Instep Today

Usman Riaz takes Mano Animation Studios to Japan

By Maheen Sabeeh
Tue, 12, 18

Selected as one of the speakers at this year’s edition of TEDxKyoto, Usman tells Instep about his talk – available on YouTube – and just why it means so much to him.

Usman Riaz is no stranger to the Ted stage. He was 20 years old when he was selected for his first Ted appearance and has taken the stage in India, Edinburgh, Malaysia and Tokyo and became a Senior Ted Fellow at just 23 years of age. Between those years and now the prodigal Riaz, who is an artist, filmmaker, musician and a storyteller, founded a studio called Mano Animation Studios, the first hand-drawn animation studio of its kind in Pakistan.

Presently directing Mano’s debut feature-film, The Glassworker (Sheeshahgar) with some footage from the same released and a plan to release the full film in 2020, Usman revealed in an earlier interview with Instep that not only is the mission of Mano to make “beautiful work” but that the studio and its work is inspired by the famed Studio Ghibli as well as Japanese anime.

The Glassworker, among other things, will explore the effects of war on children, but with a degree of subtlety and nuance. Scheduled to release in 2020, it is an Urdu language film.

For Usman to speak at TedxKyoto now - as Mano has gone from being an idea to a reality - was therefore a very special experience.

During his Kyoto talk, titled Bloom Where You Are Planted, he spoke about how he would, as a child, obsess over animation and wonder how it was made. He spoke about his childhood and how he would watch animated films that were “beautiful films told in fantastical settings”.

“Pakistan is known for a lot of things,” said Usman onstage, “but hand drawn animated films are not one of them. It all seemed like a distant dream and yet, I always longed to be a part of this magical world of animation.”

He spoke about the beauty of hand drawn animation in detail and how it differs from today’s obsession with computer-generated animation.

Most of all, Usman told the discerning audience about the journey of Mano and with it, his own. While the full talk, running close to 12 minutes, is beautiful in itself and certainly inspiring, it means a great deal to Usman Riaz on a deeper, personal level.

Speaking to Instep post-event, once his Ted Talk at Kyoto Japan was uploaded to YouTube, Usman explains why this experience was so special to him, particularly since he has participated in previous Ted Talks across the world, including performing once with Preston Reed.

In response to a question about what it is like being on stage and whether it brings stage fright or a case of nerves, Usman Riaz noted, “So, I don’t want to sound arrogant but I don’t get nervous before going onstage if I’m properly prepared and I put in a lot of preparation for this. I was not nervous; I was more focused on getting the point across properly and making sure that the Japanese, who are so overly-saturated with animation in their society, could be moved by our story, which is that their animation inspired me so much that I went out and started an entire studio. I wanted to be a part of this world, as I said in my talk. I wanted to get that message across.”

Speaking further about whether he accomplished his goal, he said, “I think I did because the response was incredible. Again, I don’t want to sound arrogant or like I’m bragging but I’ve given so many talks at Ted or a TedX stage that I feel very comfortable there. I was 20 years old when I was selected for my first Ted Talk and my entire twenties were spent in that environment so I feel comfortable over there. I was focused on giving my best Ted Talk that I could. I’m not basing it on views because it was just uploaded; one Ted Talk I gave in India has 7 million views and another one on has almost five million views. But given the way I felt, I think this was the best, most articulate talk I’ve given regarding the work I’m doing and regarding the work Mano Animation is doing. I’m personally very happy even if the views don’t reflect that. It is my best talk.”