Huda Razzak’s lovingly crafted and poignant short The Ocean Duck centers on a young woman who visits her ill grandmother in a hospital and is reminded of a brief poem by Rumi about a duck that is raised by chickens. The short recently won the Best Animated Short prize at New York Int. Children’s Film Festival and is now qualified for Oscar consideration. We caught up with Razzak to find out more about this lovely labor of love:
Animag: Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the idea for The Ocean Duck?
Razzak: Ocean Duck is a very personal film because it is actually based on my relationship with my grandmother. We were very close and a few years ago, she passed away after a long struggle with dementia. I wanted to make this film for her, to honor her memory, and to capture the spirit of grief and healing. I also wanted to reconnect to the mixed Arab and Persian culture we shared. I was once going through our family library of poetry and art, and I came across a Rumi poem about a duck who lived among hens because it had forgotten its true home was the ocean, a symbol for the eternal. The metaphor really resonated with me and became the basis for the short.
When did you start working on it and how long did it take to make?
I started developing the concept in March of 2019 during my MFA studies at SCAD. After six months of writing, storyboarding, and visual development, production began by that fall and took 2 years to complete the film in September of 2021.
Which animation tools did you use? How many people worked on the short with you?
Our background paintings were digitally illustrated in Photoshop. Toon Boom Harmony was used to create all the 2D character animation – both rigged and hand-drawn. And finally, effects and compositing were done in Adobe After Effects. We had a wonderful crew of about 50 people.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
We intended to create the look of a traditionally 2D hand-drawn film, but discovered that using a hybrid approach incorporating 2D puppet animation would make our process more efficient and enable our production to finish on time. Our biggest technical challenge was to ensure that our rigged animation looked just as naturalistic as our hand-drawn animation. And so, a lot of love went into the designs of our 2D character rigs, making them as robust as possible to achieve the same fluid look of the hand-drawn elements in the film.
What do you love best about the final work?
My daughter is the voice actress for the young girl character, and so being able to create a story with my daughter about my grandmother, my mom’s mom – touching these multiple generations of women in our family – makes this film especially meaningful to me. I appreciated sharing that experience with my amazing crew, who captured that warm tone and spirit of the film through their incredible work. It’s these relationships behind the film that I love most.
Who are your animation heroes/influences?
My biggest influences in animation are the works of Studio Ghibli and Cartoon Saloon. The way these films beautifully explore themes of relationships, culture, and magical realism continue to inspire my own work.
How much of the short is autobiographical?
A big part of the short is based on fond memories I have of my grandmother, particularly the moment when the characters are baking a cake. When I was sixteen, I wanted to impress my grandmother by baking her a fancy sponge cake, but I misinterpreted the recipe and followed the directions literally, including the instruction to fold the flour into the batter. Well, you can guess what happened when we cut the cake – flour everywhere! But it gave both me and my grandmother the biggest laugh, and I always think back to that moment with her.
What do you love about working in the short form?
The freedom, for sure. I feel like short films afford a director more opportunities to be experimental in many ways, with the visuals, sound, or even the narrative itself. With less screen time and less conventional expectations, I felt we could be more creative with how we shared this story. I love how accessible that makes short filmmaking to new artists with different perspectives.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during the making of The Ocean Duck?
Being vulnerable and open with my team about my ideas, even when they were incomplete, was one of the best lessons I learned. This story is personal for me, so initially I was afraid of showing others the storyboard animatic drafts I had created or to think aloud. But being open to criticism and feedback is a key part of this work. Once I started to share more about my vision and get my team involved, together we were able to improve the film and create something we were proud of.
What are you working on next?
I recently started developing a new concept inspired by my mother’s refugee experience – when she and her family were exiled from their home country of Iraq. Her story had a big impact on how I was raised and the values we came to share as a family. I’ll be so happy if I can do my mother’s story justice. Wish me luck!
For more info, visit www.theoceanduckfilm.com
Watch the trailer here: