Arts and Culture

Faiyaz Jafri on the Evolution of Digital Animation

Courtesy of Denver Digerati
Pioneering digital animator Faiyaz Jafri hits Denver for Supernova.
Digital animator Faiyaz Jafri has been on top of his game for as long as the medium has been around, beginning thirty years ago on an Apple computer with the most basic programming tools available. It was a painstakingly different on-screen world back then, but Jafri, now an internationally known animation pioneer who produces his own cutting-edge, award-winning work while also co-directing Hong Kong’s Third Culture Film Festival, still represents the gold standard in his trade.

Supernova Outdoor Digital Animation Festival 2017 - First look from Denver Digerati on Vimeo.

Stick-to-itiveness led Jafri, who's in town this week for a September 21 program at the Sie FilmCenter and Denver Digerati’s annual Supernova Outdoor Animation Festival on September 23 in the Denver Theatre District, to where he is now, but it’s been a long and arduous path paced by the path of technological growth.

“When I was at university, there was hardly anything digital out there — everything was done by hand. There was no e-mail at the time, nothing,” says Jafri, a self-taught artist of Dutch and Pakistani descent. “I remember doing simple computer modeling. It was very cumbersome, and it took the whole day to render one mini-image. But that sparked in me the notion that this would become faster. With more access to better programs, this would become easier.”

And it did: A couple of years later, Faiyaz could render line-art illustrations on the computer. “I liked the control of a straight line,” he notes. “To me, it made total sense; I wanted to make hard-line, pictogram-style imagery. I guess we found each other at the right time.”

Faiyaz Jafri, "Nude Descending Staircase," graphic novel, 2014.
Courtesy of Denver Digerati
As computer tech made way for more powerful and versatile machines and applications, he began working with color and could manipulate his drawings using programs like Photoshop, always riding the wave of his chosen medium. “By the early ’90s, I was building stuff out of simple shapes and pressing buttons to render lines,” Jafri explains. “To see this picture slowly being rendered onto the screen — that was a magic moment. I thought, ‘Oh, I want to do this!

“I was always in love with the medium as is,” he continues, “but that was when I got super-excited. These things I wanted to do became possible sooner than you’d think. The growth of computer speech that looked linear in the beginning began to sprout out exponentially.”

Faiyaz Jafri, "Fawn Cluster," laser sintered white nylon plastic, 2014.
Courtesy of Denver Digerati
It’s a field in constant progression, Faiyaz says, with endless possibilities still left to be discovered, and that’s what makes it so exciting, leaving more traditional art forms in the dust. “Computers are changing constantly. There are always new updates and new tools. Imagine being a painter, and you wake up in the morning, and there is a new color. With computer art, that leap happens on a weekly basis.”

Still, he agrees, digital animation remains a small world that often takes a back seat to more traditional or commercial genres at other animation festivals. Jafri credits Supernova for its heightened focus on the burgeoning medium. “It’s great to have a festival completely dedicated to digital animation,” he says.
“I wish we wouldn't need to do that, but I think there are still a lot of people in the industry who think it’s less important or just don't know about it. Supernova is showing the kind of animation that’s not something many people even associate with animation.”
Hello Bambi

Hello Bambi from Faiyaz Jafri on Vimeo.

As one of three international jurors for Supernova 2017, Jafri determines what makes one digital-animation artist better than the rest: “When I watch a film, I want to be blown away on a subconscious level you can’t explain. I’m looking for a combination of craft and something extra. I like to be pushed and be moved. I’m not interested in seeing films that have already been made, telling a story that we’ve already heard told hundreds of times.”

And at Supernova, Jafri adds, you’re bound to see the best in the field. “Viewers, they don't care about the process; it’s the work itself. For them, it’s the same as looking at paintings, and at the end of the day, computer-generated art is just another medium — if an artist is not very good, then the art is not going to be good, no matter what. But there are different ways of experiencing art than through a painting on the wall.” If you hope to experience the most mind-blowing work, Jafri says, “as far as people doing purely digital animation goes, everyone at Supernova belongs to that group.” You can’t go wrong.

Faiyaz Jafri Film Reel from Faiyaz Jafri on Vimeo.

For a proper introduction to Jafri’s own work, get your ticket now for “Faiyaz Jafri on Neo-Archetypes & Hyper-Unrealism,” a screening and lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 21, at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. It’s something he enjoys: “A computer makes my films, but there’s more involved than pushing a button and waiting for it to spit out animation,” he explains. “It’s great to see how these artists go through their process and learn the ideas behind their work. People’s attitudes change if they can see the labor behind it.” Admission ranges from $12 to $15 at the SIE FilmCenter.

Supernova itself comprises concurrent screenings from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday, September 23, in two Denver Theatre District locations: on the giant LED screen above the street at the corner of 14th and Champa streets, and on a temporary screen in the Denver Performing Arts Complex Galleria. Admission is free; choose your favorite programs online at the Supernova website or check the Denver Digerati Facebook page — and prepare for a visual feast.