CGIFeature Film

PREVIEW: Pakistani Animated Feature ‘Allahyar and The Legend of Markhor’

Like much of the rest of the world, animation production is gaining strength in Pakistan, and one of the upcoming projects hoping to put the country on the map is Allahyar and The Legend of Markhor.

Made by 3rd World Studios in Islamabad, the animated feature, which includes a few songs, tells the story of a young northern Pakistani boy, Allahyar, who forms a close relationship with animals after setting off away from his home.

The film relied heavily on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 rather than a traditional animation pipeline. Cartoon Brew talked to some of the team from 3rd World about making Allahyar in Pakistan and how they took advantage of the real-time engine in production.

3rd World Studios was founded by Uzair Zaheer Khan, an alumni of Vancouver Film School and an animation veteran in Pakistan who set up the new studio in 2016 specifically to make Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor, which he also wrote and directed.

It was part of a deliberate attempt to widen the scope of Pakistan’s animation industry. The first feature-length computer animated film produced in the country, for example, was 3 Bahadur from Waadi Animations, released in 2015 (it has since spawned a couple of sequels).

Apart from a few feature productions, most animation work in Pakistan remains in advertising. However, this is changing. Allahyar’s associate producer, Eyad Ibrahim, told Cartoon Brew that “although most of the high-end work [in Pakistan] is of a commercial nature, with ads being supported by huge industries and major brands that make a major chunk of the market,” but he also notes that there is a ‘niche, indie’ side to animation in the country, and that’s something this new film has tapped into.

The film also taps deeply, of course, into Pakistani culture, especially the importance of animals in society. The filmmakers strived for a strong positive message that, according to Ibrahim, “addresses important social issues including wildlife conservation, the relationship between humans and other living beings, and the vulnerability and magic of childhood. It also provides a gentle insight into Pakistan’s cultural values and the importance of upholding these.” (The film has the backing of the global non-profit World Wide Fund for Nature.)

Journey

Although 3rd World did not say how it was financed, Allahyar does have a local distributor – Ary Films – and 3rd World does intend to market the film worldwide. (The film also has promotional support from Nickelodeon Pakistan.) “The animation industry in Pakistan is still growing,” said Ibrahim. “This means there isn’t much of a precedent for gauging the feasibility of financing projects in this field, which in turn discourages sponsors and investors. This was a major challenge for us at 3rd World Studios, and we had to both ensure that we maintained a minimum cost of production, as well as devise innovative ways to promote and deliver high-quality material to our audiences.”

One aspect that aided in keeping production costs down, the studio says, was by using Unreal Engine 4. The studio completed previsualization, layout, lookdev, environments, dynamic effects, shading, final lighting, and final delivery of frames within the game engine. As with other real-time engines, the benefit here was immediate feedback during production and not having to invest in, or wait for, a traditional renderer.

“Unreal Engine 4 brought real-time lighting to reality,” added 3rd World Studios head of production Usman Iqbal. “You can quickly switch from one lighting condition to another without any rendering bottlenecks. A single scene consisting of superhigh poly terrains, animals with massive dynamic fur, high-res dynamic foliage and, on top of it, all the environment particles, were easily rendered using a single machine with a GPU like Nvidia 1080Ti.”

Friendship

Time was saved, too, from avoiding the traditional compositing approach, as Iqbal explains further. “Everything rendering in as a beauty layer without any need of layer passes coming in from other packages is a huge cost saver. It almost diminished the role of our post department which could now focus on giving just the final touches instead of blending and comping the render passes.”

The studio recently benefited from an Unreal Dev Grant from Epic Games, which that company provides to creators using Unreal Engine 4. In a press release, Iqbal said, “Our film wouldn’t be possible without Unreal’s fast, built-in tools like Sequencer, the immensely powerful Material Editor, particle editing, post-process effects, and so forth. We can make constant improvements to heavily populated sets that have dynamic foliage, furry animals, and lots of particles. This would not be possible if we were using a regular rendering pipeline.”

Allahyar and The Legend of Markhor releases in Pakistan on February 2nd.

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