Filmmaking, a new landscape for entrepreneurs in the region

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The event brought together children and teenage animation-lovers for the film costume competition. (Image via Dana Horska)

Esmeralda, Spider-Man, Merida, Thor and RJ the racoon were taking attendees back to their childhood at the latest TechForum event on June 9.

Film Tech was the theme and it saw organizers delving into topics that included the development of motion pictures, filming techniques, animation films, and the latest trends visual effects.

Organized by the Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSOA), the film and animation themed event was held for the first time at the coworking space, The Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Centre.

DSOA director of technology Philip Boigner said they'd gathered tech speakers and experts to create a relaxed and informal environment. The audience wasn’t, this time, limited to the usual circles of entrepreneurs and experts, as cinemaphile children and teenagers also numbered amongst the tech crowd.

When asked about this year’s theme of film tech, Boigner said: “We saw that it was the right time to do so, especially with the recent surge in the movie industry and movie theatres in UAE.”

A number of global films are being shot in Abu Dhabi including Star Wars and The Fast and the Furious, and Boigner said there's also growing support from places such as Twofour54.

Hans Henrik Christensen (left) Director of DSOA, with Philip Boigner. (Images via Pamela Kesrouani)
“We want to show entrepreneurs the ropes of this industry, as well as its costs and the problems they might face. We also [wanted to] stimulate their minds in a fun way and to open new horizons for them,” Boigner.

“We rarely find startups that specialize in animations or films, because entrepreneurs usually focus on certain sectors, especially ecommerce and apps for smartphones. Even though startups rarely choose this field, we plan to promote it anyway.”

As examples of film startups in Egypt and Jordan, Boigner quoted those of Progressive Generation Studios and Shablol. “We’re still in the first phase of building a [film] ecosystem, and we need specialized education. This is very important so we don’t have to outsource expertise from abroad, which is very costly."

Alizée Sarazin explains the developments in the techniques of motion picture.

Movie making

In a talk about the history of filmmaking and the progress of motion picture, Dubai Moving Image Museum manager Alizée Sarazin took her audience on a journey through time.

“Since the beginning of humanity, people have wanted to document their lives,” she said, giving an example cave paintings from 30,000 years ago.

Sarazin spoke of the techniques and tools that have evolved to form the film industry as we know it today: from shadow art, one of the first art forms to give movement to drawings, to the first photo which was taken in 1865 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, and the first cinema movie which screened in 1895 by The Lumière brothers.

The audience was introduced to the 'animated shot' concept by Ice Animations head of production Mohammad Bilal. Bilal explained the seven stages of production: you start with the script, followed by the storyboard (which helps in imagining a scene), character development, animation, lighting, composition (which helps in putting the scene together), and the final shot. Sound is added in the final shot.

The progress of visual effects

Visual effects, which have vastly improved in parallel with the progress of the industry, were another important topic presented by Stargate Studios digital supervisor Ragui Hanna. Hanna has worked on international TV series such as 24 and The Walking Dead, as well as regional ones like Saraya Abdeen. These effects “increase the value of the production", said Hanna. “They even save a lot of time and money when shooting films or series.”

He added that thanks to visual effects, creating 3D locations in studios has become feasible, as was the case with the castle in the ‘Saraya Abdeen’ series. The castle does actually exist in Cairo but shooting is problematic for crew and the actors.

Hanna spoke of the 'backlots' effect, which can be used to add locations that don’t actually exist in the scenes. The target location, Times Square for example, is shot from different angles and at different times, and then added digitally to a scene. The future of visual effects is in shooting “virtual reality” films.

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