Jan 9, 2024
Amr Shalaan: The Tea on his Life's Work, Beginning and Dreams
This interview was conducted by Giraffics own animation supervisor, Aya Quandeel
We may be a bit biased here, but animation may be one of the best ways to tell a story. If you think about it, even the sky has no limits to what one can do. Known for his versatile art style, Amr Shaalan has narrated stories through the most interesting strokes out there.
Shaalan is an art director, animator, illustrator, and storyboard artist. Through multiple collaborations and personal works, Shaalan has created a unique outlook and surprising qualities in all of his projects. In the interview below, we were able to dive into his creative vessel and learn more about his day-to-day work.
1. Tell us about the unique traits you inherited from your artistic family.
Well, that's my secret. I was lucky to be born with a father and a mother who are both artists and worked together in the animation industry. I was the luckiest kid on the planet. I saw my mother working as an inker in traditional animation when I was 5 or 6 years old, and by the time I was 10, I was doing my 1st storyboard! You can imagine what that kid looked like—a kid to whom you can offer animation video tape instead of candy.
2. Among all the aspects you have experienced in your career, how did you realize that you are a story artist?
To be honest, it wasn't quite easy. I struggled a lot to find which role I see myself in and where I can fit. It was a question with no answer. But sometimes you are blinded by overthinking because I was too busy questioning that I didn't give myself the time to think quietly of all the projects I have done throughout the 7 years after graduation, which I prefer most of them. I found the answer in 2019 when I realized my passion for storytelling.
3. How do you spend your work days?
I'm a morning person. I love working early hours. I also enjoy working from home. I'm a home person where you can't force me into a certain discipline; I'm flexible like that. I start every day with my to-do list with the tasks I should do, and that's it. Oh, I forgot! I have lunch by 5:00.
4. Which local and international artists are your favorites?
For local, my favorite is Tawfek. He is one of my favorite Egyptian artists and the funniest too. For international level, I do love plenty, but let's say Ryan Lang.
5. Were the Netflix course and Kizazi Moto pivotal moments in your career, and how did they impact you?
Yes, 2021 was my lucky year. I applied for the storyboard course that Triggerfish offered, and I, the only Egyptian, was selected among 550 African applicants. They gave 20 artists the opportunity to learn storyboarding for animation, and our instructor was Nathan Stanton, a former head of story at Pixar. Over 3 months, we went through selection phases till Netflix selected 2 of us to work for a year on their upcoming feature animation, during which Kizazi Moto was happening. Giraffics Studio selected me to work on the story for one of the films for Disney+. So yeah, that was a glowing moment in my career.
6. Can you describe your roles at Netflix and Kizazi Moto?
I was a story artist. I prefer not to call myself a storyboard artist because it is about how you tell the story, not just drawing it; it is your taste and character that you add to the film. So, I worked with the directors and head of story to put the story in the right shape and give it all the entertaining ingredients that made it unique.
7. Could you provide us with more details about Big Cat? 😺
A group of friends, Cat Mania, and I love all cats, especially that orange street cat in front of our flats. We felt like we could tell some jokes together in our spare time, and that's that.
8. How should storyboard artists and directors enhance their working relationship?
It's about talking all the time. The stronger the relationship becomes, the more it allows for a more fluent working style. The trust that the director gives the story artist really encourages them to always generate ideas and solutions for the story.
9. Which project did you enjoy the most, and where did you feel you performed your best?
I will give you the "Cristiano Ronaldo answer."The next project ;)
10. What are your thoughts on storyboard artistry in the Middle East's animation industry, and how can it be improved?
It is not good, to be honest. Measuring myself, I was not a good storyboard artist at first, even though I made many storyboards. Because seeing it now, the storyboards lacked many aspects since I lacked knowledge. That's why I feel that we should give a lot of story classes in our art schools. It's about seeing films and analyzing and discussing them. I remember that my father was always analyzing movies with me. And I used to see that all the time.
11. Based on your experience on various local animation projects, to what extent do you believe Egyptian animators can work on large-scale projects like feature films?
We can, but we should also improve the quality of our animators. Also, we are still a few artists in the industry and need more if we are willing to compete on an international level.
12. What are your thoughts on the cut-out animation technique?
I like what Cartoon Saloon does. They give the best of that technique. But I still believe what makes something good is about the animator themselves, whatever technique they use, 2D, cut-out, or 3D.
13. What are some of the most important lessons you would teach aspiring storyboard artists?
I believe that any story artist should practice their brain all the time by understanding how others tell their stories. This is done by doing film analysis, as Alfred Hitchcock said. It's not about the story; it's what you do with it.
14. Have you ever considered sharing your experiences through storyboard courses or workshops?
Yes, I'm considering that next year.
15. What do you dream to accomplish in your career?
I've so many stories which I want to make into short films. Also, I want to make a story where I can help people tell their stories.
Taking inspiration from everything around him, even his neighborhood orange cat, Amr Shalaan is digging his mark deep in the Egyptian animation industry with every new thought, story, and project.
In this interview, which went almost like a stimulating chitchat on a Maadi balcony, we dug into his life's latest and overall opinions about the industry. But before we went into that, we had to learn about his upbringing and how it affected his career. To no one's surprise, since art and animation seem to come too naturally for Shalaan, his parents worked together in the animation industry, which greatly impacted his childhood and paved the way for his passion. Growing up, Shalaan had many doubts about what he really wanted to do, but in 2019, he got his calling and went straight into storyboarding, or, as he likes to call it, the art of creating stories. He believes that storyboarding is not just drawing and mapping but reflecting one's character, creativity, and taste in the story. Maybe his unique outlook, along with his talent, was the reason that offered him a seat at the big table.
As the only Egyptian selected for the Triggerfish storyboard course and one out of the two applicants in the course that Netflix chose to work on their upcoming feature film, 2021 was Shalaan's lucky year. During that year, he also worked with the Giraffics team on Disney Plus's Kizazi Moto. Shalaan believes in the potential of Egyptian animation artists; however, he believes we still have some work to do. According to him, there must be more studying and analyzing other works and films and dissecting the art of animation and storytelling. He also believes we lack a bit in numbers and hopes to see more artists in the scene. Shalaan is working on sharing his knowledge and experience and offering an open space for learning and experimenting by next year.