The metamorphosis of Mano Animation Studios
Usman Riaz is in the midst of assembling the core team of Mano Animation Studios in one room as we meet on a warm summer afternoon for this interview.
The prodigious Usman is founder of Mano Animation Studios and director of their first major project, The Glassworker. The film is Pakistan’s first fully hand drawn animation film.
After showing me their new digs, a spacious space that counts 22 people as its denizens, Usman and I sit down alongside assistant director Mariam Riaz, producer Khizer Riaz and animation director Aamir Riffat to talk about how the project is developing and what are some of the motivations behind it.
Usman, while explaining how the process works, shares that the most important thing for an animated film is the storyboards.
“It is the roadmap for our animators to move forward,” Usman tells Instep. “In order to understand a project like this, you have to first understand how animation happens. Everything is planned ahead. I draw a frame. We sit down and decide what elements remain static and what won’t.”
What is obvious about this group is that they believe in the art of creative collaborations and everyone has a constructive role to play. If Usman, Mariam and Aamir are about the creative side of things, Khizer is the one who make sure that things run smoothly.
“As a producer you do have creative input but it’s not your main role,” elaborates Khizer. “Your main role is getting everything up and running and whatever the creative side of the film needs, you just make sure it’s there and if it isn’t available, you have to break it to the team that this can’t happen.”
He adds: “A film producer ensures that everything is running on time. But because hand drawn animation is different, you don’t need sets per say. Your sets are made by people who are working in the studio. You don’t need to worry about camera work. It’s about running this office.”
The current Mano Animation Studios team includes 22 people from Pakistan, eight from Malaysia and three from the United States but they hope to have 25 people by the end of 2017 and by 2018, 30 people on the team. They’re teaching and training people who come onboard. “We take about a month to train people and teach them how to consistently draw and work in our style. As time has progressed, we have figured things out,” says Aamir.
“There is whole process before a scene is complete, a lot of back and forth,” adds Usman.
In the age of short attention spans and quick content, the philosophy of MAS remains singular. “The philosophy is to just create beautiful work with all our hearts without taking any short cuts,” says Mariam.
Expanding on the history of animation, chief animator Aamir Riffat notes, “Animation, when it started, it started off as a hand-drawn thing all the way back in the thirties and CGI wasn’t around then so a lot of other countries that have been doing animation since the beginning, they have that history in hand drawn animation so they were able to take that learning and apply it to modern CG and that’s why their CG looks so good.”
While the film tells the story of Vincent and Alliz, an important aspect is that it will be in Urdu. Mariam Riaz is the voice of Alliz but the search for Vincent’s voice is still on.
“Urdu is a pleasant language and we want people to hear its charm and beauty in this film,” says Usman. “We want the burger crowd to hear it and develop a wish to speak Urdu.”
It is a cultural thing, says Mariam and explains: “In some parts of our society, upper class, English is regarded as cooler. I used to speak in Urdu growing up and it wasn’t common among my friends. It wasn’t cool enough. I think it’s about time we broke out of it. This is a subtle way of responding to it.”
As we hit the conclusion hour, Khizer sums up the animation journey in the context of Mano Animation Studios and states, “It started in the West, then Japan took on the baton and it went to Korea for some time. We want to be part of that next generation of people who take it on because that’s how it works.”