Funding sought for Dubai animation project

An artist based in Dubai and his multinational team hope online crowdfunding will allow them to complete their 3D film about a disabled boy’s nocturnal adventures, writes Noori Passela

Still taken from the short animated film Luke’s Escape, directed and produced by Waqas Abdul Majeed.  Courtesy Waqas Abdul Majeed
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This is no Disney tale moving towards a happy all-too saccharine ending. The hero of Luke's Escape, a local animated short film in which a young disabled boy is unable to awake from a nightmare, is unusually dark. Refreshingly so, in fact.

Luke's Escape traces its origins to Waqas Majeed, 25, a Dubai-based artist and occasional poet who decided to make use of both of his professions. "I like to write poems. One day I wrote a poem about the dream; how sometimes dreams take over your lives and make you live it. So basically, whatever you dream of, sometimes you see that happening in real life around you and then you feel the two worlds are connected.

"I thought of writing a story about a boy having a nightmare, where whatever happens to him in his sleep is reflected in real life and I thought of expressing it to the world in my own way as a 3D artist. So I decided to make it into a short film."

And so Luke and Majeed's story began. Born with an undisclosed rare condition that makes it difficult for him to walk, our young protagonist's day-to-day experience is limited by his crutches but, when he sleeps, the impossible no longer exists and Luke becomes just another boy playing at exploring.

Until the inevitable happens - inevitable in this story anyway - and there's a dramatic plot twist. As Luke runs and runs enjoying his physical freedom a dark forest suddenly looms, surrounding him with gnarled, twisted trees.

Still further on, Luke's path turns from a seemingly dead end into a cliff edge dropping into a terrifying abyss. The night is dark and the moon is full. A factory with jack-o'-lantern orange-lit windows sits upon a hilltop in the distance.

This unsettling turn of events reflects Majeed's inspiration. "Our film is a little bit creepy indeed. My inspiration comes from the creators of Coraline, ParaNorman, and, of course, animated films by Tim Burton."

As the director and producer of the project, Majeed's pride in his work is reflected in his passion and tenacity, both of which have seen the short film grow from conception to execution over the course of a year. But 3D animation is a complex task and the realisation of Luke's Escape has actually been a group effort. Aside from Majeed, Team Luke consists of 18 other members who have worked on the design, sound, programming, editing and rendering.

Bringing Team Luke together was a feat in itself and one that's well-worth mentioning. Members from the UAE, Philippines, Spain, Germany, the United States, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Austria, Indonesia and South Africa met through the internet via community networking.

The teaser for Luke's Escape, which is already available to view online, was created using an open-source graphic-editing software called Blender 3D, enabling the multinational group to collaborate in spite of vastly different work schedules and time zones.

"Blender 3D is an open-source software which means you can modify its source code to best suit your work," Majeed explains. "The Blender community in general is very active and extremely helpful.

"Working with open-source software means sharing, helping and connecting with other individuals across the world or in the same land."

Using open-source software also removes many of the constraints that might have hampered a project of this kind, allowing for greater creative decision-making without incurring the potential costs of time delays.

Initially, the biggest issues faced by the team were working across different time zones, compounded by the language barrier and the contributors' competing work and study schedules. Still, the hard work has paid off with even a laugh or two along the way.

"It's great working with an international team," Majeed says. "We have learnt a lot already and look forward to more.

"We have spent days and days on just one single shot until we were finally satisfied with it and sometimes when we were exhausted, we didn't want to touch the shot for a while and we laughed it out by making some jokes about it. So it's never just been working. We have had great fun making it."

But while the process of making Luke's Escape has been an enjoyable ride for the most part, Majeed acknowledges that there is an even greater challenge ahead: obtaining funding so that they can finally complete their labour of love.

The team has turned to crowd-funding site Indiegogo to raise the $17,000 (Dh63,000) needed to rescue Luke and help him find his escape. As with all other projects on the website, the team offers a range of perks for contributors. The greater the contribution, the better the perks, which range from social media shout-outs to exclusive graphic tutorials and a one-on-one video session with the director himself.

But what's next?

"Right after we finish the film, we will be targeting local and international film festivals. Unless the film is screened, we cannot publish it online or hand out DVDs to our supporters or to anyone else who would like to buy the short's DVD," Majeed says.

The Luke's Escape Indiegogo page lists Paid Artists such as animators, modellers and developers to aid in the film's final design along with Render Farms to add further depth to their conceptual models as the prime recipients of any monies raised, both of which are essential components of a commercially successful animation. While the team is happy with the storyline, the overall quality of the film cannot be compromised. A less polished film is just not an option.

At the time of writing, Team Luke has collected just $961, with only 11 days of fund-raising left to run. While its members' efforts to promote the teaser have consistently yielded positive results, the project still has a long way to go.

When taking the country's creative media scene into consideration, the UAE appears relatively new to the crowd-funding phenomena, which might explain why there are so few local projects on Indiegogo and why even fewer of those have achieved their financial goals. With the hard work and dedication that has already been poured into what appears to be a unique project here in the UAE, it would be a pity to see it fail - and not least for Luke.

Noori Passela is a regular contributor to The Review.