At the most prestigious animation festival in the world that’s held in France annually, Pakistan’s Mano Animation Studios’ first project – The Glassworker – still in production – received a standing ovation as part of the competitive Work in Progress section.
ano Animation Studios (MAS), founded by the prodigious Usman Riaz, is Pakistan’s first hand-drawn (or 2D animation) facility. As SARS-CoV-2 pandemic restrictions ease up (somewhat after at least two years around multiple countries), MAS’ first major project, a 2D animated feature film called The Glassworker (not finished just yet) was selected for the Cannes version of an animation festival: the globally recognized Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
Held in France, the 2022 edition included The Glassworker as part of the “work in progress” section which showcases films of the future including feature films, series, shorts and extended-reality experiences.
The fact that The Glassworker even made it to this section is something to cherish but what’s even more brilliant is that after The Glassworker (mid-production) was showcased, it received a standing ovation and holds the honour of being the first film in the competitive WIP section to receive one in 4 years.
According to Animation Magazine, The Glassworker synopsis goes as follows: “In a magical-realist world in the early 20th century, the son of a glassworker and the daughter of an army colonel fall in love. Their romance is challenged by an approaching war and their parents’ differing outlooks on life.”
Usman Riaz, who founded Mano Animation Studios, is the director of the film with Spanish producer Manuel Cristobal (Wrinkles, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles) onboard as executive producer. Other notable figures include Mariam Riaz Paracha (artistic director and associate producer) as well as Khizer Riaz (producer, line producer), Sofia Abdullah (head of character design), and Aamir Riffat (animation director) as the film’s core team.
The presentation of The Glassworker was also a success. Said the magazine: “Usman Riaz has taken an unusual path to Annecy. Trained as a musician, the Pakistani artist was a student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music — and a TED Senior Fellow — when his childhood love of animation came back to preoccupy him. Having hit on an idea for an animated feature back in 2014, he set about making it. ‘After all, how hard could it be?’ he joked onstage.
The TED Talk training has paid off: Riaz gave a very slick presentation in which he pitched himself as a kind of Walt Disney of Pakistan, no less. And with some justification: in a country with no hand-drawn animation infrastructure to speak of, he has set up a studio (with artistic director Mariam Paracha and producer Khizer Riaz, his cousin) and assembled a team capable of turning out a feature with pretty high production values. Many of his artists are newcomers — some of them erstwhile doctors or dentists — who share Riaz’s passion for the medium. Paracha was also a key speaker at the WIP session.
“The film’s stylistic dial is firmly set to “Ghibli”, from the character designs to the wistful waltz soundtrack (composed by Riaz). The Japanese studio’s films are an avowed influence on the director, who said his team partly reverse-engineered their approaches to storyboarding, animation and so on by studying documentaries and books about Hayao Miyazaki and his colleagues. But The Glassworker is set in a version of Pakistan, the lavish backgrounds anchored in the landscapes and architecture around Karachi.
We learned little about the plot, which is structured in a non-linear way across flashbacks. But on the strength of the presentation alone, Riaz seems a good storyteller. His tale of creative struggle against the odds earned him a standing ovation.”
Apart from the presentation, there was a Netflix party Usman got to attend and a screening of Pixar’s new release, Lightyear.
Building Pakistan’s first 2D studio and taking its first project (midway) was not something even conceivable when the team started but as MAS grew, impossibilities became possibilities. Usman Riaz, director, storyteller, composer and the core team have allowed others to follow their passion while The Glassworker takes Pakistan to a global stage. It is not something everyone can do but when it comes to the prodigious Usman Riaz, nothing is unachievable and, in that spirit, lies the real success of MAS as it works to deliver its first (and most anticipated) project somewhere during next year.
– More as this story develops