Home-grown talent: Oscar-winning visual effects artist makes Karachi look so good

Published: June 14, 2011
Venom from Spider-Man III - 2007

Venom from Spider-Man III - 2007

Going to watch X-Men, prepare yourself to be wowed by our local boy’s Banshee. The Monster House - 2006 The Incredible Hulk - 2008 Venom from Spider-Man III - 2007

Visual effects specialist Mir Zafar Ali started his career by creating the immaculate sheet of hair that cascades around a shampoo model’s face. Since then, the Beaconhouse and FAST graduate from Karachi has scooped up an Oscar for the brilliant sequences in The Golden Compass in 2007 that beat those in The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Transformers. The world can also thank him for bringing the villain ‘Venom’ to life in Spider-Man III. Now, he’s basking in the aftermath of another success, X-Men: First Class – the debuted at No. 1 in the box office in its opening weekend. If any young artist in Karachi thinks it can’t be done, they just need to follow Mir Zafar Ali’s career.

Ali began with doing what a lot of people in the visual effects field do – something unrelated. Having studied to be a software engineer in college, he quickly realised it wasn’t nearly exciting enough. He spent some time trying his hand at the trade with local organisations such as Sharp Image and Nucleus Studios, always working primarily with computer graphics. Eventually, he took off to the US to specialise in visual effects at Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia.

A few years later he found himself working on his first movie with Digital Domain, a Los Angeles-based company. Ali’s first movie was The Day After Tomorrow in which he worked on wrapping colossal waves around buildings – and making it believable. His forte is replicating natural phenomena. “It’s actually easier working with natural effects than the effects in X-men for which you have no reference,” he explained in an interview with The Express Tribune while on a personal visit to Karachi this week. “You have to come up with things from scratch.”

In the latest X-Men movie, that has been attracting crowds at cinemas in Karachi and internationally, Ali was primarily in charge of the character Banshee as effects technical director with company Rhythm and Hues (R&H). The mutant’s voice scream shatters solid objects, kills, and allows him to fly. “I created a basic tool for the sound waves. Unlike the Hulk’s single thunderclap, the Banshee’s audio waves are continuous, so we had to find a way to show the ripples without making it look like they’d been slapped on afterwards. Then we could adjust the speed and magnitude of the Banshee’s scream according to the director’s needs.”

Ali spoke of certain projects with the same look on his face as a child who’s embarrassed by his parents. However, in the end it was all good fun for him, regardless of whether he was creating water waves for Yogi Bear’s skiing scenes or the gigantic footprints and craters for The Incredible Hulk’s walking scenes. “I really enjoyed Monster House, it was a really dark and interesting movie,” he remarked.

Work like Ali’s negates many old-school methods. “The stunt men really don’t like us,” he laughed with a trace of guilt. “It’s just cheaper, faster and more feasible to have a CG [computer graphics] double than a stunt man.”

Nonetheless, he admitted that people “always needed”. This was his advice for aspiring animators and effects specialists. “There is a lot of demand, maybe not here because Pakistan’s film industry hasn’t made much headway in that direction, but the work is available.” He has personally moved a little further from the slightly mundane work of basic shot production after seven years in the field and focuses more on research and development.

“If I were to make a movie about Karachi, it would be a horror movie. I just love those,” he grinned. “Or better yet, I’d just shoot the city as-is and that’d be my movie. Everything you would ever need in a movie is already going on right here in the city.”

Ali’s next project is based on the acclaimed book Life of Pi. The movie is about a boy stranded on a raft in the middle of the sea. Ali gets to work with endless expanses of water — his bread and butter. “Sure, there’ll be a time when I’m pulling my hair out and am entirely sick of water, but I’m really looking forward to it, specially working with Ang Lee [director].”

“There will be a lot of big splashes and whales jumping in and out of the water, it should be good,” he said.

All things considered, Ali has more than made amends for provoking unrealistic expectations from a shampoo.

Mir Zafar Ali’s hall of fame

2011 The Cabin in the Woods

2011 X-Men: First Class

2011 Hop

2010 Yogi Bear

2009 Aliens in the Attic

2009 I Land of the Lost

2008 The Mummy

2008 The Incredible Hulk

2007 The Golden Compass)

2007 Surf’s Up

2007 Spider-Man 3

2007 Ghost Rider

2006 Open Season

2006 Monster House

2005 Stealth

2004 The Day After Tomorrow

Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2011.

Correction: June 14, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated FAST as FUUAST. The correction has been made.

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Reader Comments (74)

  • Watchman
    Jun 14, 2011 - 4:05AM

    amazing.. i didn’t know a pakistani had won an oscar :ORecommend

  • mk
    Jun 14, 2011 - 4:12AM

    Bravo..keep up the good work!Recommend

  • T Khan
    Jun 14, 2011 - 8:20AM

    Bravo my compatriot!! You make me proud.Recommend

  • Ayaz Ahmed Khan
    Jun 14, 2011 - 9:33AM

    God bless you buddy……it gives strength reading success story of a Pakistani…..we need more Mir Zafars….keep it up and best of luck for your all hard work.Recommend

  • Pankaj Shah
    Jun 14, 2011 - 10:02AM

    Wow Mir,I am so Proud of you on the Success you have achieved.
    Keep up the Work and God will bLess you with More and More Success and Good work which You Like to doRecommend

  • Sahar Khan
    Jun 14, 2011 - 10:26AM

    You truly are amazing……such a positive side of being a Pakistani..! Recommend

  • ishaq
    Jun 14, 2011 - 10:35AM


  • Anjum Shah
    Jun 14, 2011 - 10:36AM

    Watchman: amazing.. i didn’t know a Pakistani had won an Oscar – Why is it amazing you were not privy to this information. Pakistan is strictly deficient in the game of public relation no matter what the subject matter is the people, the talent or the high tech.
    We do not promote Pakistan to the rest of the world, at this time the world portrays us as a dangerous, terror laden, fanatical unsafe nuclear loaded county on the brink of collapse, we seem to have no problem presenting that side f we could turn that ugly side maybe,,if our media and politicians and embassies took ownership and did a better job of promoting the good side of our rich culture and heritage we can surface from the bowels of darkness,Recommend

  • Concerned
    Jun 14, 2011 - 11:28AM

    Dear ET,
    Please proofread the material before posting it so you get your facts straight. He was not a graduate of ‘FUUAST’ University, instead he graduated from ‘FAST’ University. There is a huge difference!
    Yours sincerely,
    Available for employment for ‘proofreading’.Recommend

  • Mahmood
    Jun 14, 2011 - 11:28AM

    Thank you Zafar for giving us Pakistanis a reason to feel proud.Recommend

  • Asad Shairani
    Jun 14, 2011 - 12:03PM

    I think he’s a graduate of FAST-NU and not FUUAST. Recommend

  • delhi_se
    Jun 14, 2011 - 12:17PM

    Loved your work dude, indeed good effects.Recommend

  • Salman Ali
    Jun 14, 2011 - 12:28PM

    Man, I read this news 2-3 years ago..Now you guys are publishing it??!!!!Recommend

  • Ayesha
    Jun 14, 2011 - 12:39PM

    The amount of talent we have in Pakistan makes me proud! =)
    Keep up the great work Zafar Ali and kudos to Husna for writing about it and letting all of us know about such great talent! thumbs up Recommend

  • Jun 14, 2011 - 12:59PM

    Bravo!! great work Ali. Bring more men into your fieldRecommend

  • Taha Ceen Tayyab
    Jun 14, 2011 - 1:06PM

    Truly you make me proud. Well something that tells me to keep dreaming.Recommend

  • Ali
    Jun 14, 2011 - 1:07PM

    Dear fellow Pakistanis, no Pakistani has ever won an oscar. The oscar that everyone of you is proud of went to a team of four Americans namely Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood(Best Visual Effects- The Golden Compass). Anyone can verify this information from http://awardsdatabase.oscars.orgRecommend

  • Jun 14, 2011 - 1:56PM

    Wow… That’s great…
    Now we guys should think of making our own movies, so talented guys like these won’t have to go abroad…Recommend

  • Natasha Kundi
    Jun 14, 2011 - 2:03PM

    Things like these should be highlighted more, i’m sure there is a lot of good stuff going on in Pakistan. It just gives us a reason to smile and be optimistic.Recommend

  • KHI
    Jun 14, 2011 - 2:16PM

    I think Media has to give this precious info to all Pakistani again and again.

    best of luck dudeRecommend

  • Farrukh
    Jun 14, 2011 - 2:23PM

    Great work Mir, Amazing, All best in future.

    Thanks for the information. However I feel the title of your article should be

    ‘Home-grown talent: Oscar-winning visual effects artist makes PAKISTAN look so good’

    Just a thought.


  • Moderate
    Jun 14, 2011 - 2:46PM

    Great work man, best of luck for your future projects!Recommend

  • truthard
    Jun 14, 2011 - 3:13PM

    Best Achievement in Visual Effects
    Michael L. Fink
    Bill Westenhofer
    Ben Morris
    Trevor Wood

    Those 4 won the Oscar, not him. He might have played a tiny role in it like many others.

    Delusions of grandeur.Recommend

  • Zeeshan
    Jun 14, 2011 - 3:19PM

    Love Ready this………!
    GOD Bless youRecommend

  • Graphic Designer
    Jun 14, 2011 - 3:40PM

    There are a few things I would like to add for the knowledge of the readers of this article, dont forget to see the new THOR movie for a reference to pakistan in its storyline, as well as the new poster for pirates of the Caribbean 4 (google it) which has pakistans coin as the ear ring jewelry on the skull poster.

    A salute to Mir, I have known his brother in karachi who is an excellent 3d artist, as well as the man who inspired all pakistanis to enter the field of 3d animation, 3d artist and now educator in qatar, Muqeem Khan, who worked on Final Fantasy, Core, Armageddon, Flubber, Deep Rising and George of the Jungle.Recommend

  • Tariq
    Jun 14, 2011 - 3:45PM

    I so much wanna follow in the footsteps of Mir Zafar Ali. I’d love to have a job in the field of practical effect/ computer generated effect. I dig the work of Stan Winston. I’m good with creating monsters, creatures, concept art and story boarding.
    My only short coming? I don’t have any degree in arts or software programming, and I chose the field of medicine over art.Recommend

  • Umar Hayat
    Jun 14, 2011 - 3:50PM

    Proud to be a fastian…Recommend

  • Ahmad
    Jun 14, 2011 - 4:08PM

    However, I am a Karachi’ite, also off the same reason, I would second Farrukh in

    ‘Home-grown talent: Oscar-winning visual effects artist makes PAKISTAN look so good’Recommend

  • Syed Tabish Rizvi
    Jun 14, 2011 - 4:26PM

    Great, [Oscar in 2007] very few people know this!Recommend

  • Sanaa
    Jun 14, 2011 - 4:45PM

    Is it just me or is the title just a wee bit misleading!Recommend

  • ahsan durrani
    Jun 14, 2011 - 5:27PM

    Wow… Mir SB That’s great… All best in future.Recommend

  • Jun 14, 2011 - 5:31PM

    Wow… Mir SB That’s great… All best in future.Recommend

  • Jun 14, 2011 - 5:42PM

    I second youRecommend

  • Anthony Permal
    Jun 14, 2011 - 5:43PM

    HE didn’t win the Oscar. 4 other guys did!Recommend

  • Saqib
    Jun 14, 2011 - 5:45PM

    No offence to Mr. Mir Zafar Ali, but he never won an Oscar. If you search for the oscar winner for the golden compass, you’ll find other names, but not his. So, please don’t give out the wrong information. He might be involved in the project, but in a junior level.Another point to note here is that the company which provided the visual effects for the golden compass is actually based in India.Recommend

  • Abbas
    Jun 14, 2011 - 5:46PM

    Some thing to feel proud in this dark era of the nation, keep it bro :)Recommend

  • CG Artist
    Jun 14, 2011 - 6:18PM

    Home grown? Never realized Georgia is home.Recommend

  • shehzad
    Jun 14, 2011 - 6:56PM

    The homegrown talent bit is great. A couple of people have pointed out that Ali didn’t actually win an oscar. Even if he played a back-end role in any of the productions speaks about his talent in the field.

    I think as far as CG goes, Pakistan has a long way to go and I would like to suggest to Ali if he can help promote it in Pakistan. I’m sure there are a lot of interested and talented people in Pakistan who need the right coaching, training and direction. Who knows, maybe a Pakistani WILL win an oscar!Recommend

  • dude
    Jun 14, 2011 - 8:16PM

    Thank God he moved to US and got the opportunity to flourish …. nothing could have been done if he was here.Recommend

  • Zeeeeeeeeee
    Jun 14, 2011 - 8:36PM

    Great Amazing for me……..I dont know such talented pakistani….???
    Kahan Chuptay paithay thay Bhai……….GreatRecommend

  • saad
    Jun 14, 2011 - 8:40PM

    lol! just check xmen first class credits. more than 50 names under visual effects! and his job responsibility is not even highlighted! and an oscar winner!! never heard leave alone saw him at the ‘live’ (telecast) ceremonies! any on youtube?? btw quite a few indians in the xmen credits. Recommend

  • Shahzeb Qureshi
    Jun 14, 2011 - 8:42PM

    This guy is living my dream!Recommend

  • Nabeel
    Jun 14, 2011 - 9:12PM

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385752/awards here is the oscar winning team’s list for the Golden compass

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1485675/ and here is the profile of Mir Zafar, no mention of any oscar in both links

    I don’t know why people spread news without authenticating…true, he was part of the special effects team, but he didn’t even get any nomination for itRecommend

  • muhammad Saad
    Jun 14, 2011 - 9:15PM

    a proud FASTian !!Recommend

  • voice of sanity
    Jun 14, 2011 - 9:39PM

    Why is it the case that we are always looking for even smallest of a link of our people with some internationally recognized achievement? Is there any editor in tribune at all? Could we not see that he had his key education in US, not in Pakistan. Reminds me of “Dr. Aurangzeb Hafi” hoax.Recommend

  • Akber Nizar
    Jun 14, 2011 - 10:22PM

    Greatest work out of the great work :) (y)

    Proud to be a Pakistani :)Recommend

  • sumeet
    Jun 14, 2011 - 11:14PM

    kudos to mr.mir.this suggests that if pakistani will channel their energy in good way,they must be world beaters.there is huge talent in pakistan,all they need is a good platform.Recommend

  • Altaf Khan
    Jun 15, 2011 - 12:22AM

    Take this you taliban Recommend

  • sardar fraiq lodhi
    Jun 15, 2011 - 12:45AM

    i m feeling really proud as i m one of the students of Fast university… hats off to you man you made us all proud and we need such talented guys to prosper…

  • Sandy
    Jun 15, 2011 - 12:54AM

    He didn’t win an Oscar at all, the Express Tribune needs to do some background research before making news of whatever they wish news to be.Recommend

  • kashif
    Jun 15, 2011 - 2:52AM

    Gr8 going …..
    zara num ho tu yeh matti bari zar khaiz hai saqi :)
    God Bless AliRecommend

  • Tanvir
    Jun 15, 2011 - 6:25AM

    Checked out the Pirated 4 poster pointed out by Graphic Designer. The Pakistani coin with crescent and star worn by the skeleton seems like a petty attempt to associate Pakistan and/or Islam with evil. Shudder to think what the Pakistani reference in Thor is.Recommend

  • LAX
    Jun 15, 2011 - 8:57AM

    For all who eagerly looked up the credits for Golden Compass and came to the conclusion that Mir Zafar did not win the Oscar, know that the 4 visual effects supervisors who went up on stage at the Oscars were REPRESENTING the many hardworking artists who worked on the visual effects of the movie for many many months. Yes, every single vfx artist who worked on Golden Compass can rightfully claim that they won an Oscar for their work on the movie, regardless of if they went up on stage or not.

    If one doesn’t know enough about the workings of the entertainment industry, perhaps save the comments until you do. Sour grapes anyone???Recommend

  • LAX
    Jun 15, 2011 - 9:03AM

    @Saqib: ‘Another point to note here is that the company which provided the visual effects for the golden compass is actually based in India’…..
    Yes Rhythm & Hues has in recent years opened 2 auxiliary branches in India, however Mir Zafar works at the main studio which is based in Los Angeles. Recommend

  • industry worker
    Jun 15, 2011 - 9:48AM

    people people, calm down, when a movie wins an oscar for visual effects the credit goes to the whole team. The names mentioned are just of the team leads, but the whole team can claim the oscar on their resumes. So he did in fact win an oscar because he was part of the visual effects team that worked on that movie. Hope this sets it straight.Recommend

  • mir zafar ali
    Jun 15, 2011 - 10:24AM

    Hi people. Thanks for all the great comments!
    Addressing the comments about me not being an oscar winner :-)…When a film wins an oscar for the best visual FX, the entire vfx team wins that oscar and has a right to lay claim to it. The vfx supervisors who went up on stage to receive the oscars were representing the entire vfx team. Unlike the emmys…the academy can only give out four oscars at the most. And these oscars are not kept by the vfx supervisors but the companies that worked on the film. Its just like when a film wins the oscar for “Best Picture”. Even though its just the producers who go up on stage to receive the award, the award belongs to the entire crew that worked on producing that movie and is kept at the studio that worked on it.
    So…yes! I am an oscar winner.
    Rhythm and Hues is a Los Angeles based company with sub offices in India, Malaysia and China. I work at the Los Angeles office. So…its completely and totally wrong to say that the company that worked on Golden Compass is based in India. :-)
    Come on people…a little bit of research perhaps?


  • Hassan Zahoor Khan
    Jun 15, 2011 - 11:46AM

    Mashallah such great talent…Recommend

  • Jun 15, 2011 - 12:31PM

    I really appreciate the good work done by Mir Zafar Ali.
    Asad Anwer

  • Ahmed Baksh
    Jun 15, 2011 - 3:54PM

    What an inspiration.
    I studied too in Beaconhouse and im in FAST right now and i was thinking of becoming someone who can toy around with visual effectsRecommend

  • Saad
    Jun 15, 2011 - 3:59PM

    Haha@Asad Shairani: Recommend

  • Jun 15, 2011 - 4:34PM

    He didn’t win an oscar for the Golden Compass. I checked the list of winners and his name wasn’t there. Either there was a limited number of people in the team who could be nominated or his work didn’t merit an oscar.Recommend

  • Fahad
    Jun 15, 2011 - 5:07PM

    This is the link for Full cast and crew for The Golden Compass (2007)


    Check the “Visual Effects by team”, you will find

    Mir Z. Ali …. effects technical director: Rhythm & Hues (as Mir Zafar Ali)

    This should be enough for those who think he had a minor role in this ….

    So, The Golden Compass won the Oscar in 2007, and Mir Zafar Ali was the effects technical director of this team ….

    Zafar’s imdb profile

  • Ali
    Jun 16, 2011 - 10:42AM

    My bad! My sincere apologies to Mir Zafar Ali. Thanks for the explanation everyone!


  • Faheem
    Jun 17, 2011 - 9:43PM

    Just to make things clear here. Ali was working with the team who worked on the visual effects for the movie golden compass. The company heads name were nominated for oscars. Obviously they can’t call the whole team on the stage. He was on the team which won the Oscar. Recommend

  • pervertedMuslim
    Jun 18, 2011 - 2:42AM

    Hmm, Pakistanis only have one talent: blowing themselves up with suicide jackets! Mir Zafar had to get rid of his Pakistaniat in order to be able to develop his talent to work in Hollywood movies.

    a pakistani.

  • Jun 19, 2011 - 9:25PM

    Great work by Pakistani talented guyRecommend

  • syed faizan
    Jun 20, 2011 - 9:00PM

    mir u r the sign inspiration for all new comers of industry and we hope pakistan will produce more big artist…once again many congratulation….:)Recommend

  • Jun 24, 2011 - 2:35PM

    g8 work man kept up good will always give you success Recommend

  • mir zafar ali
    Jun 25, 2011 - 2:42AM

    Appreciate the comments! Thanks ppl.
    If any of you feel that I don’t deserve the oscar or that the report is incorrect…please…feel free to ask questions. The “shoot first and ask questions later” approach doesn’t reflect well on you. For example, we have “shobz”…do some research man. A single google search will save you tons of embarrassment. Recommend

  • irfan ahmed
    Jun 25, 2011 - 4:19PM

    He isnt a OSCAR WINNER at all,he was just a team member of oscar winning film. Recommend

  • Haroon Ahmed Khan
    Jun 28, 2011 - 2:47PM

    Editors take note:
    This is very lazy writing. The first three paragraphs were lifted in their entirety from the IMDB website.
    Is this what “the tribune” has come down, blatant plagiarism?Recommend

  • Jun 28, 2011 - 10:56PM

    Just so people know, Mir is indeed an Oscar winner. As he has mentioned, only up to 4 people are able to go and accept the Oscar for the entire team. Visual Effects is highly competitive and to receive an Oscar for it is a really difficult and significant achievement. So yes, the Oscar win is correct, and besides that prestigious award, look at the incredible body of work that he has been a significant part of. Anyone who works in visual effects can appreciate the incredible talent and hard work it takes to achieve what he has. Yes, we can and should all feel proud and work hard to do our best as he has and continues to do.Recommend

  • mir zafar ali
    Jun 30, 2011 - 7:22AM

    Thanks “P Yousaf”. Your comment is truly inspiring. Thanks you! :-)Recommend

  • fatima javed
    Jul 3, 2011 - 1:03AM

    congrats ! bravo ! thumbs up ! and great job , pakistan needs men like him at this hour, we are all proud of u , we support u full for future , many wishes !Recommend

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