ABU DHABI // A 29-year-old Emirati's childhood dream of becoming an animator is finally coming true after she spent years working in the architectural field but found it impossible to satisfy her desire to create cartoons.
Khulood al Ali is one of many students pursuing a career in the animation industry, and now that she has moved to Abu Dhabi from Sharjah for a course in 2D character animation, she says she could not be happier.
"I've always wanted to be an animator, and I love the film-making industry," she says. "At first my parents did not like the idea, but now that they see my improvement over the weeks and how thrilled I am, they're happy."
A one-year Cartoon Network animation course, sponsored by the media training academy Twofour54 Tadreeb, is allowing students in the UAE to pursue their passion for animation; it is launching its second section of classes in May, which will focus on production, marketing and professional development.
Nassma al Bahrani moved to the capital from Canada specifically to take the course. The 22-year-old Canadian, who has a degree in interactive multimedia and design, says the animation classes are a good opportunity to build on her skills and learn more about the basics of the craft.
"I've improved, and I feel it's a good transition from graduating from university into the workforce, because I'm dealing with professionals and I'm learning from people who have actually gone through the industry," she says.
Jonny Redmond, who is also 22, is a British graduate who studied animation in the UK. He says that all his knowledge on the subject came from the classes he has taken in Abu Dhabi.
Fifteen students will be accepted for admittance to the second section of classes, which will be divided into three 12-week terms. The first section began in September last year.
Oliver Acker, the programme's head lecturer, says the course's heavy involvement in film and storytelling, as well as its focus on the craft of animation, makes it unique in the region. Other schools, he says, offer "a very general training".
Badruddin Badruddin, the course's animation lecturer, says the advantage of working in the field in the UAE is the lack of competition. "You can really make a name for yourself," he says.
Mr Badruddin says Twofour54 is looking for students with passion, raw talent, drawing skills and a feel for group dynamics. Animation, he says, is an industry that relies heavily on teamwork.
Mr Acker says he was initially worried about coming to Abu Dhabi because of the cultural restrictions and traditions he had heard about, but now that he has seen the talent in his classes, he is impressed.
"You see the break of the new generation who have new ambitions and are able to express themselves, and animation is a wonderful tool for that," he says. "The potential is here and it's all about making people understand that this is not just a hobby, it's a profession."
Mr Badruddin says Cartoon Network conducts a week-long session at the end of each term called the "master class", an intensive course led by an expert that focuses on a specific subject.
"They want to prepare students to intern in their Abu Dhabi development studios with a potential for two students per intake to work in their studios in the United States or the United Kingdom, one of numerous paths they can pursue," he says.
Mr Acker says the course is accredited because of its partnership with Bournemouth University in the UK.
The lecturers are also planning to add evening animation classes to cater to the needs of individuals with families.