Although Wahid Ibn Reza wore many hats in front and behind the camera, he is most notable for his enriched career in visual effects. He worked as visual effects coordinator & manager for major Hollywood blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice among other films.
He was part of a team that was nominated for the Academy Awards In 2017 for Best VFX in the film Doctor Strange. In the following year, he was part of a team that was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best VFX in the film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
As part of an interview series by Fintech, Azfar Adib spoke to Mr. Wahid recently about his work. Here’s the excerpt.
What motivated you to get into the field of visual effects?
I always loved films but it was further invigorated during my student life in BUET. I made the first short film during some departmental events in BUET. I got a very good response after screening that in an auditorium with fully packed audience. Gradually I got involved in different stuff following my passion. I was associate editor for the Unmad magazine, acted in theatre, published a poetry book and so on. So, filmmaking wasn’t necessarily the only passion. But after that screening, I felt I could actually do something valuable here.
So, I decided to tell stories that will engage and entertain people. Also, after graduating from BUET I got a role in a TV drama of Humayun Ahmed ,and ultimately ended up acting in more productions. That also drove me into the world of filmmaking.
Talk about your work in the Oscar nominated films.
I did Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in film production in University of British Columbia. But I couldn’t get a job instantly after completing BFA. I remember making as many as 84 job applications !! It was only when I changed my resume and only showed my Canadian experience, I got an interview call from a studio called Bardel. The studio’s work mainly involved classic animation style movies like Sinbad, Prince of Egypt, etc.
Initially, the interview was for an unpaid internship. But it went so well that the company offered me a paid position as a production assistant, which basically involved everything from washing dishes to making tea and so on.
It didn’t deter me actually. I did everything I had to do and then asked for more work. They ended up giving me work on the backgrounds for ‘Rick and Morty’. They asked me to do vector for 10 backgrounds per hour, but I managed to do about 25-30. They were impressed and gave me more assignments.
After six months I was offered the role of a production coordinator. Around that time, I interviewed and got hired at Moving Picture Company. My first show on the new job was for “Game of Thrones” ! Looking back now, I still feel the challenges during those early days. I kept working hard. Pretty soon I was offered work for either of two films: a James Bond movie or “Batman vs Superman”. I chose “Batman vs Superman”. I worked on the very last scene where Superman died. It was a truly special experience. On that show I worked with a VFX supervisor who now has two Oscars under his belt. One for “Life of Pi” and one for “1917”. After that I moved on to Method studios do work on Marvel movies. There I was part of two Oscar nominated teams, back to back.
ALSO, IF YOU LOOK ON GOOGLE, ‘1971 WAR’ SEARCH TERM BRINGS UP INDO-PAKISTAN FOR THE FIRST 3 OR 4 RESULTS. YOU GET BANGLADESH ON 4 OR LATER. THIS MEANS OUR STORY HAVEN’T REACHED THE WORLD. I FAILED TO TELL OUR STORY AND THAT’S REALLY SAD.
A lot of people from Bangladesh face difficulties finding job as an expat because they lack international experience. What are your experience and advice from this perspective?
Let me share an interesting story. One time there was a power outage at my office. Everyone stopped working immediately. I was the only person who did not get off of his computer and stopped. My colleagues were quite perplexed by this. I told them that I come from a place where I experienced 12 hours of load-shedding daily . Of course, they didn’t know what ‘load-shedding’ actually was !
I think we need to harbor this confidence which we gain while dealing with challenging scenario in Bangladesh. And you need to have a genuine interest and passion for work, particularly when you are in global stage, be it be working or studying.
In reality, people in the Western countries do not really know much about Bangladesh. I was once asked if Bangladesh had any TV channels! The fact that I came here from Bangladesh to study filmmaking is kind of shocking to them. Sometimes you may get underestimated. I once requested for a professor’s appointment to get some writing advice. He agreed to see me, but said that I might not understand him ! I assured him that I will understand.
What I can tell is that “Look, I read the same Harry Potter that you read. Perhaps I read from a book printed on lower quality paper. Or I also see the movies that you see. Maybe you watched them in a cinema theater, but I watched them by downloading them. But they were the same movies. So, there’s no reason for me to not have the same knowledge as you. There’s no reason why my caliber will be inferior to yours. Rather, I can make diverse contribution based on my unique cultural experience, education and upbringing. This make enable a different perspective on storytelling.
So, you need this confidence to successfully deal with these challenges.
Share us something about ‘Surviving 71’, your on-going animated short film based on our liberation war, and your personal attachment to it.
My father was a freedom fighter. He was captured by the occupying Pakistani Army during the war. I heard from my dad how he was tortured, got blindfolded and tied-up with prisoners being transported by train. Many co-prisoners with my dad were shot and kicked off the train. When my father’s turn came and he was lined up for shooting, through this his sharp instinct he felt presence of water below, and realized that the train was going over a bridge. He instantly decided to take the only possible chance to save his life. He jumped backwards and fell down into the river. Luckily the blindfold came off in water, he was able to swim through and got to the shore. This goose bumping story, which is really unbelievable but true, has been the main essence of ‘Surviving 71’.
However, my father was just one freedom fighter. There are many more stories like this, which I want to convey to new generations by utilizing fantastical animation. For instance, in the teaser I depicted the Pakistani military as serpents. I didn’t want to depict them as humans.
A Google search using the keywords ‘1971 war’ may show India-Pakistan related stuff first. We see mentioning of Bangladesh much later. This means that our unique history of 1971 haven’t properly reached the world, which it really deserves. We really need to do more in this regard.
The production of “Surviving 71” is temporarily halted due to COVID scenario. I’m trying to focus on three particular aspects in this film – abuse of women, criminality of Pakistani collaborators (Razakar) and lives of very ordinary people going through that time. Through this film I want to spark people’s interest in Bangladesh liberation war. If feasible, I also hope to a continuous series on this.
I guess such contents enlighten people and ensure that true history keeps passing through generations. It is quite encouraging to see a great scale of endeavors being conducted on the occasion of Bangladesh’s 50 years of independence. I believe stories of Bangladesh truly deserve to reach a global audience.
As Bangladesh celebrates its 50 years of independence, would you like to share any thoughts in this regard?
I can always see and feel so many positive aspects of Bangladesh. There are challenges that often overwhelm us, but we have lot more encouraging stories of success. We can be unstoppable if we just move ahead with solid self-confidence, like the way Bangabandhu said to us in 1971 – “ No one can suppress us anymore…”