Mehran Sanei’s Animated Shorts Raise Awareness of the Fight for Freedom in Iran

Last year, U.K.- and Spain-based Iranian-British animator and creative director Mehran Sanei launched his Onimations Instagram collection of animated shorts on a variety of subjects such as “How to Face Suffering” and “What Makes a Good Story” to explore human development and social issues. Shortly after the launch of his enterprise, the powerful Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran put the Islamic regime’s brutal human rights violations against women and girls into the global spotlight.

Sanei used his Onimations projects as a way to spread the message about these protests and the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested by Iran’s “morality police.” These Iran awareness videos have received over 16 million views on social media thanks to prominent contributors such as Nazanin Boniadi, Golshifteh Farahani and Maz Jobrani. We had a chance to speak with Sanei about his timely project and his future animated projects. Here is what he told us.


Mehran Sanei
Mehran Sanei

Animation Magazine: Can you tell us when your interest in animation began?

Mehran Sanei: I think I was in primary school when I watched a documentary about Walt Disney company on TV. I remember seeing adults in suits, observing and drawing a penguin. It looked very serious and I was so excited that such a job exists and people can make a living by making animations.


Who are some of your biggest animation heroes?

I have always been interested in animations which make you think about complex social and psychological issues. Chris Landreth’s Ryan had a significant impact on me and changed how I view animation. My favorite animator is Bruno Bozzetto.


Did you study animation in school?

I studied Computer Animation at the Bournemouth University, U.K., and received a Masters in 3D Character Animation at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco


How did you come up with the idea of pairing animation with important causes to raise awareness?

After the emergence of the Women, Life, Freedom movement, most Iranians who live abroad tried to be the voice of the brave protestors in Iran however they can. Being an animator, I used this art medium to convey the message. Art can be therapeutic for the creator, in addition to possibly having an impact on people from different backgrounds and cultures.


Justice for Iran
Justice for Iran

Where is the animation produced and which tools are used?

I create them on my personal Mac using After Effects.


What has the response to the Iranian Freedom project been like?

I’m overwhelmed by the kind and encouraging messages I get, especially from Iran. It has also been fantastic to get support from non-Iranians, such as the amazing photographers who graciously allowed me to utilize their micro-photography to create the characters and other elements for my animations, to support the cause.


Why do you think it’s so crucial to use animation to raise awareness of the atrocities of the Iranian government?

Animation is capable of raising awareness about a horrible situation and conveying the necessary emotions without having to show disturbing real videos and photos. Strong artistic imagery can stick with people for a very long period.


How to Face Suffering
How to Face Suffering


What has been the most memorable response to your animation?

For me, it’s unbelievable how far these animations have spread. From screening of the animations in a Czech movie theater to an article about my animations in a Greek magazine.


What do you hope to do next and where do you hope to take animations to?

I am working with some of my favorite international artists for the next animation projects, which truly excites me. I hope to enhance my minimalism animation style without being repetitive.


How do you think people should support this social movement in Iran as the regime continues to crack down on protestors and ignores the fundamental rights of young girls, women and anyone who doesn’t want to follow the rules of the country’s theocracy?

I think we should bring attention to what is happening in Iran around the world by any means we can. Politicians often don’t prioritize defending human rights in other countries, but if they notice that many people are concerned and discussing this issue, they may decide to alter their approach to Iran’s regime in order to appease their constituents. Additionally, they might anticipate a potential Iranian people-led regime transition and devise strategies to back the Iranian people rather than the ruling elite.


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