Love for animation helps illustrator with mild intellectual disability find the hero within

Love for animation helps illustrator with mild intellectual disability find the hero within

SINGAPORE — Mr Lim Han Ming’s face lights up as he talks about Kana Akira, the blue-haired hero created by the budding animator.

“The most dangerous person is the most silent,” said the 21-year-old of his anime character. However, he quickly clarified: “But he’s a good guy!

“He’s just an average joe, but when there is trouble…he’s all action, no talk.”

Perhaps sometime in the future, anime fans will get to see Kana Akira star in his own animation series, which is a goal that Mr Lim, who has mild intellectual disability, is earnestly working towards.

Since February this year, he has been attending a basic illustration course at game design institute MAGES Institute of Excellence, picking up the essentials of drawing. These include using perspective, effectively combining light and shadow in an image, and drawing the human anatomy.

Mr Lim, who works eight-hour shifts at a McDonald’s outlet in Woodlands four days a week, spends the rest of his time practising the additional tips that he picks up from watching Youtube tutorials. He draws sketches of Kana Akira on the graphic tablet that he saved up money to buy.

He also received support last October in the form of a S$3,000 grant from the TODAY Enable Fund, which helped to defray his course fees, and allow him to attend an advanced illustration course.

Diagnosed with mild intellectual disability at the age of nine, Mr Lim said his interest in animation came after he attended an ad-hoc workshop on basic animation organised by his school, the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Delta Senior School, when he was 17.

While he was trained to work in the food and beverage industry in school, he had always enjoyed drawing since he was a child.

“There were always sheets of paper lying around the house with my sketches on it,” he told TODAY.

Mr Lim credits his love for cartoons, in particular Donald Duck, for sparking his interest in drawing as he wanted to create characters that could similarly “come to life” on paper.

He also found the cartoon character’s exaggerated reactions fun to watch. “It’s so funny when he gets angry…but in real life you got to calm a person down (if that happens),” he added.

He may be a huge fan of Donald Duck, but Mr Lim’s bubbly disposition is nothing like the foul-tempered cartoon character. This despite a childhood riddled by sadness and tragedy, as he lost both parents to illness at a young age.

His mother died when he was just 10, and his father also passed away a year later in 2009. Mr Lim and his elder brother Han Long were put under the care of their paternal uncle and aunt, but his aunt died in 2012.

At Woodlands Primary School, where he was enrolled in before being transferred to Chaoyang School, he was frequently bullied by his classmates for being different.

Luckily for him, his elder brother was a pillar of support, as Han Long would skip classes to look after him if he refused to go to school. Other times, he would wait for his younger brother so that they could have dinner together.

“His brother has been a very supportive figure in his life,” said Ms Goh Wei Tin, the younger Lim’s job coach at Delta Senior School. She added that Han Long, whom Ms Goh met often during school consultation sessions, was only happy when his younger sibling was happy.

Ms Goh said Han Long, who is in his mid-20s and works as an Uber driver, is happy now that his brother has found some independence, and he encourages Mr Lim’s creative aspirations.

With the love and support from his brother, and his interest in animation, Mr Lim has come a long way from the shy teen who had trouble “regulating his emotions” and coping with stress, said Ms Goh, who was assigned to help Mr Lim about a year and a half ago.

Mr Lim was upbeat when asked about the greatest challenge he has faced so far. His answer, delivered without a hint of resentment over his troubled days as a child, was a more mundane one that many people struggle with: Time management.

However, the young man became bashful as he spoke about how Ms Goh not only helped him overcome his anxieties and come out of his shell, but got him enrolled in the illustration course at MAGES.

Ms Goh said she read about the TODAY Enable Fund in an email from SG Enable. Aware of Mr Lim’s fascination with animation, she helped him apply for it. “His financial situation was not the best…so we felt this would help him build up his interest and his confidence,” she said.

With the skills picked up from the course, Mr Lim dreams of getting an internship, or a job at Lucasfilm one day.

He learnt about the American animation studio, famed for their Star Wars movies, after watching a news report about the company opening its Singapore office at Fusionopolis.

“It’s so cool,” he said of the Clone Wars, an animated spin-off from the Star Wars movies. “And it’s not just the animation…it’s the story-telling.”

If he had his way, there is one thing he would fix in the series, as he added: “The fight scenes are too slow!”