s heartbeat is the batil—a copper gong—whose rhythmic sounds underscore the narratives, anchoring Awang Batil not just as entertainment, but as a vessel of cultural identity and history. However, in the rush of modern life, this art form has seen a waning interest among the younger generation, sparking fears of its eventual fade into oblivion.

To bridge tradition with the pulsating beat of the digital age, Awang Batil is undergoing a transformation, embracing technologies like MetaHuman or digital human.

Developed by Unreal Engine, MetaHuman technology is pioneering the creation of hyper-realistic digital avatars, revolutionizing fields like film production and video gaming. This technology’s ability to enhance appearance, expression, and movement was notably showcased in James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment’s exploration in Avatar, breathing life into the fictional Na'vi.

MetaHuman’s potential extends to the reinvention of Awang Batil, giving it a digital heartbeat that resonates with today's youth. This technology’s realism and expressiveness offer a new dimension to the storytelling, allowing the ancient tales to flourish in the digital landscape. Its use is not widespread in Malaysia yet, but its global impact is undeniable, seen in games like "Red Dead Redemption 2" and "Death Stranding 2," where it has created lifelike human characters.

This fusion of technology and tradition presents an exciting avenue for Malaysia’s youth, especially those already engaged with AI platforms like Midjourney and ChatGPT. There lies an untapped potential in Malaysian youth to harness such technologies, creating digital art that rivals international standards. This integration not only bridges the gap between audience and performers through VR but also revitalizes the way stories are told, making them more relatable to contemporary audiences.

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The digitisation of Awang Batil and similar art forms infuses them with new life, elevating their appeal and competitiveness. Artists like Romli Mahmud can continue to charm audiences, both young and old, while the unique allure of Awang Batil finds new admirers globally through online platforms. This digital evolution plays a crucial role in preserving these art forms for future generations, extending their reach beyond the Asean region.

In conclusion, the innovative melding of digital technology with traditional arts opens a realm of possibilities. It empowers the youth to collaborate with local artists in crafting digital narratives that not only preserve but also celebrate the rich tapestry of Malay cultural heritage.

This synergy between the old and the new rekindles a connection with local traditions, fostering a deeper appreciation and understanding among the younger generation. In doing so, it ensures the vibrant hues of Malaysia's cultural legacy continue to flourish in the ever-evolving digital world.

Hesmel Faznee has 21 years of experience in government and corporate sectors, specialising in corporate strategy/top management, public relations/communications and event management.

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