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Mano Animation Makes History with ‘The Glassworker,’ Pakistan’s First 2D Feature

Karachi-based director Usman Riaz talks about his hand-drawn film that tells the story of a young man and his father, a glass blower, whose relationship is tested after war breaks out and an army colonel and his violinist daughter arrive in their town; film screens in Annecy’s Contrechamp on June 10.

After waiting 24 years for a 2D animation studio to come along in Pakistan, artist and musician Usman Riaz decided it was time to roll up his sleeves and create one himself. 

And name it after his cat, Mano. 

“I just liked how it sounded,” admitted Riaz. “But what we found out later, which is totally coincidental, is how ‘Mano’ also means ‘Hand’ in Spanish. It was very poetic. And the Latin translation ‘My hand’ fits perfectly, since I prefer to draw everything.”  

Founded in 2015 and based in Riaz’s hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, Mano Animation Studios is making history this year with its Annecy International Animation Film Festival debut of The Glassworker, the first 2D animated feature film ever produced in Pakistan. It’s one of 11 feature films – like Sunburnt Unicorn by Nick Johnson, Gill by Ahn Jae-huun, and Pelikan Blue by László Csáki, to name a few – competing in the Contrechamp category.

The story, set in a place loosely based on Pakistan, follows the young Vincent and his father Thomas, the owner of a fine glass workshop. When a war breaks out and an army colonel arrives in their town with his violinist daughter Alliz, the relationship between the father and son is tested.

The project features the voice talents of Art Malik (Man Like Mobeen), Sacha Dhawan (Wolf), Anjli Mohindra (The Lazarus Project), and Tony Jayawardena (Ackley Bridge). Riaz produces through his Mano Animation Studios alongside Khizer Riaz and Manuel Cristobal, with Apoorva Bakshi executive producing through Awedacious Originals. In addition to its premier screening at Annecy, taking place June 10 at 4:30 p.m. at the Cinema Pathe 1, the film also screens June 11, 12, and 15 at the festival. The Glassworker releases in Pakistani theaters Friday, July 26. 

Here’s the trailer:

And, true to his word, Riaz drew the entire film, which consisted of 1,477 shots and over 2,500 individual drawings.

“I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like and I drew in great detail, but that was really the easy part,” says Riaz. “The hard part was getting people to buy into what we were doing and pull this studio together. No one has ever done anything like this in this country. It was very, very tough. But we somehow did it. Is it exactly the way I wanted it to look? No, of course not. But it's the beginning. And I'm very happy that, with the limited resources we had, we were able to achieve something like this. And if this does well, then, obviously, I want to keep improving and keep building. That's the exciting part.”

Take a look at the film’s 2022 Annecy WIP reel:

Mano Animation started out with Riaz, his wife Mariam Riaz Paracha (assistant and art director on The Glassworker) and his cousin Khizer Riaz (CEO of Mano and film producer). The trio grew the studio and The Glassworker simultaneously, inspired and shaped by their lives in a post-9/11 Pakistan. Riot drills, bomb threats, curfews, and checkpoints became an everyday part of their world in Karachi.

“I didn't want to set the film in Pakistan exactly, because then I wouldn't be able to talk about the broader issues because it would have been so geopolitical,” shares Riaz, whose movie is still filled with the flavors of Pakistan, from the colonial architecture, what the characters wear and eat, as well as the local legends surrounding spiritual beings called ‘jinns.’ “So, I wanted to take a fantastical setting and use it to tackle the things that I grew up facing in Pakistan as well as the conflict happening in the world around us and encourage people to find reasons to keep living and keep moving forward.”

In the film, Vincent and Alliz’s fathers are on two opposing sides of a territory conflict, though Vincent’s father is actively against the war altogether. At one point, the character says, “The Great Ravine is disputed territory. We claim it, so do they. So, we go to war. Idiocy.”

And Riaz is not shy about sharing that The Glassworker is “an anti-war film,” not unlike many of the Miyazaki stories that inspired him as a child. When Riaz presented his idea to start a hand-drawn animation studio in Pakistan, he got the chance to present his art and music at TEDx Tokyo and was invited to one of the greatest animation studios in country, Studio Ghibli. 

“I was watching movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service well before I even knew about Studio Ghibli,” remembers Riaz. “I was just a kid. I didn’t know anything about who’d made it. I just knew I was drawn to it. As I got older, Princess Mononoke came out and The Wind Rises. The themes of war and finding reasons to keep on living are so prevalent in all of Miyazaki’s movies, and that was hugely inspirational for me as a kid. So, when it came time to make my own film, I drew heavily from those experiences.”

Riaz also drew from the experiences of his mother. Much of the emotions and turmoil the film’s character Alliz deals with as the daughter of an Army Colonel is derived from Riaz’s own mother, whose father was a Colonel in the Pakistani Army. The soldiers in the film are not made out to be villains or monsters, but family members, trying to do right by those they love. In Riaz’s words, “Ultimately, all the people caught in the conflict suffer, regardless of whoever the victor is.”

Wanting to depict Alliz and Vincent’s as gentle characters despite being brought up in a warring world gave Riaz the idea to make Vincent a glass blower and Alliz a violinist. Riaz’s own relationship with music as a classically trained pianist and composer inspired Alliz’s musical inclinations. In fact, Riaz pursued music before animation and received his bachelor’s in Music Theory and Composition from Berklee College of Music. In 2012, he was selected to showcase his music, art, and short films at TED. At 21, he was one of the youngest TED fellows ever selected. 

“This story takes place in a time when patriarchism and social standing are considered more important than free thought and artistic pursuits,” says Riaz. “It was only when I began writing my own music and orchestral scores as a child that I realized I had a voice. Exploring that with the conflict happening around me as a kid, and then exploring that again with these characters was quite introspective.”

Vincent’s world of glass blowing, meanwhile, was inspired by a trip Riaz took at a teenager to Venice, where he saw the Murano Island glass blowers. 

“I was intrigued by the process of glass blowing because the process is as beautiful and interesting as the end result, and I always wondered why nobody made an animation about something this lovely,” says Riaz. “In 2007, a movie called Perfume: The Story of a Murderer came out, I was like, ‘So we have a movie about how perfume is made, but we don't have a movie about glass blowing?’ I just kept thinking about it. And then, when the time came to make my own film, that was the first idea that came out of my head. I also love the metaphor that there’s this glass shop, with all these beautiful and fragile artworks, surrounded by harsh war and conflict. It was a beautiful juxtaposition.”

While animating Alliz’s delicate hand movements as she manipulates the strings of her violin was something familiar to Riaz, the process of glass blowing was completely foreign and it required a hefty amount of research, and a bit of travel. 

“We visited Peter Layton’s glass studio in London and that was where our primary research was done,” explains Riaz. “They were very kind, letting us see everything from the inception of making something to the end result. And, with glass blowing, it's very quick. You have to work with it really quickly, because the glass cools down so rapidly. So, they were like wizards just moving around with it and playing with it and shaping it and then putting it in the oven where it cools down at a set temperature, so it doesn't crack. We tried to incorporate all that research into the film.”

The crew also studied color coordination with glass and created color palettes showing what colors work well together.

“We actually planned a lot of the film around the colors and lighting of the glass and its pastel tones,” notes Riaz. “In 2017, I met with Disney historian Charles Solomon, and he talked about the difference between hand-drawn animation and CG animation, and how CG tries to imitate reality whereas hand-drawn animation gives the impression of reality. Showing the craft and showing exactly how glass blowing is done was something that I really wanted to focus on, but we had a lot of liberty in what we could do for the glass’ animation just because we weren't going for photorealism. We could romanticize and play around with it.”

The Glassworker is about perseverance, examining innocence, war, loss, and those who choose to create something beautiful even as their home crumbles. It’s a story that has lived in Riaz’s heart long before Mano, and one that he couldn’t tell as richly or tangibly working abroad. 

“It’s a huge privilege to work in places like Japan and the United States, but I didn’t want to leave Karachi,” says Riaz. “I want to show the people of Pakistan what’s possible and what we can create.”

The film also screened at Cannes Film Festival last month with favorable reviews from audiences. 

“It was an honor to be presenting our journey at Cannes 2024 at the American Pavilion, where so many of my heroes have spoken,” shares Riaz. “It’s an honor for any filmmaker, but to have our first film receive so much wonderful support from our peers is truly special. I am very grateful to The Pakistan Crescent Collective and to Mo Naqvi. A lot of care went into making this movie. I hope it resonates with people. I hope they see the attention to detail and how we gave it our all.”

He continues, “I hope the Pakistani people realize that if you if you pursue your passions, and you give it your all, that it is possible to achieve your dreams. I never thought that I would be like in the vicinity of Studio Ghibli ever. I was a kid from Pakistan and next thing I know I’m in Hayao Miyazaki’s studio. I remember I busted out crying because I couldn’t believe it. And Miyazaki was there, working on Boro the Caterpillar. I want The Glassworker to inspire people like Miyazaki’s movies have inspired me. And maybe it’s a fool’s hope, but that’s what we need this country, quite frankly. Hope.”

Mano Animation Studios is continuing to release weekly behind-the-scenes episodes of The Making of The Glassworker on the studio’s YouTube channel. There are currently three episodes, with nine more on the way. 

All 11 feature films competing in the Contrechamp category can be found here – all AWN’s Annecy coverage can be found here.

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Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at