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Laraib Atta at Glassworks Barcelona, where she last worked —  Photograph courtesy Laraib Atta
Laraib Atta at Glassworks Barcelona, where she last worked — Photograph courtesy Laraib Atta

We may not have known her name until two weeks ago, when she took over our Facebook timelines, but we've definitely seen her work.

Laraib Atta, who happens to be the daughter of renowned folk singer Attaullah Khan Esakhailvi, has been quietly making her way in Hollywood as a visual effects artist. Sweeney Todd, Godzilla and Gravity are just some of the famous titles she has to her credit, and at 28, she's only getting started.

Dawn.com caught up with this young, dynamic artist to talk about working in the VFX industry and growing up the daughter of Attaullah Khan Esakhailvi.

Dawn.com: Could you tell me about your childhood in Pakistan? Where did you live and study, and what were your interests growing up as a child?

Laraib Atta: I was born and raised in Lahore, where I studied at the Beaconhouse School, Liberty Campus. Although we were based in Lahore, most of my childhood was spent in Esakhel, a town in the Mianwali District. Most of our vacations – Ramadan, Eid and many weekends – were spent there. It is my father’s hometown and he absolutely adores spending his time there.

I literally grew up in Esakhel, a place where a woman can’t leave the house without being fully covered in a burqa, including the face. I was the quiet one in my family, so much so that people used to tease me by calling me a 'mute'. But that is how I carried myself. Apart from spending most of our family time in Esakhel, we also managed to travel a lot across the world for my father’s concerts.

From as long as I can remember, drawing has been my passion. As a child, while people around me spent time talking, I would sit in a quiet corner and draw. I always knew that I wanted to do something related to art when I was growing up.

Dawn.com: When and why did you move abroad?

Laraib: My elder brother Sanwal decided to move to the UK for his O-levels, which eventually convinced us as a family to move there after two years. I was 14 at the time. It was a decision made as a family for our future and to look for better opportunities.

Dawn.com: You belong to such a musical background. How did the power of the image lure you away?

Laraib: Not only do I belong to a musical background, but my mother, Bazgha Atta, was a renowned actress. She has worked with popular artists such as Nadeem Baig, Babra Sharif, Mohammed Ali, Shabnam, Sultan Rahi and Rangeela. She starred in hit movies like Amanat, Saima, Tina and many more.

My elder brother, Sanwal Esakhailvi, trained under the tutelage of my father from the tender age of 4. Alongside my father, he had the chance to spend time with Mehdi Hassan Khan Sahib, Madam Noor Jahan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Sahib. He is a vocalist and he recently worked on the album called Inner Sanctum as a vocalist with Spanish guitarist, Tony Calvo (produced by Jonathan that involves different musicians from around the world). It will be released in November. He has also recently released some singles, which will be available on Soundcloud and will be working on some videos. He is also specialized in sound designing for 5.1-surround system for movies.

My younger brother, Bilawal Atta, has been acting and making films since he was 6 years old. He has been part of modeling agencies in the UK and has also acted in various roles at the London theatres. He also appeared in some commercials and was invited by David Beckham for a shoot with him.

As you can see, I belong to a very multi-talented family, and it is my parents’ support that has led us as siblings to pursue our own individual passions without any pressure to restrict ourselves to any one field. However, the most defining role for me after them has been of my brother Sanwal who guided me and encouraged me to enroll [to study] Visual Effects (VFX).

Laraib at a company event at Glassworks Barcelona, where she last worked — Photograph courtesy Laraib Atta
Laraib at a company event at Glassworks Barcelona, where she last worked — Photograph courtesy Laraib Atta

Dawn.com: How'd you get your big break in Hollywood?

Laraib: It was my brother's vision for me to get into the VFX industry, as he was aware of my passion for the arts. After my A-levels, I took a gap year as I had just gotten a place at a university to study Civil and Architectural Engineering. I wanted to take some time off and decide what I wanted to do in the future. It was then that my brother came up with this idea and asked me to look into studying Visual Effects.

I started searching for courses and applied for a Visual Effects diploma. After finishing the diploma, I went back to university to study engineering and at the same time I was being offered jobs for small projects as a visual effects (VFX) artist.

At that time there was a demand for VFX artists and I was lucky to be offered to work right after I finished studying VFX. I took those jobs and studied Engineering at the same time. I turned down a few big projects, as I could not manage between studying and full-time work. But one day I asked myself if engineering was what I really wanted to pursue my career in. For me, it was an easy decision. I wanted to be a full-time VFX artist and work on those big projects. I then decided to drop out of university and started working.

My mother has always taught me to be an independent woman. From a very young age, I was determined to do something. At the age of 19, I studied VFX and started to work as a VFX artist.

Dawn.com: What are some of the main projects you've worked on since then?

Laraib: I have been part of commercials, TV series, music videos and feature films. The Nike football commercial and Olympics promotions were some of the main commercial projects I’ve had the chance to work on. I have also been part of Disney commercials.

Then there are a few TV series I worked on for British Television like BBC, Sky and ITV. Some of the feature films I have been part of were Sweeney Todd, 10,000 BC, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Gravity.

Dawn.com: Have you ever had the opportunity to bring your expertise to Pakistan and work on a project here?

Laraib: Due to the volume of projects being offered to me from UK, USA and Canada, I have unfortunately not been able to get a chance to work on a project of that level in Pakistan. But this is only the beginning and I would hope to work on some good projects in Pakistan in the future when the opportunity arises.

Dawn.com: Tell me about your desi emoji project? It sounds like so much fun.

Laraib: This idea was conceived by my friend Jassem Khan, who is based in Washington DC. His idea was to design desi emoticons representing all four provinces of Pakistan. Jassem approached me with the idea and so in my free time I started drawing characters, which really appealed to him. Then he got another friend on board, a very talented iOS developer, Karim Abdul, also based in the USA. He helped us build and launch it on iOS. Jassem dealt with the marketing and copyright side and I designed the emoticons. It is right now available on iOS but soon we will launch it on Android.

Laraib at the 080 Barcelona Fashion Week — Photograph courtesy Laraib Atta
Laraib at the 080 Barcelona Fashion Week — Photograph courtesy Laraib Atta

Dawn.com: Have you had the chance to see Pakistani films like Waar? What do you think about the quality of the visual effects in those films?

Laraib: I think our film industry is doing a marvelous job and evolving at a steady pace. There is a definite lack of good virtual effects institutes in Pakistan; otherwise, there are so many talented people who are looking for opportunities.

Dawn.com: Is visual effects a male-dominated field, and is it difficult to break into it, not just because you're a woman, but also as a foreigner?

Laraib: It is certainly a male-dominated field. Even in Europe and the USA, there are not enough women working as VFX artists. When I first started, I was the youngest and the only girl studying visual effects in the institute. But this industry is all about creative individuals. It does not matter who you are or where you’re from. What matters is that you’re skillful, creative and passionate.

Dawn.com: How big a part does music play in your life now?

Laraib: Our parents are the best role models for us three siblings to follow and they have set for us an example that anything is achievable if you work hard. It has given me the ability to think outside the box and be creative.


Comments (33) Closed



Progressive Mind Sep 04, 2015 01:12pm

Well done Laraib. You are pride of Pakistan. Do serve your nation when you get the right opportunity.

Rana Sep 04, 2015 01:26pm

Like Father like daughter , proud and talented.

Asif Sep 04, 2015 01:39pm

Hollywood industry that is dominated by Asians mainly Chinese and Indians, glad to see a young Pakistani girl. Keep up the good work

Rashid Ishaq Sep 04, 2015 01:39pm

Well done Laraib. Be like your great father. Remember he is such a humble person, a true patriotic and living legend.

Laraib your above photo at the 080 Barcelona Fashion Week reminds me your father song "kamiz teri kali".

Unicorn Sep 04, 2015 01:41pm

well done girl you deserve to go even higher.

dharmendra goel Sep 04, 2015 01:52pm

Well the lady Visual Effect artist is a very accomplished worker who can have many great things to follow over coming years. She is still only 28yrs old. some of her works would arouse empathy and great joy to many persons not necessarily only from Pakistan d. Goel

Ibrar Sep 04, 2015 01:56pm

Hooray! Very pleased at your accomplished nets at such an early age. May you always succeed in your future projects.

Awan Sep 04, 2015 01:57pm

@Progressive Mind The main credit goes to the open Western Society from where she got the education and now working there. Nobody asked her religious believes or ethnicity to start working with her. Making statements with the word Proud does not make much sense to me. Anyway most of the time the pride of Pakistan is discovered overseas rather than in our own country and that is a question needed to be solved.

libra Sep 04, 2015 02:30pm

welcome sweety :) here are a lot of talented and experienced persons to accompany you...you would be pleased working here

NoFame Sep 04, 2015 03:06pm

Well Done - hard work, im the one of those who ran away from this field ;)

Best of luck

Rida Fatima Sep 04, 2015 04:27pm

Bravo !!! A true inspiration for young Pakistanis. I really like the way she said "our film industry".

AHA Sep 04, 2015 04:38pm

A real talent. Made me proud.

Chartered Accountant (London) Sep 04, 2015 05:07pm

Didn't know Attaullah Khan Esakhailvi had a gem of a daughter, another pride of Pakistan. Well done.

Goga Nalaik Sep 04, 2015 05:56pm

Bravo , you’ve made us proud.

Raz Sep 04, 2015 05:59pm

@Asif ""Hollywood dominated by Chinese and Indians" !?? This is not correct. You are wrong. Where do you get your information from?

Raz Sep 04, 2015 06:00pm

Respect girl. Now this is true international talent.

With due respect Sep 04, 2015 06:04pm

Every success to you.Keep it up.

Concerned Citizen of the World Sep 04, 2015 07:05pm

You are the future of this country and May God bring many more success to you. At such a young age you have accomplished some amazing feets, we all are very proud of you

Concerned Citizen of the World Sep 04, 2015 07:08pm

@Asif : Please do not make this about Pakistan vs. other countries, what we need to do here is give her encouraging words and wish her best in the future. Who cares about anything else. Remember, it always starts from that one person and rest will follow or lookup to that person. I am just glad that she is making waves abroad and still modest about her background and very humble. That is what counts most, as she is still holding on her to true identity

usman777 Sep 04, 2015 07:26pm

Laraib, shabaash. Reach every milestone, capture every goal. Never forget your heritage, Never forget your Pakistan , Young Star.

Reality Bites Sep 04, 2015 07:50pm

Lovely, it is heartening to read about Pakistani younger generation who have exceeded expectations and shown that no cultural barriers can stop you once they are given a chance to pursue their education and interests.

Bravo, Laraib, Malala and Toorpakai.

Shoaib Khan Sep 04, 2015 08:16pm

I congratulate Ms. Laraib on her achievement and really appreciate her father famous folk singer Mr. Atta Ullah Esakhelvi, that how well he brought up his children, now a days every former singer /actor is complaining that govt. is not taking care of them in their hapless days, when they were on their prime time they didn't invest in their children.

Sadiq Amin Sep 04, 2015 09:00pm

"Kameez teri kaali...."

Ironic, isn't it?

Nasiroski Sep 04, 2015 09:54pm

Hope she would match the apex in her field as achieved by her father in music.

Asif Sep 05, 2015 12:42am

@Raz - According to LA Times "The technical at Mumbai's top digital production houses might not know the directors' names, but some of the gravity- and logic-defying sequences in such films as "Avatar," "Skyfall," "Life of Pi" and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" were created on computer screens in India.

In fact, dozens of blockbuster 3-D movies in recent years — from "The Avengers" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to the rereleases of "Titanic" and "Top Gun" — featured the work of Indian digital artists. Mumbai is home to several digital effects houses that count major American studios as clients.

Among them is Prime Focus, which began 15 years ago as a start-up post-production studio for Bollywood and has grown into a global company of 4,500 employees in offices from Los Angeles to Beijing.

Of the 600 visual effects artists it employs in Mumbai, as many as 500 are involved in Hollywood projects, said Delna Dhamodiwala, the company's vice president of human resources.

Asif Sep 05, 2015 12:49am

@Concerned Citizen of the World - I am not making this about Pakistan vs other countries. I was just thinking if Chinese and Indians can dominate then why can't we and I am glad to see her and hope to see more Pakistanis in this field.

Tamilselvan Sep 05, 2015 12:50am

Congratulations and best wishes for more success in your field.

irfan Sep 05, 2015 01:05am

excellent, proud to American Pakistani...

Raja Farhat Abbas Sep 05, 2015 06:12am

Well done young lady very proud of you for thinking of your Motherland.

Darashikoh Sep 05, 2015 12:13pm

USA is a great welcome society that offers people of the world great opportunity and appreciation.

ai Sep 05, 2015 02:12pm

Hope to see you on some great, high budget projects in Pakistan.!

Syed Irfan Ali Sep 05, 2015 02:48pm

So good to know about this young talented girl. May she get every success in her field.

Varun Kolkata Sep 07, 2015 11:03am

Well, she looks like Indian model turned actress Ileana D'cruz.