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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.