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“The Glassworker”: A Karachi Kid’s Animated Dream Come True

Pakistan is not known for its animation. Animated cinema, especially traditional feature film animation, is noticeably absent in that country.

Or at least until now because young Pakistani filmmaker Usman Riaz has set up an animation studio he created from scratch in his native Karachi to give shape to his dreams: to provide his country with an animation industry like the one he has always admired, Japanese animation, and make his dream come true with a film called The Glassworker.

The animated film, written and directed by Riaz, who was also in charge of its music and storyboards, is a historical and romantic epic that focuses on the story of two young people, Vincent and Alliz, who were raised on two opposite poles in the same society.

Vincent follows in the footsteps of his father in the glass factory while Alliz, with a more comfortable life, is a violinist who is the daughter of a soldier. Their world goes upside down when war arrives.

Riaz had the opportunity to present his dream, the first traditionally animated feature film entirely produced in Pakistan at the Annecy Festival, the mecca of animated cinema.

In the session called “Work in Progress,” aimed as a platform for those works still in production, the director presented his team, which included art director, Marian Paracha, producer Khizer Riaz, as well as Spanish producer Manuel Cristobal.

Usman Riaz unleashed his creativity and imagination and answered questions about his ambitious film, an epic anti-war film that, in the words of its producer, recalls the romanticism of the Golden Globe winner Doctor Zhivago and where patriotism confronts free-thinking, artistic creation, and love.

In the following, we offer a summary, in his own words, of Riaz who wants to open the eyes of the Pakistani film industry to the universe of animation while showing the world what “any kid from Karachi is capable of when he follows his dream.”


The beginnings of The Glassworker:

“Our journey began while driving through Karachi, eight years ago. We came up with the idea of ​​The Glassworker but we immediately realized that it could not be done in live action, a medium in which I had made several short films.

So, I couldn’t think of anything else but to say, “Why don’t we do it in animation? It cannot be that hard (laughs).” After all, animation is the best medium for narrative, for imagination.”


The history:

“I was interested in the idea of ​​seeing two kids from different worlds grow up. Two characters who will grow up with the war in the background and whose future is marked by the opinion of their respective parents.

The Glassworker talks about perseverance; not only Vincent and Alliz’s, but ours, raised in a world marked by 9/11, between riots, bomb threats, and curfews but in which we knew how to move forward with our dream. It is a film that somehow reflects our lives in Pakistan.”


The animation:

“Since I was a child, I was obsessed with animation, watching hours and hours of movies from Ghibli and Disney Studios and dreaming of the day when they would open a traditional animation studio in Karachi so I can knock on their door and ask for a job.

I taught myself animation, redrawing the storyboards of the movies I loved so much. But no one set up a studio in Karachi and I never wanted to work outside of Pakistan so I pursued my other passion, music. I was awarded a scholarship by the Berklee College of Music and I was a TED fellow.

But it was seeing The Wind Rises, by Hayao Miyazaki, that I knew I had to do animation in Pakistan. If nobody was going to create that studio that I could knock on the door, then it would be me, that kid from Karachi who always dreamed of doing animation in Pakistan.”



How to set up a studio dedicated to traditional animation in a country without any tradition in that art:

“It’s about finding a team you can trust. I needed an experienced producer and I found him in Khizer Riaz. We were always fascinated by how movies were made.

An art director I knew I could trust was Mariam Paracha, also a producer and actress. Many more lit the fire of what is now Mano Animation Studios.

We had the desire to prove to the world that they were wrong, that Pakistan has a large number of artists and it is possible to set up a studio like the one we have set up.

We spread the word in the schools and received a lot of portfolios. The most difficult thing in many cases was convincing their families to let them work for five years in a studio that had just started, with a new director and with no guarantee of where we would end up with.

There were others who left their careers to join The Glassworker because they had dedicated themselves to it. As much as they admired the work of Glen Keane or James Baxter, they never thought something like this would be done in Pakistan. With the arrival of Mano Animation Studios, they wanted to be part of the birth of animation in Pakistan.”


Mano Animation Studios:

“We are a group of idealists in which 52 percent are women and the average age is 27 years old. When we saw that nobody was going to give us the money for the film, we decided to do a Kickstarter to show what the studio was capable of doing.

We were looking for $50,000 and we got double that amount, which allowed us to complete six minutes of animation to show the world this love letter to the movies I admire so much.

I’m not Mamoru Hosoda or Hayao Miyazaki but I want to follow in their footsteps by telling wonderful movies, with great characters and stories, amazing music, and great attention to detail. I personally drew all the storyboards and even recorded the test voices.

I knew that to achieve excellence in any medium, we have to give ourselves completely. But I’ve always said that the story is key because the animation is just the vehicle for the story.”


Expectations before a premiere scheduled for 2023:

“Hopefully, it goes well for us and we can do more. That is my goal. To paraphrase Walt Disney, we don’t make movies to make money, we make movies to make money to make more movies.

There are many artists who leave Pakistan because they think there are more opportunities abroad, something that I do not deny but I do not subscribe to the idea. What about those who stay, those who have talent but don’t have the opportunity?

If we can give the opportunity, it is our obligation. That is why we do not take lightly what we have managed to raise and we want to continue living this dream called The Glassworker and those that will come after this one.”


Translated by Mario Amaya