When I joined an institute in Karachi to learn the basics of animation I didn’t expect a system that fosters mediocrity, where you lose not just your money, but your ability to think and express.
Welcome to the unsupervised business of producing animators and graphic artists in our country. In the age where graphics and animation have evolved into a new global currency, where people from different parts of the world exchange their culture and stories using this new language, we in Pakistan stand still as if stuck on a frame, waiting to be rendered.
Waleed Thanvi has taught animation at different universities for several years. I touched a chord by questioning him about how successful we had been in producing quality artists. “From the Higher Education Commission to varsities and even the job market, everyone has settled for mediocrity,” he said.
At the institute, I saw young boys and girls spending long hours on trivial assignments like coloring hair and copying established characters. No fundamentals of animation, no training on story telling; all they were asked was to remember commands and tutorials. What good is a baking class that spends all the time on tools, but the students do not actually get to bake.
“I never teach Maya or 3D Studio Max as these are just the tools. You’ve got to love animation that comes from deep understanding and requires blood, sweat and tears. Once ready, you can express feelings with whatever tool you like. Without thinking, you’re just a machine,” Waleed said.
One needs to be an amateur first to become a professional and amateur in French means to do something out of love. If you don’t love it, you won’t be able to profess it.
Sheridan College in Canada takes this connection quite seriously. They have a strict rule of accepting only the best students in their animation class. There are no computers in the first two years and students only focus to hone their concept of animation and effective story telling. Companies like Pixar hold workshops for Sheridan students to pick the best storytellers. No wonder the first blockbuster animation movie produced by Pixar was the “Toy Story,” a gripping tale of toys and their connection with children.
Enrolment in graphics and animation programmes is going up every year in Pakistan. By the end of their course, students may succeed in getting good grades that make their parents and teachers happy. But do they really fit the bill?
Masood Afridi has been leading the creative team at GEO News for about 20 years. His own experience with an institute offering animation courses back in 2000 was pretty bad. He left his studies in the middle only to join a production house. “I studied animation myself,” Masood said. “We don’t prefer to hire kids from local institutes and universities, since 90 per cent don’t know animation at all. A self-taught individual is often better than these degree holders.”
Both Waleed and Masood agreed that there is a big market for good animators, particularly outside Pakistan. Foreign companies, who even offered visas at their doorstep, approached some of their trainees.
“One of my team members was waiting for a raise, he was a round peg in a square hole. Luckily, a Turkish firm contacted him and now he lectures at big events and is a recipient of multiple awards. Nobody appreciated him in his own country.”
In our times, everything under the “digital sun” is animation. From the graphic meters of expensive cars to 3D virtual tours of Disney, this $300 billion industry is big business. High-quality motion graphics and character animation are not just limited to games, cartoons and movies. From teachers to pilots and from doctors to astronauts, we need graphical simulation and virtual reality to understand and anticipate things that are complex in nature.
Traditionally, studios in the United States, Japan and — to some extent —Europe have produced the bulk of animation projects. China, Malaysia, India and even Nigeria are promoting animation at the national level with active government support. Ironically, Pakistani animation houses and universities rank nowhere amongst the best animation institutes.
Federal Minister for IT, Amin ul Haque admits that Pakistan is way behind in the fields of gaming and animation. “We became active only eight months ago and are now set to build incubation centres in five cities,” he commented. “For the last two months, I’ve been searching for a building in Karachi to set up a Centre of Excellence in animation. Exim Bank is also helping us in developing an IT Park project and we are collaborating with ISPR in the fields of gaming and animation.”
Sikandar Baig has worked with various TV Channels. He has been teaching and is now working on independent projects. “If the management doesn’t know jack about animation, how are they going to hire mentors. You can’t be creative by just being copycats, and that’s exactly what you are asked to become. Copy the tutorials to clear exams,” Sikandar said.
He was of the view that the government should teach concepts from the early grades onwards. There should be a governing body to decide curriculum and students should be judged strictly on quality and merit.
“Few years ago you could easily find 15 to 20 bright students in a class of 40. Now there are just five,” Sikandar said. Animation means “soul” in French. It’s the art of bringing stillness to life, moving the unmoved. If we remain stationary as a country, we will soon be reduced to a market of consumers with no place for our thoughts and ideas. From universities and students to animation incubators, it will be a lose-lose situation for everyone. It’s time for us to protect the future, not the past. It’s time to take the plunge. Let’s animate.