Usman Riaz, co-founder of Mano Animation Studios, as well as director and storyteller, weighs in on the unexpectedly positive response from China.
You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will be as one.” – ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon
We’ve said it before and there is no harm in recapping it. 2022 was an anomalously successful year for Pakistani pop culture.
The success of Coke Studio 14, The Legend of Maula Jatt, Arooj Aftab’s victory at the Grammys (during the first half of the year, and another nomination again in the later half of 2022) reminded us that even in a grim year, there were things to cheer for.
The Ms. Marvel series was a smorgasbord of Pakistani talent including actors, directors and musicians. Among actors, the highlight for us was Nimra Bucha, Fawad Khan and Mehwish Hayat. Academy Award winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was roped in as one of the co-directors and a terrific selection of Pakistani music was embedded in the series.
Another equally remarkable thing that happened in the past year was how Pakistan’s first-hand drawn animation studio - Mano Animation Studios - accomplished a great deal.
Mano’s The Glassworker was a success at Annecy International Animation Film Festival in 2022, which is held in France and considered the Cannes of animation projects. The Glassworker was selected in WIP (Work in Progress) section at the prestigious platform, which is not easy and had in total 8 works of animations that were showcased.
The prominent Manuel Cristobal also came onboard as executive producer for The Glassworker. Cristobal’s resume includes producing eight animated films, winning the Jury award at Annecy (twice). He is also a five-time winner of the Spanish Film Academy Goya award, winner of the European Film Academy EFA Award, and the Platino Award.
But if the success at Annecy and the coming of Manuel Cristobal onboard as executive producer were some of the big moments for Mano Animation Studios, 2023 has taken an unexpected and positive turn.
Last month, a showreel of The Glassworker, Mano Animation Studios’ first full-length upcoming feature was seen by Chinese audience who found it, according to a report in China Economic Net, fascinating.
Noted China Economic Net in its report, “The showreel of Pakistan’s upcoming hand-drawn animated film The Glassworker has cast a spell on Chinese audience as it has garnered more than 558,000 views, with over 5,000 comments and reviews on BiliBili, a popular YouTube-like video sharing platform in China with over 70 million active daily users.”
Speaking to Instep about the response by the Chinese audience, Usman Riaz explained what this response meant to him and the core team including Mariam Riaz, Khizer Riaz, Aamir Riffat and Sofia Abdullah.
“The animation audience and enthusiasts’ response has absolutely blown us away because we didn’t upload it to BiliBili (a popular YouTube-like video sharing platform in China). An animation fan did and to see so many people responding to it in such a positive light means so much to us at Mano Animation Studios.
“We’re making this for people who love animation and for us to get such support from China certainly means a lot. I’m extremely grateful and I cannot wait to share the film with Chinese audiences - eventually.”
Apart from the beautiful hand drawn animation images, The Glassworker has a compelling story. The synopsis of the film is about a young boy named Vincent, who is learning to become a master glassblower one day and his relationship with Alliz, a violin player who comes from a wealthy family. It is a nuanced take about growing up in a time of war, class differences and how various relationships develop.”
The showreel has left a positive impression wherever it has gone including TED platforms to Annecy and now China.
By making The Glassworker via setting up a studio in Pakistan, Usman Riaz and the core team is also creating an industry for those who have held an interest in hand drawn animation but never had an opportunity before because prior to Mano Animation Studios, no such opportunity existed.
The undaunted spirit of Mano has led to many accomplishments even before the film’s release. Among voice actors, The Glassworker has managed to rope in several high-profile names including Sacha Dhawan as Vincent Oliver, Anjli Mohindra as Alliz Amano and Art Malik as Tomas Oliver. In terms of release date, said Usman Riaz on a parting note: “Charades, our sales agent, is going to be announcing the date but you can expect the film between the third and the fourth quarter of 2023.”