By Sonya Rehman
He has been a part of the team which worked on Hollywood blockbusters such as; ‘Avatar,’ ‘Iron Man 2,’ ‘Rango,’ ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,’ ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,’ and more.
Wajid Raza left for the US to enroll in a Masters of Fine Arts (in Visual Effects) at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where he attained an ‘Outstanding Academic Achievement in Visual Effects,’ upon his graduation in 2008. Prior to SCAD, Wajid had completed a B.S (Hons) in Computer Science at GC University in Lahore.
Straight after graduation from SCAD, Wajid was scooped up by ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) – a division of Lucasfilm (American filmmaker George Lucas’ Production Company) that was initiated back in the 70s to create the visual and special effects for the filmmaker’s blockbuster, Star Wars. Since then, ILM has created visual effects for scores of movies, picking up Oscars and Academy Award Nominations each year.
Currently part of the team working on J.J Abram’s Star Trek’s sequel – ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ (to be released in 2013) – the Pakistani Visual Effects Artist speaks with HELLO! Pakistan about the future of animation in Pakistan, his past projects and the importance of VFX (visual effects) in contemporary cinema:
What was it like working on ‘Avatar?’
‘Avatar’ was one of the first projects I worked on. ILM was asked to do a small body of work on the movie and I joined in few months before its release as part of technical production support. I initially didn’t have any idea how big the movie was going to be at that time. James Cameron screened a 3D test for us at ILM half way into production and it blew my mind. Our team ended up doing a chunk of aerial battle shots and the opening shot of the movie which lasts for about 2 minutes. It was great to see the evolution of shots right from the beginning to the end – there’s a lot of hard work put into each frame. I also got a chance to meet James Cameron and the Producer, Jon Landau, which was pretty great too.
What about ‘Rango?’
Working on ‘Rango’ has to be one of the best experiences of my life (it was the first animated feature ILM did in its 37-year history). The project was so technically ambitious that we had to completely re-work our pipeline. I was part of the layout team that was responsible for bringing the Director’s vision from concept art to 3D scenes. I was involved in writing tools to assist artists and production within the layout work flow. It was a long and tedious process since the scale of the project was so big (over 1500 CG shots), but the kind of artists working on the show made it so much fun throughout the project. ‘Rango’ went on to win an Oscar for ‘Best Animation’ that year.
How important is Animation and Visual Effects (VFX) for contemporary cinema, in your opinion?
It depends on the subject matter. VFX is just a tool to tell the story and shouldn’t be the focus for the story itself. If it’s not done right, it can end up creating a bad impact for the project. Effects in movies like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Avengers’ are what made those movies, but that’s not always the case. A little indie movie can still tickle one’s imagination if the story is good.
What’s your take on animation in Pakistan, currently?
We have so many qualified Doctors, Engineers and other professionals in Pakistan, but unfortunately not many skilled Animators or Visual Effects Artists because of the lack of good film and digital media programs in the country. This is partially linked to the slow death of the film industry in Pakistan in the last 20 years. Also anyone who goes abroad to study Animation ends up staying there because of the dearth of opportunities back home. There are some Animation companies operating out of Karachi but none of them are doing any feature animation work. The work I have seen so far from Pakistan is good, but we have the talent to do even better. The VFX business on the other hand is nonexistent in Pakistan. However, since the VFX market is expanding so aggressively overseas, it’s a great opportunity for Pakistan to take advantage of this global trend and invest in the infrastructure. But it can only happen with help from the government.
What advice would you give to aspiring Animators in Pakistan?
For Animation, the medium or the style is not as important as the quality of the Animation. Learning a software is not the hard part. It’s what you do with it, is what matters. So Animators in Pakistan need to make sure their basics are strong. Some experience with traditional hand drawn Animation can really give them an edge over others. And I can’t stress enough on the importance of ‘less is more.’ A few seconds of impressive Animation is better than a minute of mediocre work. All the major Animation studios in the world have a ten second rule. If you can impress them in the first ten seconds of your reel, you have successfully grabbed their attention. For the technical side of Animation and Visual Effects, having a background in Computer Programming is fast becoming mandatory, in addition to having an aesthetic eye and/or artistic background. All these ingredients can give a candidate a strong base for a career in the VFX business anywhere in the world.