“That’s a really weird duck, Bebe,” says a little girl named Heba to her doting grandmother, who is reading a poem about a forgetful waterfowl raised by chickens in a henhouse. “Not so, sweetheart,” her grandmother responds. “After all, we are all ducks, living like chickens.”

This moment takes place in “The Ocean Duck,” a new animated short produced and directed by Huda Razzak (M.F.A., animation, 2021). Inspired by a passage from Rumi’s 13th century epic poem the “Masnavi,” the film will be explored this week at SCAD AnimationFest 2021, during a panel featuring its creative team.

Still from “The Ocean Duck” (2021)

“I was born and raised in the U.S., aware of my Iraqi cultural heritage, and I have Persian ancestry as well,” says Razzak. “I grew up in a household where the poetry of Rumi was part of life.” As a young pre-med student in Texas, Razzak found herself inexorably drawn toward the arts, enrolling in SCAD eLearning before moving to Atlanta to attend SCAD in person full time, and “soaking up everything I could learn from the incredible professors and my fellow students.”

“The Ocean Duck” mirrors Razzak’s own relationship with her grandmother, who was a treasury of family memories before being stricken with dementia. The film slips through time, showing an older Heba at the bedside of the hospitalized matriarch.

“My daughter is actually the voice actor for Heba as a little girl,” says Razzak. “I love that I was able to make this film with my daughter about my grandmother, my mom’s mom, so that multiple generations of women give it its meaning.”

SCAD associate chair of animation Matthew Maloney provides perspective on how the technical facilitates the artistic in Razzak’s work: “I watched Huda cross from being a student and a fan of animation to being a transcendent filmmaker with ‘The Ocean Duck’. The film is transcendent because the production team had no allegiances to any one tool. It’s something we talk about in class: Whichever tool creates the least obstruction between the idea in their heads and the film itself, use it. As students, they study cutting edge master controller techniques, but first and foremost, they are storytellers.”

Razzak’s sources of inspiration includes 16th century illuminated manuscripts, particularly regarding planar perspective and “how elements can enter from outside the border, which is a beautiful metaphor for transcending realms, levels of existence, and space and time,” she says.

Still from “The Ocean Duck” (2021)

“We ended up exploring a lot of different ways to achieve the vision of the film,” Razzak says, shouting out her creative team, including co-director and animation supervisor My Anh Ngô (M.F.A., animation, 2021), who Razzak met in professor Jenna Zona’s digital cel animation class. “It’s not a traditionally drawn 2D film. The main character Heba as well as the chickens are all rigged, while everyone else is hand-drawn. It made our process more efficient, and enabled us to finish on time.”

The very fact that ‘The Ocean Duck’ is deeply personal fosters its universal resonance. As Razzak says: “I wanted the film to capture the bittersweetness of losing someone, but I also wanted it to be triumphant.”

Huda Razzak

SCAD AnimationFest 2021 Student Showcase Spotlight: ‘The Ocean Duck’

Saturday, Sept. 25, Noon ET

Join SCAD associate chair of animation Matthew Maloney as he moderates a conversation with director and producer Huda Razzak (M.F.A., animation, 2021), lead rigging artist Denise Anger (B.F.A., animation, 2020), visual effects lead Ryen Goebel (B.F.A., animation, 2020), co-director and animation supervisor My Anh Ngo (M.F.A., animation, 2021), and composer and sound coordinator Stephanie Hamelin Tomala about the making of ‘The Ocean Duck.’

For more information and tickets, visit the official SCAD AnimationFest page.

Written by Peter Relic.

SCAD prepares talented students for creative professions through engaged teaching and learning in a positively oriented university environment.