An­i­ma­tion The New Fron­tier

The in­creased use of an­i­ma­tion as a film-mak­ing tech­nique has added a new di­men­sion to the in­dus­try.

Slogan - - COVER STORY - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq

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.

No­vaira Ma­sood

Mir Za­far Ali

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