How Laraib Atta, Pakistan’s first and youngest VFX artist, made it big in Hollywood

You never know when you hit the crossroad moment in your life that changes everything once and for all. For rags-to-riches stock-broker Chris Gardner, it was when he spotted a luscious red Ferrari trying to find a parking space while heading towards his office in New York. And while her eureka moment was relatively more humble, Laraib Atta, renowned Pakistani VFX artist, realised her passion after watching Pixar’s animation epic Toy Story. Espied by the pristine VFX, Atta’s curiosity landed her in the VFX industry in the UK at a tender age of 16. But by the time her 19th birthday came to pass, she had already worked on a major Hollywood project and became the first ever Pakistani to pull off such a feat! Recognition soon followed, but the breakthrough was achieved when an interview with BBC circa 2006 went viral. There has been no looking back ever since, and Atta continued to add big-budget projects to her CV: 10,000 BC, The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince of Persia, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past and lately, Mission Impossible: Fallout. “I was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to the UK. I had always been passionate about art and technology but it was my brother Sanwal Esakhelvi, now a singer and music producer, who suggested I do VFX. And his suggestion felt very right! Soon after I started looking into various schools, and went on to study at Escape Studios in London. I realised very soon that I was the youngest, only girl and only Pakistani attending the course. Since then, the course has become a lot more diverse. But back then, being a minority in the course made me understand I was onto something I had not realised before. “Once I finished the course, I had the opportunity to work for some of the biggest VFX houses and in big Hollywood films. I started at a very junior role as Paint and Roto artist. At first, I worked for Disney commercials, George Michael and Rolling Stone album adverts and went on to be involved in film projects such as 10.000 B.C, Sweeney Todd, Prince of Persia and Chronicles of Narnia. All in all, I have only been able to make it this far with my family’s full support for my passion, and guidance from my brother.”
Atta was also a part of Netflix series ‘Altered Carbon’
However, not everything was plain-sailing. Just like anybody else, in any other stream, there were a few initial struggles to surmount. “I always used to be very quiet and shy. Coming into the industry I did struggle to communicate with others and in result I would just try to figure things out on my own. I realised how important communication is in this line of work and I knew given the opportunity that I have, I had to step up my game.” She’s certainly come a long way, but Atta finds inspiration to continue in her rich vein from all the Oscar-winning teams she’s collaborated with, while the opportunity of doing her dream job is a relentless source of motivation. “With every project, I want to do my absolute best and make sure what I create is going to impress the team and the clients,” she adds.BBC Having started out when the VFX industry was still at a nascent stage, Atta has witnessed a dramatic growth since and the number of women in this industry too has gone up. “As I saw very few women artists in the industry when I started, to now I can see there are more joining it. And also I see more people from diverse backgrounds which is exciting. There are more support networks like Access VFX, Animated Women UK (AWUK), NexGen skills academy to name a few. The business is flourishing, the standard and quality of work overall has been enhanced for both film and TV and there is definitely more demand for artists.” But there’s a flip side to it too: “Apart from that there are some matters and issues existing in the industry in the West that needs to be addressed. More support system can be put in place and conditions can be improved for women and also working parents.” Besides the West, VFX industry is particularly thriving in India. But Atta is yet to collaborate on an India project. “I have worked for an Indian VFX company though, that is Prime Focus.” Having made it through the industry at a young age, Laraib Atta has already gained plenty of experience, and on the basis of that, she has some words of advice for the budding artists: “Most of the questions I get asked are how to get into the industry, what are the required tools etc. For them I would like to say that it is important you do look up into what department of VFX you want to get into as there are so many and then learn the required softwares. Apart from learning from VFX schools or institutes there are also many online platforms where you can self study. Also networking is very essential, you need to join networking events, get out there and make contacts. “Lastly, be proud of your roots and don’t let anyone else take control of your future and career path. Break through the barriers and give yourself a chance to follow your dreams, success will come.”