Just about two decades ago, the idea of a full-length animated feature film was considered a far cry, if not altogether impossible. But the turn of the millennium saw such a great influx of animated films that by now, there remains nothing extraordinary about them. However common they may have become, the amount of hard work that goes into conveying emotions through animated characters is still plenty.
For us, a mere eyebrow movement or trudge of the shoulder of a character like WALL-E might be ‘body language’; but for an animator, they signify so much more. With the near microscopic level of attention required by professionals in this line of work, it is hardly surprising that only a few select individuals are pursuing it in Pakistan. Part of this group is musician-cum-visual artist Shahab Qamar, who has been putting together some groundbreaking music videos over the past few years.
Most of us would recognise him as one half of the rock act Naseer & Shahab but unbeknownst to the world, the Adelaide-based Shahab is proficient in visual effects (VFX) and animation. From his typography on the lyrical music video for Sajid & Zeeshan’s Sanity, to the one-shot animation for his own band’s Born a Dead Man, Shahab has been raising the bar for himself throughout.
Speaking with The Express Tribune, he revealed the influences behind Naseer & Shahab’s latest video Hero, likening it to “deep spaces, supernovas and alien landscapes”. According to him, ambient, spacey synths were the triggers behind the concept and took shape after numerous discussions with band mate Naseer Afridi. “I shared the initial draft with Naseer and asked what sort of emotion it stirred within him. He came back to me with a few paraphrased lyrical ideas which helped narrow down my visual approach,” said Shahab. The song is primarily about a narcissistic individual who always presents himself as a heroic figure and denies appreciation to others.
Shahab, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in Intelligent Transport Systems in Australia, describes himself as a self-taught VFX artist, something that confirms his passion for the craft. He did complete filming for the music video on a recent trip to Islamabad but Shahab’s responsibilities do not end there; the six-month long post-production process forced him to further his skills as well. “The main challenge was to learn most of the VFX from scratch, which involved spending hours watching tutorials for chroma key [green screen] and 3D, online,” he recalled.
Despite having started off as a computer engineer, Shahab has evidently come a long way. He scored his very first gig by impressing Peshawar-based musician Zeeshan Parwez with his motion graphic wizardry. The latter invited him to work on projects like Uth Records. “My interaction with Zeeshan goes back to 2006 when I was studying engineering at UET Peshawar. I would visit him at his studio occasionally, hoping to learn about music production,” shared Shahab. To this day, the artist continues to take advice from Zeeshan. In fact, Zeeshan helped resolve a few technical problems for Hero.
Unsurprisingly, Shahab is already being eyed by reputable directors in the local film industry. And although he has no plans of shifting back to Pakistan anytime soon, the musician keeps tabs on the local VFX scene. “I feel that our industry is compromising on creativity by playing it safe … following the Bollywood model for success,” said Shahab. “But when done right, VFX can tell an incredible story too. It becomes a cheesy distraction only when it is done for cheap thrills,” he added.
He feels that with the right resources at their disposal, local film-makers can easily pull off Hollywood-grade animated blockbusters.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2016.