Exhibitionists·In Residence

After 10 years and two degrees, this engineer decided animation was his real calling

Arash Akhgari is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence.

Arash Akhgari is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence

Still from "An Echoing Memory of a Tongue" by Arash Akhgari. (Vimeo)

In the films of Arash Akhgari, the styles and textures couldn't be more different. In one piece, he conjures crows by animating ink on glass. In others, he's experimenting with pastels or acetone photo prints. And you'll see all of those examples on the latest episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionistsincluding clips from "The Thing is Lost," an experimental short that Akhgari happens to be presenting at the Anifilm festival in the Czech Republic this week. "It's shown before in Switzerland, in Toronto — it's very exciting!" says Akghari. But 10 years ago, he couldn't have imagined any of it.

What's his story?

Back then, the plan was different. In 2008, Akhgari arrived in Canada to do a masters in engineering at the University of Victoria. He'd finish his grad studies, get a job. But back home in Tehran, he had balanced his engineering coursework with extra-curricular art lessons, and it was the same in Victoria, he explains. He'd attend drop-in drawing classes. He taught himself a bit of animation. Eventually, he started pursuing freelance illustration gigs.

"I was actually practicing art very seriously through my engineering studies. Being an engineer was a kind of distraction," he laughs. "But at the same time, I could not actually see art as a career."

"I was originally planning to keep engineering as a kind of day job," he says. "But after I finished school — after 10 years — when you practice more and more, you feel more confident in what you can do. Basically, I started to realize this is something I can pursue as a career. It may take time — the income would not be as much as an engineer — but I realized the satisfaction in the work I do was much more important."

That's it, I'm going to art school

When Akhgari decided to go for it, he knew he wouldn't be able to do it alone. All those years he'd been doing art on the side, he was working in isolation. "Coming from engineering school, it was always hard for me to present myself and explore opportunities in art," he says. "I was always wanting to be able to meet people in the art community or people who I can speak with — people you can share your art with, get inspired, learn from them."

Hearing about Montreal's animation scene, he decided to move to the city, and he enrolled in studio animation courses at Concordia University. Thinking about those first days on campus, he says: "It was basically a dream come true."

"Going to school made it possible for me to explore a lot of different stuff I would not be able to practice on my own" — and that includes the range of techniques featured on this week's show.

"Now, I'm an independent animator," says Akhgari. "I attend festivals; people are starting to see my work. Concordia made it even more possible for me to be able to say that now I'm a filmmaker."

You can find his latest projects on Vimeo.

Here are a few selections.


Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television, Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. (midnight NT) and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. (4 NT).