Musician, composer and filmmaker Usman Riaz abandoned his music career to start Pakistan’s first animation studio from scratch. Here’s a peek at the work in progress.
Three years ago, a chance visit to Studo Ghibli in Japan reawakened Usman Riaz’s love for hand-drawn animation, and inspired him to open the first hand-drawn animation studio, Mano, in his home country of Pakistan. (Read: “Building Pakistan’s first hand-drawn animation studio” on the TED Fellows blog.) Last week, Riaz and his team released the first substantial segment from Mano’s work in progress, The Glassworker. The film — which tells the love story between Vincent, a young boy learning the art of glass-blowing in his father’s shop, and a girl named Alliz, who visits the shop — is slated to be completed in 2020.
Watch the film’s first few minutes below, along with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Glassworker.
Why are you releasing this segment of The Glassworker now?
This is a historic milestone. We set up Mano Animation Studios, Pakistan’s first hand-drawn animation studio, after an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign. We’ve finished the 12 minutes of animation that serve as a prelude to the entire film, and we’re uploading it now as a thanks to the people who supported us, as well as to show the quality of animation we’ve been able to produce so far.
The film appears to be set in Europe. Is it an imaginary city? And why didn’t you choose to set it in Pakistan?
The Glassworker is set in a fictional town based on old European aesthetic and colonial architecture. The characters look Western, but speak Urdu, and they live in political conditions that people in Pakistan will recognize. [Read: “Why the characters in my animated film will speak Urdu.”]
I did this because I wanted to take a page from Japanese animation, which typically take place in Western settings but with characters who behave and speak like Japanese people. I also wanted to invert the Western practice of taking an Eastern aesthetic and Westernizing it—as in Mulan or The Jungle Book. Those characters are from China and India, respectively, but they behave like people from the West and speak English.
Because there were no animators in Pakistan when you began, your crew are all starting from scratch, many of them having left their jobs to train as animators. This seems like a huge risk!
The animators who left their jobs to come work here are only here for the love of hand-drawn animation. Thankfully, the studio allows them to take their passion forward. I’m grateful we’re able to offer them a comfortable salary with benefits so that their efforts aren’t wasted, but I primarily look for individuals who love hand-drawn animation so much, they’ll do whatever it takes to contribute to this field. I never let the fact that we’re Pakistan’s first-ever animation studio be an excuse to compromise on the quality of work we make!
We first came to know you through your music. Are you still performing, and are you writing the score for this film as well as animating, storyboarding and directing it?
I have abandoned performance and am primarily focused on my dream of hand-drawn animation, but I am still writing music for the film, along with co-composer Carmine DiFlorio.
When will The Glassworker be completed?
The full film will release in 2020, as a typical hand-drawn animated film takes two to three years to complete. We’re also in discussion with studios internationally on collaborating with us to complete The Glassworker.