Meet The Egyptian Animator Behind Spider-Man: Meena Ibrahim

Meet Meena Ibrahim, born in 1985 in Cairo; where he spent most of his life till he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design from Helwan University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. He’s part of talented team of people who animated some of your favorite superheroes, with his latest film being Spidey in Marvel’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

After graduating from university, he decided to enter the world of animation, switch careers and follow his passion for filmmaking. Ibrahim attended the Information Technology Institute’s (ITI) grant, where he studied computer graphics basics. He would later study at Canada’s Vancouver Film School in 2009, putting him on a collision path with destiny, getting a diploma in Digital Character Animation and studying filmmaking as well as acting.

Ibrahim got his big break when he joined Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he worked on some of the most recognizable movies today, including “The Amazing Spider-Man” starring Andrew Garfield, “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Ibrahim would move around working in a multitude of world-renowned VFX studios, including MPC, Method Studios, and finally, Framestore, where he resides today as an Animation Supervisor.

During his years moving around, he collaborated with incredible artists, teams, and directors on a plethora of different projects that had some kind of memorable character or creature, including “Godzilla,” “Fantastic Beasts,” “Night at the Museum,” “Angry Birds,” and “Hotel Transylvania.”

I got the chance to speak to Meena about which superhero he loved working on, what it was like to get nominated for an Oscar, and more.

What sparked your love for animation?

At a very young age, I’ve been obsessed with stories in any form, be it in films, comics, books, you name it. Even when my parents used to tell me a bedtime story, I remember staying awake all the way to the end and would ask them questions till I fell asleep.

Unlike the rest of my smart family (My father is an engineer, my mom is a doctor, and my older brother and sister were always at the top of their class and are currently physicians), I wasn’t a very clever student at school, I felt lost as a boy, but I knew had an interest in art and music. 

I played the piano by ear since the age of four and learned how to play the guitar at ten and I was drawing all the while; I stood out from the other kids at school during my favorite classes: music and art. My love for visual art and music led me to animation, as it’s strongly connected to both. You see, animating is all about timing, rhythm, beats, as well as appeal and poses, all elements you can find in music and art; making it the perfect field for me.

All that, in addition to growing up watching classic cartoons, and seeing the beginning of 3D animation as well as its evolution in real-time, made me fall in love with it even more and want to do that as a job.

What Do You Do Exactly Within The Animation World?

As an Animation Supervisor, I lead a team of artists and animators responsible for the performance and movement of the computer-generated characters, so we’re like the digital actors or puppeteers.

I work closely with the films’ directors to help them achieve their vision, from preproduction to the final cut. I start by taking the director’s brief. I then read the script, do lots of research, and gather references. 

After that, my team and I start exploring how the new characters or creatures will appear in the movie. We also do performance tests to learn and study how they’ll move, creating personalities and motivation in the process, and pushing the bar to make those characters feel unique and believable.

During production, we start applying what we did during the early stages of the shots and sequences; we also do what’s called “rough passes” or sketches to discuss with the directors and ensure our ideas are in line with their vision. After that, we keep going back and forth with ideas and versions till we hit the right ones. Finally, we go for the final polished version.

What Was It Like Working on Marvel Movies?

I’m a big fan of Marvel myself! Although I didn’t have access to their comics at a young age like the majority of my generation in Egypt, I remember getting hooked after watching the “X-Men” movie in 2000 and Director Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” in 2002, of course.

The ground-breaking visuals and fun stories created a huge fan base that led to the incredible global success of the MCU we are observing nowadays. So I am very fortunate to be part of that and have the opportunity to work on iconic characters like Spider-Man, Thor, Captain Marvel, and many more cool heroes and villains.

At the same time, there’s a lot of responsibility and pressure involved since you know your work is going to be seen by the whole world, and it has to not only meet the expectations compared to previous movies but should also exceed them. 

Marvel is a very picky client, which can make it challenging while working on their projects, as ideas keep bouncing around, edits keep changing, and there are a lot of creative decisions that require tremendous time and effort to achieve. But in the end, when you see the movie on the big screen, there’s no bigger joy than hearing the audience cheering, gasping, and crying out loud. It’s a magical moment that makes you forget all the blood and sweat you put into the project.  

My friends try to get spoilers all the time, I just keep a poker face and stay schtum.

You Worked On Marvel Movies Like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and DC Ones Like “The Suicide Squad,” How Is It Different Working With Marvel Compared to DC?

Although Marvel and DC movies look similar in the content they produce, the superhero genre, for filmmakers and hardcore fans, the two are very different. The tone, style of the movies, the stories, and even the age ratings aren’t the same.

That’s why DC movies can be darker, grittier, and a lot of them are R-rated. So as much as I enjoy kicking villains around, shooting webs, throwing hammers, and of course, superhero landings in Marvel movies and shows, I love the fact that I can do a lot more brutal, gory, and violent sequences in DC movies since they’re a lot of fun.

For example, one of my favorite shots I animated on DC’s “The Suicide Squad,” which was directed by James Gunn, is when King Shark raises a soldier and eats him in one go, it was very brutal, but I can’t lie, I really enjoyed that.

Who’s Your Favorite Superhero? And Why?

Hands down, it’s “Spider-Man,” not only because he’s a relatable character to both young teens and adults, but he’s also one of the most fun characters to animate. He has that fun range of motion due to his flexibility, which creates the most iconic poses out of all superheroes.

I worked on three different “Spider-Man” movies, yet I haven’t had enough of Spidey and can do many more if they’d let me!

Is There a Superhero or Movie That You’d Like to Work On? And Why?

Alragol El Ennab, two words, he’s awesome. As for the movie, It would definitely be Back To The Future because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies.

Out of All the Movies You’ve Done, Which One Are You the Proudest Of? And Why?

They are all my kids, I know it’s a cliché but it’s true, I guess the one I am most proud of to date is “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” where I got to supervise a great team of artists, we got awards for our work, and the movie got an Oscar nomination for Best VFX. However, we also received high praise from Marvel Executives that our sequences had the best-animated Spider-Man in the movie, which was a great compliment and something I’m truly proud of.

Another source of pride for me working on that movie was collaborating with my childhood favorite Spidey, Toby Maguire, and the villains Green Goblin and Doc Ock. I’ve always dreamed of working on a project like that since I watched their movies when I was younger.

Tell Me More About the Awards You’ve Received and Nominated For?

I won an Annie Award for “Best Character Animation for TV” for my work as lead animator on the “His Dark Materials” HBO / BBC show in 2020; I also got an Annie Award Nomination for “Best Character Animation in Live-Action Feature” for “The Suicide Squad’s”  King Shark in 2021.

I worked on a couple of “Best VFX” Oscar-nominated films: “The Midnight Sky” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” My graduation short film ” Change ” won a scholarship as well as a Festival Award for “Best Technical Achievement for a Student.”

What Did It Feel Like Winning the Annie Award and Working On Oscar-Nominated Movies?

It was a surreal moment, the Annie Award is Animation’s highest honor, it’s basically the Oscars to animators, so as much as one hopes, I never imagined I’d win it one day.

It feels amazing to be part of a team whose movie gets nominated for an Oscar. It’s the praise that all filmmakers strive for and seek after their hard work.

Out of All the Movies You’ve Done, Which One Was the Hardest to Work On? And Why?

“The Suicide Squad” was pretty challenging but for different reasons other than the work itself. The issue was that production on the movie was happening at the same time we were switching to working from home back in 2020. While the whole world was in lockdown, we had a movie to deliver; thankfully, after a lot of struggles, frustrations, and working late nights, we managed to deliver from home.

Has Your Egyptian Heritage Influenced Your Work? If So, How?

Big time, we Egyptians carry a lot of culture and knowledge by nature, we see things differently and the rich history of our heritage makes us special. I never knew how important and rich my background is till I travelled the world and met people from different cultures and nationalities. We carry a lot of qualities and skills which make us stand out if we do our homework and get dedicated.

Is There Any Advice You’d Like to Share With New Up-And-Comers in the Business?

My advice is pretty simple: nothing is easy or free, if you are truly passionate about something just go all in, learn the right steps from the ones who lead the way before you, and fight the world for it and it will happen in the end.

Unlike Your Friends, Can You Share With Me What You’re Working On Next?

Currently, I am working on the upcoming movie “WONKA,” starring Timothée Chalamet and directed by Paul King. It is about young Willy Wonka and how he became the legend we all know today. I am also developing a couple of original projects, which I’m working on making in Egypt soon.

Check out Meena’s page and full body of work here!

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