“I’m constantly exploring the balance between the graphic and the cinematic,” Brooklyn-based filmmaker and artist Saad Moosajee says of the beautiful “graphic, dreamlike surrealism” approach to his work. Saad rose to prominence in art, design, and video making when he was given the opportunity to create the video for Mitski’s single ‘A Pearl.’ However, Saad’s fascination with creating “self contained worlds” was first nurtured under the Pixar Undergraduate Programme, where he tells us he was “formally trained in Pixar’s methodology to animation filmmaking and visual effects”. Such methodology is evident in Saad’s work, as more often than not, it’s easy to mistake his pieces as hand-crafted or live-action, but neither are true – it is simply the magic of his animation. “I’m as focused in telling stories as I am in designing how they look,” he tells It’s Nice That. “This approach is not just about meticulous composition, but to me represents a complete consideration of the image and its influence on the story.”
The infinite details in Saad’s work certainly make them all fully immersive and fantastical, no matter how distinct each piece may be. In fact, the world-building effect of his work is what Saad believes comes from animation’s ability to give “total visual control of the frame” to the director. “I pay obsessive attention to the individual frames of my videos, endeavouring to make every frame feel like a photograph or painting,” he explains. “I find this boundary, between what is photographic and what is painterly, endlessly fascinating.” With a fusion of CG pipelines and emerging technologies with handmade and traditional aspects of filmmaking, Saad produces work that is truly unique. “I’m an unusual director in that every project where I’ve directed, I’ve also been a designer and animator,” he notes. “I work with collaborators to cover a larger range of interests and explorations.” Saad’s humble and collaborative approach to his work is evident in the way he talks, as he is quick to point out his gratitude to “Santiago Carrasquilla and Jos Diaz Contreras of Art Camp, who were the first two people to give [him] an opportunity to direct” years prior.
Saad’s laborious, detail-driven process and work ethic eventually attracted the attention of another musical superstar: Thom Yorke. Commissioned for Thom’s album Anima, Saad directed the short Last I Heard (...He Was Circling the Drain) at creative studio Art Camp, which he described as a “very personal” collaboration with the singer. “Many of the vignettes were driven by fragments of Thom’s imagination that he provided to us in a typewriter list of poems at the beginning of the project,” he says. From that, Saad crafted a tale of contemporary urban anxiety “in a time of global instability,” he explains in his intention to capture isolation and ruin. A dream world unravels in black-and-white, “designed to evoke feelings of past and present,” in which a modern city of faceless individuals run rampant under what appears to be an old-film like effect of the screen. “Of all the projects I’ve done, I felt this called for the most ambitious worldbuilding – thinking through the architecture, mechanics, and behaviours of a city as a living and breathing ecosystem.” As usual, the incredible detail and care behind the story was mirrored in the technical processes, as Saad tells us “the final video combined 3D animation and crowd simulation with charcoal painting, oil paint primer, conte crayon and stop motion photography across 3000 individually treated frames”. It’s an incredible amalgamation of technology to create something which looks entirely hand-made and alive.
Since then, Saad’s career and talent has continued to grow. His recent work on Joji’s 777 music video was another leap in innovative animation, “using a series of bespoke techniques in motion capture and 3D lighting to create an animated chiaroscuro,” Saad explains. The on-screen characters look and feel like moving paintings, yet maintain a depth and volume to them which carry a human-like gravity to their movements. Using the moves of just one performer, Saad animated hundreds of dancing individuals into the piece. It’s truly a mind-bending and breathtaking look at what is achievable with the world of animation. After making the 30 Under 30 Forbes list for art and design last year, Saad feels he’s “now in a better position to encourage and support other individuals from my community to achieve the same.” As a South Asian creative, Saad notes how underrepresented he is in the world of art and design. He explains that he had the chance to serve as a judge for this year’s “Colorful competition hosted by ADC Young Guns, an award competition solely for BIPOC creatives that was free to enter,” which he believes is a step in the right direction for the industry. As for his own, Saad has just released a new film with Tate Modern to announce their exhibition on Rodin, which he tells us “is the first time Rodin’s work has ever been 3D scanned in this detail”. And as for what’s after that, Saad promises us “more music videos and a short film”.
Saad Moosajee: Last I Heard (...He Was Circling the Drain) (Copyright © Saad Moosajee & Art Camp)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.