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Zooming In: Our man in Hollywood

February 20, 2011

Flubber went with animation where few had gone before

There’s definitely more to the soft-spoken, quiet man sitting before me than meets the eye. Muqeem Khan has played an all-important role in the animation of Hollywood films such as George of the Jungle and Armageddon.

“Animation is not about moving an object. It is a way of telling a story,” says Khan in one of his recent visits to Karachi. “The word ‘anim’ in Greek means to give life to an inanimate object and that’s what’s in my mind when I work.” Giving an example of the film, Planet Earth, which focuses on global warming, he says well-crafted messages through dynamic digital elements can trigger our association with the problem.

Muqeem is currently doing his PhD in animation and emerging technologies after having obtained a full-dean scholarship from Australia. “My work entails heritage and preservation, and includes Harrapa and Moenjodaro among other past civilisations. I am focusing on poetry, music and communication and the intangible aspects of those times.” He strongly believes there should be an element of local culture in the animations watched by children from other regions.

The other films that he has worked on are Flubber and Deep Rising with Walt Disney. He has also executed the layering of digital shots for Square USA in their fully digital film, Final Fantasy, funded by Columbia Pictures. “The good thing abroad is the sharing part, especially in CG, where one learns and shares it with the younger lot and moves on to learn something new,” he says.

Three important points in animation are time, money and energy and all the production houses work on this basis. He adds, “Animation is for children so we can’t show people dying, and an explosion has to be done in a beautiful way so that children don’t get scared. Each element is very detailed as it can easily distract you from the narrative.”

At the NCA in Lahore, the then principal Salima Hashmi encouraged Muqeem to study design after seeing his work. “I later realised that colours and forms were more attractive than lines, and after a year I went to the US for a Master’s degree in animation under the umbrella of industrial design.” He was one of the 10 students selected from all over the world at the Advanced Computing Centre for Arts and Designs in Ohio, “Chuck Charles Suri, the pioneer of animation in the 1950s, was one of the faculty members. I passed with flying colours.”

Armed with his Master’s degree and thesis, Muqeem went to Disney where the executives preferred to see his sketches and designs rather than degrees. They asked him to work with the George of the Jungle team, “My director for Flubber, Doug Smith told me that every shot in an animated film is like a beautiful painting even if it is very short.”

Just before 9/11 Muqeem was asked to work for Stuart Little, a film on a mouse. He opted instead to teach and share his knowledge with students, “I am teaching in North Western University in Qatar as Associate Professor in Communications, which deals with animation.” During this period he also got a PhD scholarship in Australia. For Muqeem Khan the future of animation is very bright. He predicts that animated content will be everywhere and will play a major part in human behaviour, as well as become a source of information, “Smart phones will have amazing applications and animation, and interaction design will help us in our daily situations in life, social interaction, retrieval of information, health, etc.

Just you wait.”

He also sees a lot of potential for animation in Pakistan. Muqeem feels that youngsters here are talented, self-motivated and curious about animation and the tools to create it. They remind him of seeds that can grow into fantastic trees if they are nurtured well, “The work that I have seen from different production houses working for channels is fantastic. But there aren’t good institutions to teach and guide them. The production houses are doing work through trial and error and don’t have professional help at the university level.” He also does not see a collaborative effort and working together of production houses to share knowledge in order to progress in the field, as is common in the West.