Egyptian director Maged Nassar is back at it again with a mesmerising animation film for the Sharjah Book Authority. Produced by Good People Films, it’s Nassar’s latest collaboration with the animation wizards at ZANAD.
Q> What did the initial creative brief look like?
Maged> The brief that came from the client was that they wanted to speak to authors, which is very different from working on our usual soft drink or telecom brief. The challenge of what we like to call a “tight” brief — meaning that there weren’t that many ways you could go about tackling it — is what inspired us. We had to speak to a very narrow category of viewers and so we asked ourselves, ‘what is a writer’s biggest dream?’, which we concluded was to have a best seller. So we built our film around exploring the ingredients needed to do this.
Q> What was your main visual inspiration for this?
Maged> Our first stylistic decision was to imitate the aesthetic of black ink on a piece of paper. But we wanted to create another dimension to it. When we were brainstorming with Tareq Ali ( Creative Director at ZANAD the animation studio), we brought in a sculpture that someone made of a Picasso painting. It somehow felt right to be the source of inspiration for this project.
Q> What was the biggest challenge that you faced on this project?
Maged> To sell an animation film to any client is always a challenge on its own, as client’s perception of animations are usually jaded or skewed compared to what we want to achieve. Clients also don’t tend to invest a lot in animation as opposed to live action, especially in the MENA region. So we faced the usual challenges that come along with that — expectations, time frames etc.
Creatively, the biggest challenge was making the film feel as imaginative as books are — usually films limit how far imagination can go versus a book. So, here we had to ‘flip the script’ on this paradigm.
Q> As a film director, you have made both live-action and animation films. Sometimes you’ve mixed the two. What excites you about working with animation, and how is the process of creating a film different when animation is involved?
Maged> I’ve always been a big fan of animation, whether anime, stop motion, traditional or 3D animation. Studios like Aardman, Laika and Red Nose Studio are legends to me. I even think that some directors’ animation work is better than their live-action films…take Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, or David Fincher’s work for ‘Love Death and Robots’ for example…damn! Guillermo del Toro.
Also with animation, if you think about it, you kind of get to play god. You have absolute control of the world! Nothing is off the table, and the process feels limitless. Who doesn’t want to control everything when it comes to bringing their vision into life?
Now if we’re discussing the process of things, well it’s kind of chaotic. Take my latest work for Zain, for example. This one film consists of many different styles, so we had to make sure that these different styles fused well and complemented one another. I loved this challenge. It’s a long trial and error process. So much time is put into it and you end up being forced to change your mind a lot as you go along. It’s constantly evolving. It’s the most exciting thing ever, because you’re always curious as to where this process will take you, and what the outcome will look like. It was very different to shooting tight boards that end up being executed exactly as you envisioned in the beginning.
Q> Tell us about your relationship with ZANAD, the animation studio behind this, and many other films of yours!
Maged> Zanad and I go way back. We were neighbours at one point and that eventually evolved into a friendship dating back to 2009. The culture at Zanad is something else! You walk in and everyone just feels like family – everyone is so easygoing. I swear sometimes I just go and chill there without having a project to work on. We’re always sharing music with each other and recommending movies. It’s just such a genuine friendship.
And when it comes to projects, I love bouncing ideas off the creative directors there (Tariq Ali and Seif Roshdy to name a couple), and they don’t mind it which is the best part. They’re always willing to take things a step further, amend and amend, until we’ve reached an outcome we’re all super happy with — and honestly, that small office is filled with so much talent. Seif is a 3D beast, Merna is a master with her 2D work, Tariq is a samurai with his animations, Yehia with his editing, Shady with his 3D work! It’s unbelievable! I could go on and on! Their constellation is perfect for when we are dealing with projects that consist of a variety of mediums. They know exactly how to handle things. They’re the best. I mean, I celebrated my last birthday there, with candles and everything, so yeah, that says enough 🙂