An Inside Look At Animation In Iran

Here at the Brew, we frequently receive e-mails and press releases from various animation artists and studios around the world informing us of their latest animation projects. I recently received one from an animation director in Iran, Amir Dehestani, who wanted to let me know about a CG project that he’s directing, THE HOLY KINGS, which is comprised of 22 half-hour episodes that are also being edited into seven 80-minute made-for-TV features. The series, based on religious tales from the Koran and Torah, is one of the largest and most ambitious animation projects in Iranian animation history. It is being produced by Hoor Animation, in association with Saba Animation Company.

I was curious to find out more about the state of the animation industry in Iran, or perhaps more appropriately, find out whether the country even has an animation industry. As it turns out, animation in Iran is quite popular, and the industry is growing quickly, with CG animation in particular experiencing the largest growth. No doubt the industry is still small, budgets are low, and the number of experienced artists is relatively few, but one thing the country has working in its favor is a lot of young individuals with an enthusiasm and passion for cartoons. Iran also has its own ASIFA chapter (now in its 17th year), a new monthly animation magazine PILBAN (the website is only viewable with a Farsi web browser), a major animation festival (currently in its third edition), and independent artists with their own websites like IlaSolomon.com.

What follows are a few questions that I asked Amir via e-mail about the current state of the cartoon industry in Iran. To see examples of his work, check out the Hoor Animation website.

THE HOLY KINGSCartoon Brew: How many studios are there in Iran currently producing animation?

Amir Dehestani: There are only two major independent animation studios in Tehran who are devoted completely to producing animation, and they are Hoor Animation Association (founded in 1991 and for which I am working for) and Resaneh Fard. Of course the biggest name in Iranian animation is Saba Animation, but that is funded by Iranian National Television. At our studio Hoor there are about 40 animation professionals who are working in different fields – 3D & 2D, TV series & commercials. I don’t know exactly how many are working at Resaneh Fard, but I’d guess it must be around 15-20 people and they do only 2D animation for TV. They also recently completed a 2D animated feature about the prophet Joseph named THE SUN OF EGYPT that unfortunately did not do too well at the box office.

At Saba, there are probably about 200 animators and different animation-related jobs, and they work in 2D, 3D, stop motion and cut-out. Of course there are many independent animators working in the field but many of them are not animation professionals and create animation as a hobby or passion and receive their income from other kind of artistic (or non-artistic) jobs. In Iran, almost every TV station in the different states has an animation department but the quality of most of their works is not very good and the most important reason for that is the low budgets. Many of these people however are really talented and have a real passion for their work.

The other big name in Iranian animation is the animation department of IIDCYA (Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). In Iran we refer to this center as “KAANOON” and it is the oldest of the studios. I really don’t know how many people are working there, but they work mostly in traditional cel animation and stop motion. Kaanoon also puts on the Tehran Animation Festival.

Cartoon Brew: How much awareness is there in Iran about animation as an art form, and is there a lot of interest among younger individuals in pursuing animation as a career? Also how many schools are there that teach animation?

Amir Dehestani: There is a lot of awareness about animation as an art form in Iran and it has many fans. Of course the number of fans is still not comparable to the US, Japan or Europe, but there are many young adults and kids who are interested in animation, especially in computer animation. There is even an animation magazine, PILBAN, that has been published for more than a year now, so the future of this field is bright. At the present, animation is still a specialized field. In Iran there are only three universities that teach animation: The University of Radio & TV (BA degree), Art University (MA degree) and Tarbiat Modaress University (MA degree). I teach at the Art University currently and there is a lot of interest among students there. Additionally, there are some animation courses for other students who are studying cinema and graphics.

Cartoon Brew: What sort of animation is available in Iran to view, study and use for inspiration? Is it a lot of American animation, anime or other types of animation?

Amir Dehestani: Many kinds of major animated film resources are available for inspiration. All of the Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks/PDI films for example. There are not many anime resources available and it is hard to find. I’m a big fan of anime myself and I really enjoy the works of Miyazaki, Kawajiri and Otomo. Also I’m a big fan of comics – manga, fumetti, and bande dessine (Moebius, Bilal, Gimenez and Enrico Marini) but these kind of materials are almost impossible to find and I must say thank God for the Internet! Unfortunately due to the rarity of these materials, there is not much awareness about these artists here, and the animation and illustration books are difficult to find. One of the big resources is Internet websites on animation and illustration such as your site.

Thanks to Amir for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about cartoons in Iran.