Frozen II, Toy Story 4, and Maleficent 2 got us all hyped this year, didn’t they? Animation movies, which were primarily targeted for younger audience and that, too, girls, have people of all ages and genders and nationalities hooked to the respective franchise! In Pakistan, in particular, we see party planners being ‘inspired’, and of course occasions like Halloween become perfect excuses to celebrate the industry’s most beloved characters again. But did the movies manage to strike a chord where they should have amongst us? Because we talk a lot about good content, of creating our own superheroes for our kids to look up to and take pride in. So did these mega-hits convince us to work in this industry locally? I said locally because Pakistanis are a bunch of insanely talented people and my question regarding the animation industry would still be this: should lack of opportunities and training as barriers be carried forward to the next decade and so forth? Shouldn’t we at least start looking for solutions enough to convince all those individuals who are working – or would like to pursue a career – in this field that a ‘revival’ is possible, that creating content at par with international standards is possible?
PIFF’s seminar on the ‘Potential of animation in Pakistan’ had an interesting panel to talk about both challenges and opportunities. Apart from the moderator, Sana Tauseef, award-winning documentary filmmaker and animation expert, the speakers were all men: Daniyal Noorani, CEO Wakhra Studio, Creator Quaid Say Baatein; Aziz Jindani, Founder Talisman Animation Studio, Creative Director The Donkey King; Imran Ali Dina, Lecturer/ GFX Mentor; Kamran Khan, animation director/story writer 3 Bahadur; Arif Jilani, Producer Barajoun Entertainment, Bilal - A New Breed of Hero; Amyn Farooqui, co-ceo/co-founder SHARP Images; and Asif Iqbal, CEO Bridge Animations & VFX each claiming to be the odd one out of this esteemed panel. Interesting!
Like all of us, Daniyal Noorani used to think animation was easy stuff. The selection of a music video he made in the early days reassured him that this was it, this was what he should continue doing. In due time, he learnt animation was actually a tough subject.
He persisted; for the storyteller and educationist that he is, the medium was perfect for short public service messaging content designed to instill positive civic values in our young generation of Pakistan. And, in this instance, content truly is the king! His series Quaid se Baatein was rewarded far more than what he expected – from getting millions of views and feedback appreciating his efforts on YouTube to seeing educational institutions using the material to teach positive civic values.
The point is benchmark is higher as compared to TV dramas since the audience wants value for their money. Whether it’s a pure entertainment or education-based film, it’s important storytellers and writers have an understanding of timing and spacing in animation. As far as glorifying our heroes is concerned, one might find topics limited to Quaid-e-Azam and Abdul Sattar Edhi only since they are deemed universally respectable. Nothing wrong there. Except people stop experimenting. They fear failure dealing with topics which are ‘controversial’ and would not attract investors; if anyone is in it for money, then they will remain a service provider, not a content creator this industry needs at the moment.
3 Bahadur – another success story. Kamran Khan says it’s the first step which is the most difficult. When you’re the most reluctant in taking a decision. Filmmaking is difficult in Pakistan; it gets more difficult when you add animation to it. Back in 2012 when Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy discussed the idea that was at once both unique and challenging, Kamran and his team took it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. 12 people with little formal training and no proper equipment to begin with. But they all brought positive energy on board to deal with it. From finding good writers to pen a script Pakistani children would love and relate to better than Hollywood to being released in 2015 as Pakistan’s first animated feature film, the series went on to show naysayers nothing is impossible.
Presently, animation is offered as a 15-day course to be studied along with the rest of the subjects during the four years a student spends at university. The Government of Pakistan should work closely with universities in recognising it as a separate specialisation for those who truly want to make a mark in the field. It’s a completely different world they are being introduced to; it would be better if they can reconsider and add relevant subjects to media studies. Yes, it adds to their grooming, but if a student is only being introduced to photography, video animation, editing, lighting, modeling, etc. all the time they are at university and then s/he has to make an effort on their own afterwards for specialising in their chosen field then it creates this gap in the industry.
[Note: Anyone keen to learn? Can always check out Imran Ali Dina’s YouTube channel where he’s been teaching for free – and in Urdu – for two years now.]
The extent to which visual effects were used in 7 Din Muhabbat In, one of the latest releases in Pakistan, shows that there is plenty of work to do. Why then do we see people opting for this profession leaving the country? One point, according to Asif Iqbal, is financial aspect, i.e. seeking a better living somewhere else. A second reason could be the lack of proper animation studios. In fact, there are more producers now than animation studios! Instead of hiring, offering permanent jobs with good perks, the industry has shifted to hiring on project/contractual basis (or outsourcing it) for sake of feasibility. Retention naturally takes a backseat.
Once their hard work pays off and they get a degree, everyone seeks the comfort of a good job, a secure income. Asif Iqbal tried creating that business model twice and found it difficult to keep it running.
Meanwhile, Arif Jilani’s strategy is to go abroad, get that opportunity of working on international projects, and then offer those projects to Pakistanis so they would have the much needed exposure. His movie, Bilal, is one such example of the burgeoning talent in Pakistan – most of the supervisors at the top level were Paksitanis and when you see the movie – which has been released in more than 25 countries save for Pakistan – you realise they’re capable of achieving that international level.