Casual animation fans have a certain mental map of where interesting animated films come from, whose highlighted places include, of course, America and Japan, as well as the Soviet republics that produced some truly strange and wonderful stuff back in the day behind the Iron Curtain. But now, a 25-year-old animator named Usman Riaz aims to put his homeland on that map as well with The Glassworker, which, should he raise its budget on Kickstarter, will become Pakistan’s very first wholly hand-animated feature film.
“Over the past five years, Riaz became known for an impressive, self-taught style of playing music that landed him the TED stage, on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and an affiliation with EMI Pakistan,” writes Beckett Mufson at The Creators Project. [We featured him playing guitar here on OC 5 years ago. See the clip below.] “But rather than tumbling down the rabbit hole of a music career in Pakistan, he’s embraced his other love: animation.” Mufson quotes Riaz as remembering how, “when I was a child, I admired the way people made pictures move. I spent long hours watching films by Studio Ghibli before I could fully understand what their messages were. And they helped me see the beauty in the mundane, and the tragedy in the beautiful.”
Watch The Glassworker‘s teaser at the top or its Kickstarter promo video just above, and you’ll immediately feel the influence of Studio Ghibli, makers of such already timeless movies as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away, and its mastermind Hayao Miyazaki. Their inspiration manifests not just in the look of the film’s art, but also in its warty coming-of-age story involving a young boy, an apprentice glassworker, a young girl, and a violinist, and even in its music, which to Riaz has the utmost importance to storytelling: “The music determines the scenes for me,” he said in his Creators Project interview. “If I have a particular idea or score written down the visuals come automatically.”
If all goes according to plan and The Glassworker raises its $50,000 budget on Kickstarter within the next 45 days, Mano Animation Studios — which Riaz founded along with a group of animators, designers, and producers from not just Pakistan, but the United States, Britain, and Malaysia just for this project — will release the movie in four parts, the first of which should appear in May of next year. Now that Miyazaki has ostensibly animated his last film, his fans have kept their eyes open for a possible successor, though as Riaz himself insists, “Nothing can touch Ghibli.” But in this day and age, why shouldn’t that successor come from Pakistan?
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.