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Annecy 2024: 'The Glassworker' Draws Out the Potential for Pakistan's Animation Future

Mano Animation Studios The Glassworker 2024
Mano Animation Studios

Established in 2015 as Pakistan’s first hand-drawn animation studio, Mano Animation Studios has debuted its first — and Pakistan’s first ever — hand-drawn animated feature film, The Glassworker. Directed by the studio’s co-founder Usman Riaz, the film was presented at the Cannes Film Festival ahead of its official premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

A pioneering achievement and a dream come true to so many of its creatives, this long-awaited project harnesses many influences from films that came before (most notably that of Japanese animation) for a film that, while perhaps a tad derivative and less successful in some of its thematic and storytelling preoccupations, offers real beauty in its style and sincerity. 

The Glassworker revolves around Vincent, who we watch grow from a young boy to a young man (voiced by Sacha Dhawan in the English version and Mooroo in the Urdu version) in a fictional country inspired by Pakistan. He works in the finest glass workshop in the country with his father Tomas (Art Malik in English, Khaled Anam in Urdu). 

Alongside British Indian Dhawan and British Pakistani Malik, the English version of The Glassworker uses a predominantly South Asian voice cast, all doing sterling work in capturing the dynamics of Vincent and Tomas’ homeland, which becomes gradually overtaken by the rumblings of an impending war — one that pacifist Tomas wants no part in. Vincent soon falls in love with the recently arrived Alliz (Anjli Mohindra in English, Mariam Riaz Paracha in Urdu), the violinist daughter of an army colonel. Their relationship forms the emotional crux of the film as we watch the ebbs and flows of their friendship alongside the changing tides of the country. 

Mano Animation Studios The Glassworker 2024
Mano Animation Studios

The Japanese, especially Studio Ghibli, influence is strong. Firstly in the gorgeous animation, where each frame is bursting from the seams with colour. The glassworking sequences are particular marvels, creating such an unforgettable aesthetic that brings to life Vincent and Tomas’ work so vividly. The influence is also felt in the storytelling, especially in its juxtaposition of the intimate human stories with the overarching doom and gloom of war that evokes the likes of The Wind Rises

In this regard, though, the film isn’t quite as successful as its predecessors. The war in The Glassworker is never defined enough, nor are the characters of the colonel and Vincent’s rival for Alliz’s affections, Malik Khan, who joins up to fight for the army. These under-developed aspects make the conflict of the film between the fighters and the pacifists feel less potent than it could’ve been.

However, stronger is the bond between Vincent and Alliz and the rifts that come between them, and Vincent with his father, as he finds his feelings of passion come at odds with his obligation to the glass workshop. There’s a real bittersweet warmth that comes into play whenever these three characters interact, whether through conversations or through letters, and making it more affecting and personal. In contrast, the overarching story of how war permeates the land feels less vivid, and never quite connects in the same way, leaving a certain frustration when the story shifts its focus. 

Nevertheless, while one might take issue with some of its storytelling, The Glassworker succeeds on the merits of its personal touch, and the sheer breadth of the animated beauty. With the grand scale of its drawings and storyboarding to bring the film to life — a film unlike anything ever made in Pakistan — The Glassworkers is further amplified by the assured work of its voice cast and the  Carmine Di Florio’s beautiful score.

A beautiful film that indicates the promise of much more to come for Mano Animation Studios and Pakistan.


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