Aamir Khan Tarin is a truly iconic professional from a Pakistani perspective. He is a Computer Graphic artist, who works for Blue Sky Studios, creating animated movies including Ice Age and Robots, plus an upcoming animated attraction called Horton Hears a Who. At a time when we are struggling as a nation to find ways to compete and get ahead in business and industry, individuals like Aamir offer a great new angle on what our next generation can choose to do professionally.
Give us some background about your family, where you grew up, your education etc.
was born and raised in Karachi. My wife Shamoona and I have three beautiful children Dara, Taimoor and Asher. During high school my uncle encouraged me to pursue a career in art, so he took me to the late Mr. Azar Zubi’s Art Institute, where I enrolled for a few months. Later I attended the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts in Karachi (1982-1986). When I was a child, my father used to pay me 10 rupees for a sketch over the weekends when rummy players gathered at home back in the 70's. I got tremendous encouragement and support from my family and relatives, especially from my uncle.
After four years of at the Art Institute, I tried working in several art related professions including advertising agencies, freelance illustrator, and hotels. I worked at the Karachi Sheraton Hotel as an artist for a few years; which gave me the opportunity to travel abroad. I was sent to Egypt and Cyprus to do Christmas decor in the late 80's and early 90's. But this work never satisfied me…
Back in the 90's, computer graphics was considered a big deal. It always astounded me how the number-crunching machine could create such effects; and believe it or not it still surprises me! I lost interest in everything else, including painting; I just focused myself in Computer Graphics. I can truly say I have learned a lot from friends, colleagues, and even interns.
You are working for the company Blue Sky Studios; what is the company about and what are your responsibilities?
I began working at Blue Sky Studios in 2003, a New York based animation studio owned by 20th Century Fox. Blue Sky Studios employs more than three hundred of the most talented artists around the globe. I am currently working as one of the fur and lighting technical directors. In the fur department, my responsibility includes developing a look for the characters, props, and even the grass used in a jungle by means of Blue Sky's own proprietary tools. I am also involved in the lighting at the end of production.
Is animation a long and tedious process? How long does it take to make one scene in an animation movie?
Animation can be one of the most tedious processes in the entire production if you don't have a proper production pipeline. An averagebudgeted animated movie costs $100 to $150 million dollars to produce, and takes about two years to complete. The average animated movie has around 50 to 70 scenes; each scene has about 1 to 100 shots, and each shot has at least a few takes. Generally, an animator will average about a hundred frames a week (that’s only 4 seconds of actual screen time!). It also depends on how many characters are in a shot and other complexities, if it’s a character interacting with a prop where he might be pushing or holding things or when special effects are involved, it may take longer. Anticipation is a key to the animation.
Computer Graphic movies are totally dependant on a strong production pipeline, which can take quite a few years to develop even if you have a combination of strong R&D and film people.
What projects have you have worked on?
Robots, IceAge2 and Horton are the only projects so far in animated movies. Before I joined Blue Sky, I worked on a number of TV commercial projects in US, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
What projects are in the pipeline? Tell us about the upcoming movie “Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Seuss.
Besides Horton, IceAge3 is in the pipeline for 2009 release.
“Horton Hears a Who” is based on a story about Horton, the Elephant who one day in the Jungle of Nool, hears a small speck of dust talking to him. It turns out the speck of dust is actually a tiny planet, home to a city called "Who-ville", inhabited by microscopic-sized inhabitants known as the Whos. The Whos ask Horton (who, though he cannot see them, is able to hear them quite well due to his extraordinary hearing) to protect them from harm, to which he happily obliges, proclaiming throughout the book that "a person's a person, no matter how small". In doing so, he is ridiculed and nearly murdered by the other animals for believing in something that they are unable to see or hear. Horton tells the Whos that they need to make themselves heard by the other animals; they make themselves heard by ensuring that all members of their society play their part. In the end it’s the smallest Who of all, Jo-Jo, who provides the last volume lift to be heard, thus reinforcing the moral of "a person's a person no matter how small".
Horton is a very interesting and different project. Besides the story, the whole look has a unique palette of its own. Each and every inch of the movie was designed quite diligently to achieve the exact feel of the original art of Dr. Seuss without having to compromise within the technical boundaries.
What are your plans for the future? Do you think work like this can be done in Pakistan as well? Or do we have a long way to go before we can begin to see animated movies in Pakistan?
I don't know about plans for the future.
Things are changing around the globe. Outsourcing is attracting more and more big corporations in the west, especially in America; we just need to be prepared to be a part of it. Like in India, it's already in the mainstream.
As far as production in Pakistan is concerned, I don't want to underestimate or overestimate any country, but I am 100% sure Pakistan has a lot of talent. Although, before we think of producing CG movies in Pakistan, we need to run foreign animated movies in the Pakistani cinemas. What new things can we expect to see in the future in animated and 3 D movies?
Every movie offers something new and challenging whether it’s live action or pure 3D. I would say physically correct lighting (radiosity), would become an essential tool in the future, and is already being used in Horton.
What I would like to see is more dynamically realistic skin behavior of characters using cloth technology. However, we have to remember the most important things in movies are the contents, no matter how many fancy special effects are added. As Satyajit Ray said, "The best technique is the one that's not noticeable".
Would you encourage students and young professionals to enter this career line? I would highly encourage Pakistani young talent to consider going into the CG profession. Computer Graphics is not just about knowing art or knowing how to use computer and software, it's getting more and more programming oriented with C++, Python, Perl, Mel, etc. Art and Programming with math skills can create wonders. Lastly your message to the readers of the Saturday Post
"There’s no good or bad in Art, every art is just different for different people".