Animation The New Frontier
The increased use of animation as a film-making technique has added a new dimension to the industry.
The scene starts with a snapshot of the protagonist, the star of the award-winning animated TV series Burka Avenger. The silhouette of her black costume or burka flapping against the wind as she stands atop a ledge overlooking the sharp, edgy outline of the city; a fictional metropolis called Halwa Pur. With an efficient use of colour that provides non-jarring, crisp images along with swift, yet completely in-sync movements of each character, Burka Avengers – the story of a school teacher who turns to fighting crime and terrorism with unique skills rooted in the art of takht kabaddi - offers its viewers a fresh new visual experience, ultimately breaking ground with high quality cinematography. This is one feature that, until recently, most Pakistani productions lacked in a big way. Innovative techniques are what enabled
Burka Avengers to win numerous awards, including the International Emmy Kids Award, the Peabody Award, the award for ‘Best TV Show’ at the Asian Media Awards and the Rising Star Award at Canada’s International Film Festival.
Burka Avengers isn’t the only animation project that is also causing shockwaves.
Teen Bahadur, Pakistan’s first animated film which is scheduled for release in the summer of 2015, revolves around three exceptionally talented school children who use their superpowers to fight crime and the forces of evil. The film has been made by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who has yet to come out with supposedly extraordinary film-making talents, following her winning an Oscar for the documentary, ‘Saving Face’. With fast-moving imagery, Teen Bahadur may just prove to be Pakistan’s turning point in animation films.
With these and so many other animation projects in the pipeline, all of which have the potential to turn the industry around, it is evident that Pakistan’s animation sector, after receiving less than its fair share of attention sans resources, is finally getting ready to take off. The animation industry in Pakistan has been around for almost two decades, yet, it is only now being recognized for its talents.
“It would be wrong to think that the animation industry in Pakistan doesn’t exist as there have been several companies, such as Lucid Studios and Sharp Image, which have been creating animated content for both local and foreign ad agencies for a while now,” says Irfan Keiri, animation instructor at the Media Sciences department of SZABIST.
In spite of its sudden rise, there are still many areas in which the local animation in- dustry is facing numerous challenges, most notably the lack of investment which could raise the level of production However, research conducted by Bilal Khalid, Assistant Professor at the Postgraduate Centre for Multimedia Arts at the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, shows that in comparison to the total labour cost of 3D animation in both the U.S and India, (which is $360,000 and $90,000 respectively, for a 22-minute clip for a project spread over 7 weeks), Pakistan is much cheaper, ranking at a reasonable $75,000 for the same job.
What then could be the reason for the sector’s drawbacks? According to Ammar Baig,
Director of Operations at Jutt Studios, the lack of quality in locally produced animation can be attributed to a severe lack of talented art directors. “Art direction plays a major role in deciding the nature of content in animation,” he explains. “Unfortunately, we have a shortage of such people in Pakistan, which is why there seems to be a lack of quality.”
But is it a lack of quality people or simply a lack of motivation? After all, this is the same industry that has produced great talent such as Oscar winner Mir Zafar Ali, the brain behind the crisp CGI effects of movies such as Life of Pi, Golden Compass and more recently Frozen, as well as animator extraordinaire Asim Fida Hussain who was responsible for the anima-anima tion sequences in the Harry Potter and G.I. Joe series.
Hollywood has greatly benefited from the talents and hard work of some of Pakistan’s greatest animators, that too, at a cost much lower than that of animators from the US and other countries. In fact, from a global standpoint, Pakistan’s animation sector is currently being seen at the threshold of massive growth. According to the Global Animation Industry Report 2014, many of the world’s major animation markets, including the U.S, Canada, Japan, France, Britain, Korea and Germany, are now turning towards co-production; a practice involving countries like India and Pakistan. This is gaining rapid popularity as it provides flexibility as well as the opportunity to work with small studios and benefit from new and fresh talent.
Yet, we are still stuck with animation that is average at best because of a dearth of talent and the lack of educational institutions that would offer training in various aspects of animation. Perhaps what is needed is proper guidance enabling aspiring animators to gain education and training in the field.
Novaira Masood, a talented visual effects artist is responsible for the visual effects in some popular Hollywood films like A Christmas Carol, Mars Needs Moms, Thor, Trans-Trans formers 3, Jack the Giant Slayer and, most recently, She says that although institutions in Pakistan are equipped to produce competitive software developers, what is needed for them to grow in their field is effective career counseling along with adequate exposure to opportunities which would help establish a strong link between the industry and academia.
“We have smaller companies working on commercials, games and TV shows and that’s a great start,” says Masood. “Once we start creating small-scale content, that will generate interest in the field. We can start training artists and software developers to create more of this type of work.”
In contrast to both TV and film, 3D animation in the advertising industry seems to be doing much better. Ever since Pakistani viewers got their first taste of animated content in advertising with the Ding Dong Bubble TVC with its catchy jingle combined with colourful animation, there have been a host of other advertising ventures churning out amazing content that have received mass appreciation.
These include Pakistan’s first animated superhero Commander Safeguard, which was developed by the extremely talented team at Post Amazers, soon followed by Lifebuoy Germ Busters, Milkateers, Dettol Warriors and Baankay Miyan, to name a few. Trango Interactive is the ultra competitive and talented venture behind smooth animation sequences for advertisements for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Audi, Nike and Sega and even several popular documentaries for the Discovery Channel. Its Chief Operation Officer, Shahryar Hyderi, is incredibly optimistic for the future of animation in Pakistan, provided aspiring animators are given inspiration and the right amount of resources to work with. “Everything is present in the online world.
It is not about earning a degree and belonging to the best educational institution. If we spend hours online and learn through online tutorials, we can definitely do wonders. This is the power of being online,” explains Hyderi. He adds, “The main problem in our country is a lack of exposure. In Pakistan, we require many international companies to set up their studios and train our people, including game developers and computer graphics (CG) artists. There is a great demand in Pakistan for experienced ones and at the same time very few jobs are currently available for them.”
Similarly, the gaming industry is seen as one of the few sectors that are breaking cultural barriers to emerge as perhaps a globally competitive industry. Companies such as Mindstorm Studios which has created games like ‘Whacksy Taxi’, which has shot to number one position on Apple’s App Store in nearly 25 countries, along with ‘Mafia Farm’ and ‘Cricket Power,’, have penetrated the animation sector and given talented animators the chance to polish and refine their talents.
“The idea was to put Pakistan in the gaming world,” says Babar Ahmed, CEO, Mindstorm Studios. He says the arrival of the smartphone has greatly enhanced the success of their games and how they are viewed by consumers. “After smart phones were launched, the definition of what a computer game is has changed overnight,” he explains.
Tariq Mehmood, CEO, ‘Creativesip,’ insists that proper training at a high performing institutes is not enough. What is needed is an adequate supply of resources combined with a positive work environment. “There are plenty of 3D artists who have migrated from Pakistan and are doing extremely well in international companies. Yet here, 3D artists are pretty much ignored,” says Tariq. “They don’t get proper education, recognition or rewards for their skills and eventually either opt for another country or change their profession altogether.” He adds, “You can’t just rely on the training given by Pakistani institutes, you have to extend your knowledge according to the latest versions of the software and for that a fast internet connection is a pre-requisite. Unfortunately the Pakistan government has failed to fulfill these two essential requirements.”
The government of Pakistan has so far kept many of its responsibilities on the backburner, one of which is the development of the animation sector.
Fatah Daudpota, former head of the Visual Arts Department and secretary of the Academic Committee at the now defunct Centre of Excellence in Arts and Design, Jamshoro, says that in order for the industry to progress, it is vital that the government develop the infrastructure and the framework needed for efficient operation and management. This includes the establishment of research funds, direct and indirect investments, aggressive promotion of the animation industry and finally the introduction of an effective broadcasting policy with the support of local animation producers to do away with piracy and unlawful free downloads.
Nevertheless, the overall sentiment about the future of Pakistan’s animation industry is more or less optimistic. Audiences are now beginning to fully appreciate the magic that is associated with animation. Many producers in Pakistan are using animation as a way of touching on certain pressing issues that would not be given full justice through any other medium. If given access to an abundance of resources as well as the right kind of direction, the local animation industry does hold the potential to move mountains.
Mir Zafar Ali