How Bangladeshi creators made the ambitious 3D animation film ‘Tomorrow’ that won international accolades and stunned audiences
When ‘Tomorrow’ premiered in December 2019 at a Deepto TV studio/hall to an invite-only audience, it dazzled everyone at attendance. No one had seen something quite like this coming out of Bangladesh.
Two years later, by the end of 2021, the film has gathered nearly three million views on YouTube and won the monthly award for Best Animation Film for August 2021 at Cannes World Film Festival. The 26-minute 3D animated film on climate change showed that international-quality animation can be produced in Bangladesh and by Bangladeshis.
The director for the film Mohammad Shihab Uddin says it took three and a half years of intense trial and error to achieve the end product.
It all began when Kazi Zahin Hasan and Kazi Zeeshan Hasan, producers of the film, decided to make a film on climate change, a subject the entrepreneur-duo feel very passionately about. The prominent industrialists, who are owners of Kazi Farms Group, could bank roll the project. That was never an issue. But who should they hire for the job?
They found Mohammad Shihab Uddin, who didn’t have any academic background in filmmaking, but did have a wealth of experience working in Bangladesh’s nascent animation industry.
From background artist to director
Starting his career as a background artist, Shihab quickly found himself working as production supervisor. His major break, he says, was getting the job of studio manager for ToonBangla, one of the biggest animation studios in the country.
“From ToonBangla, we produced 5 short films, including four Meena films for UNICEF and one independent film named ‘Attack of the Killer Mutant Chicken’. To run the studio and maintain the quality, I had to learn pretty much all the works that an animation studio needs done,” said Shihab Uddin.
His interest was in character design and animation drawing. “Managing five short films and running a big studio gave me a huge experience from the managerial point of view,” Shihab said.
After ToonBangla shut down, Shihab and a few of his colleagues founded a new studio called ‘DCrows’, focusing on 2D films. They produced a six-part series for UNFPA. Shihab worked as the director, as well as overseeing all the managerial and creative works.
Shihab says his experience of managing production for 11 short films made him ready for the biggest jump in his career, which was the ‘Tomorrow’ film. “I poured all of my heart into it,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
How Tomorrow became a 3D project
With Shihab on board, producers Kazi Zeeshan Hasan and Kazi Zahin Hasan were ready to launch the project. The film was not meant to be in 3D at conception, but a number of things happening together changed its course.
At that time, Shihab was dabbling in 3D work and thinking seriously about a transition, when he came across this new studio called ‘Cycore’ which specialized in 3D. Shihab started to follow Cycore’s CEO Murad Abrar, who he met at different animation related events. Works by Murad’s studio kept impressing Shihab.
At one of those events, after Shihab saw a one-minute clip made by Cycore, he approached Murad and asked him if he would be interested to make a film together. By this time Shihab had already gotten the work for Tomorrow. Now, having teamed up with Murad, Shihab decided to make the film in 3D.
‘We wanted to make a film that would have a feature film look’
Shihab and his team hated the idea of producing another “generic TV, cheap-looking work”. But the aspiration came at a price, which the Tomorrow team was happy to pay.
They had to learn “everything.”
“The artists worked individually on particular subjects. Like each artist was assigned for a particular job. We had to create realistic hair, explore hair simulation, realistic cloth with simulation. We needed a sea with waves that are crashing against the shore, smokes. Huge gatherings of people, ice of Antarctica,” said Shihab.
“We spent 6 months finding the proper pipeline to make a feature film-looking film. The artists at the studios worked tirelessly and passionately for 18 months! Without their love and passion, it would have been impossible to make ‘Tomorrow’.”
The success ultimately came through determination and rigour, says Murad.
“The technical challenges in this project were huge. From the very beginning, we knew we have to make a visually stunning animation to reach our target audience. We focused on our core skills and tried to improve it as much as we could. We spend the first 6 months in research and development,” Murad told Dhaka Tribune.
His team watched many international films to identify the key components that will make their film unique and visually pleasing. One team focused on the art of animation while another team focused on technical difficulties like hair, cloth, and physics simulation.
“We had to redesign a new production pipeline that is efficient and artist-friendly. We consulted with various renowned artists to understand their workflow and implemented in our pipeline. We assigned quality improvement tasks to each department and challenged them to bring out their best. Whenever we felt that a shot is not up to the standard, we ditched that and started from the beginning. I think that’s one of the main reasons behind the stunning visual of Tomorrow,” said Murad.
A “huge and overwhelming” response
The filmmakers say that the response to the film has been huge and overwhelming.
“The film is getting huge appreciation from local and international audiences when they see it. None of them believed that it was made in Bangladesh,” said Shihab.
The high-quality animation even reduced some audience members to tears, who felt proud as Bangladeshis.
But it’s not only the quality of animation that moved the audience. The story — written by the producers Kazi Zahin Hasan and Kazi Zeeshan Hasan, and turned into screenplay by Ahmed khan Hirok and Nasimul Hasan — also had an impact.
“We are receiving so many comments, messages that children now want to be ‘Ratul’ (the child protagonist of ‘Tomorrow’) and they want to save the world like him. The main purpose of the film was to teach our kids about global warming and our kids now want to save the world. So, yes, we succeeded,” Shihab said.
As the film continues to participate in various festivals around the world, there is a plan to create dubbed versions in 8 languages. So far, the film has been released in four dubbed languages: English, Hindi/Urdu, Spanish, and French.