Originally published in Animation Reporter magazine May 2010 by Roxanne Mehta. Download PDF
‘Gul’ means flower, and this nine minute animated film directed by Adnan Hussain has good reason to bloom. It was the Winner at Canada Film Festival Rising Star Award of Excellence and received The Accolade Film Award of Merit. ‘Gul’ has also made it to the Official Selections at Maelstrom Fantastic Film Festival, Anim’est Animation Film Festival, Mill Valey Film Festival, Montezuma Film Festival and the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival.
The film tells the story of a young girl, Gul, who is awakened by her mother’s last breaths. It portrays a child’s perspective of the conflicts between abuse, self determination, human rights and the environment. Visual poetry brings her world to life. But with all that she finds, can love foster hope in the face of oppression?
Growing up in the US and Pakistan, Hussain’s love for writing stories turned into poorly drawn comics in elementary school. When he started using the computer, he found an accessible way to connect all of it together in the form of animation. Inspired by life and trying to make sense of the interactions with people, Hussain thinks that a people driven story can be set in any time period or place as the human experience is universal. “There were many thoughts that went behind the idea for ‘Gul’, but most of all it was the desire to tell that story in a way that allowed the viewer to connect their own experiences and interpret it for themselves,” says Hussain.
‘Gul’ is an interpretive piece meant for people to gel their own experiences with. The visuals are meant to create a rawer painted look in the animation to help connect it on a more emotional level. Hussain says, “I really wanted it to feel rougher and more expressive than the more traditional, cleaner look in computer animation. The film has been scored using Sindhi folk music from the villages of Pakistan which augments the raw, expressive painted style of the computer animation.
Financed by Hussain himself, ‘Gul’ was created over the course of nine years of his creative growth. It began as a sketch and a few paragraphs of the basic story back in 2000, shortly after Hussain graduated from college. He then put it aside and worked on honing his skills to a level where he felt comfortable enough to tell the story. He drew inspiration from photos of abandoned factories and drains by urban explorers, old tractors, flowers, and painters like Egon Schiele, Bill Sienkiewicz and Kent Williams, as well as folk music from around the world. He says, “With those influences in hand, I tried to be creative in my use of this inspiration, to make the piece something of my own. Even looking at other artists’ paintings was more about understanding why their work made me feel the way that it did and then trying to evoke the same sense of excitement in my own work.”
When working on technical tests later on, Hussain wrote each scene as descriptively as possible. All the emotions and subtle symbolism were worked out by writing, and rewriting each scene again and again. Then each scene was woven together, though not essentially in chronological order. During this process he continued to design sketches and created visuals that expressed the words he had written.
To maintain the stylized look of the film, Hussain developed custom techniques to repaint each frame of the film layer by layer. The frame rate was lowered from 24 fps to 8 fps to give the brush strokes a more acceptable level of movement. He used a standard desktop computer and later added a laptop to the mix. With regard to software, he used 3DS Max, Photoshop, Painter, Digital Fusion and Premiere. The director faced many challenges. The painted look, pipes and asset man‑