Categories: Newsmakers

Tintoy Chuo, The Original Artist who is Bringing Puppets Out of the Shadows

The Originals. A series of Portraits with some of Malaysia’s most original and disruptive talent.

Episode One. Tintoy Chuo. An Original Artist. Founder of Fusion Wayang Kulit.

Brought to you by The Glenlivet

Welcome to the shadowy world of Tintoy Chuo, a regular guy turned rising artist from Penang Island. He has made both local and international headlines, for his sci-fi- and pop culture-inspired shadow puppetry. Although his parents envisioned him to be an accountant at first, Tintoy decided to break tradition and follow his passion. He convinced his parents to let him study design in Kuala Lumpur and follow his dream to become a character designer. A passion his father accidentally triggered in him. But we’ll get to that later.

It is believed that shadow puppetry originated from India thousands of years ago. It landed in Malaysia about 500 years ago, known now as “wayang kulit”. The representation of “wayang kulit” varies across Southeast Asia. The Malaysian versions in particular, are sturdier and have one moveable arm, where the inner arm is holding a representative element of the character. For example, a warrior would hold a sword while a princess would hold a fan. The main characters would always stand on a dragon as a way to define his or her status. Similar to the shadow puppetry in Thailand, China, and Turkey, audiences in Malaysia will be able to watch a colourful set of shadow puppets during each performance too, as they use tools such as markers and Artline inks to colour each character.

Inspired by sci-fi and popular culture, Tintoy’s work is unique and, well, original. He has created designs inspired by Star Wars, DC Superheroes, Ultraman, etc. Some of his other artworks include Bruce Lee and the Joker. He also got the attention of English star Ed Sheeran. With all the fame and creativity that surrounds the man, the burning question is: what is he really like in person? He, like stardust, arrived early in the morning of the interview and seemed to be calm, like any other regular Joe. He was so easygoing that we dove straight into the conversation.

Ed Sheeran-inspired puppet presented to him

Discovering His Passion

As a kid, he had the best time of his life when he joined his dad for work, as his father was a mechanic at an arcade centre. This meant having endless credits for the games. The visits to the arcade were what partly inspired him to become a character designer. Yes, he enjoyed the adrenaline rush of completing each quest, but it also fuelled his curiosity about the games and the characters. As a child, he discovered his love for sci-fi and his enthusiasm for Japanese, American, and European stories.

Tintoy’s family photo

A drawing done by him when he was about five years old

In 2012, Tintoy created his first designs, Star Wars’ inspired puppets, which were Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. These were part of an art exhibition, Designer’s Weekend in Publika, and it was a great experience for him. Pak Dain, a master of shadow puppetry from Kelantan, visited the exhibition and that was the inspiration he needed to start his company Fusion Wayang Kulit, together with co-founder Take Huat. And ever since then, they have performed in various countries, and will continue to do so.

His Vision for Wayang Kulit

Through his designs, he wants to make the art of shadow puppetry as popular as the more ubiquitous versions of art—like paintings and sculptures—and see it incorporated into everyday life. Not only that, he seeks to make it modern and cool. He says, “I hope the way people look at this art form is more open, in a more relaxed way,” as opposed to perceiving these as an antiquated form of creative expression.

And that he did—he succeeded in incorporating futuristic elements into his designs unlike anybody has done before. Judging by the response of the public, it’s safe to say that it was a hit.

His advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps or be involved in culture is this: do your research properly, respect the culture and talk to a “sifu” or master to understand the discipline. “It is harder, but it’s more meaningful and that is the right way.”

An exhibition at Mistelbach-Austria

Breaking Traditions

Successful people inspire him; binge-watching Netflix’s latest series is not really his thing. Tintoy’s advice is to peer into the lives of successful people—especially when they talk about solving problems. “If they can solve all these big problems—mine is peanuts, so I should be okay—I can solve this”. Apple’s Steve Jobs and Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto are two people that have inspired him the most. He also closely follows Elon Musk’s Mars plans.

But what set him on the path of his initial success was not a person, but a slogan: Apple’s famous campaign line ‘Think Different’. He explains the concept of Think Different enthusiastically.

“Think Different is asking us to look at things from a different way. Traditionally, “wayang kulit” has been done in the traditional story, in a traditional form. So, what if we actually add in some futuristic or sci fiction elements, where nobody had done it before? True enough, it was actually well received.”

“Never Give Up” Anthem

Like many, Tintoy too has a go-to song to lift him up during difficult moments. A few years ago, when he hit a low point during one of his projects, he heard the song, “Stronger (What doesn’t kill you)” by Kelly Clarkson. That phrase became very meaningful and calming to him, for it motivates him to think of the solution. Especially now that he is a bit older and wiser, he realises that life is filled with problems. And solving problems is part of life. His advice for this is to just face them and move on. “What are you going to do? Give up?”

Of course, even the most talented individuals get stuck sometimes. If he has a tight deadline for a project, he is not afraid to ask for help from his friends and the people around him. But if he has time to spare, he takes a step back, as there is always the risk of getting tunnel vision. In this situation, he takes a few days off and comes back with fresh eyes to get to the solution or a new idea.

Being An Original

Tintoy is modest when asked how he comes up with new ideas. “I would love to say I always got a new idea, but … in reality, that’s not the way. Sometimes it’s not up to us to come up with new ideas. It is the process”. He believes that coming up with new ideas is not easy and actually hard work. You have to keep on trying. But make sure you are not in a hurry, because if you want to get things done fast, you usually will not get it done.

“Original thinking is actually a road with a lot of obstacles because at this point in time, there’s so many people that have done so many things already out there. So, how do you do something with originality? For my project, I didn’t have any sample that people have done, so everything I have to solve by myself. So, this journey is a bit tougher, but I would say it’s worth it.”

Final Words

When asked which Star Wars character he would like to be, he instantly answers: “Luke Skywalker after Return of the Jedi. Because then he was in his prime form, and I want to feel that force so I can do a lot of things”.

We are already looking out for his next projects. Unfortunately, he can’t disclose his next projects “due to confidentiality”. How fitting—to leave us with a mystery wrapped in shadows.

Watch the video of his interview here.

Tintoy Chuo is an original artist and one of UNRESERVED’s The Originals.

This series is brought to you by The Glenlivet.


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