Dubai: A new wave of Arabic cartoons is making even non-Arabic speakers stop and watch - if it has subtitles.
The emergence of these new shows and their characters has been slowly shaping an animation industry in a region that needs more local talent.
"The whole media industry has been going forward," said Caroline Seif, Senior Producer at ClockWork, a visual effects studio in Dubai.
For the past six years, Dubai has positioned itself on a good platform that has attracted a lot of talent, she said.
"And that's the most important thing in our industry — the people. The machines don't do the work, it's the people."
With popular shows such as Shaabiyat Al Cartoon, an animated Arabic cartoon show, the UAE's animation industry is on track for growth.
Fanar Production, an independent production company which produces Shaabiyat Al Cartoon, is working on the show's sixth season. With 15 people behind the scenes, 24 characters appear throughout the show.
The company's aim is to take the local show internationally, said Abdullah Ahmad Al Falasi, Business Development Manager at Fanar Production.
However, while there are professionals in the region from South Africa, Iran, Poland and Lebanon working in animation, Seif said the first challenge was in finding the right people.
"Here to find a hundred good visual effects artists is very, very hard. Everyone has to come from abroad," she said, which is why there isn't a lot of work done on long formats and feature films because they require a large team.
Big projects require big money. For instance, one episode of Shaabiyat Al Cartoon costs around Dh350,000, Al Falasi said. "It a huge budget."
Rina Bardic, Media and Marketing Director at AI Productionz, a UAE multimedia production house specialising in 2D and 3D animation, said that there's still a real lack of professionals, scriptwriters for animation and real animation studios in the region.
"We need dedicated professionals who understand the boundaries of animation and understand the style to be used when writing for an animated series or film," Bardic said.
"We cannot compare ourselves with the US or Japan because animation is fairly new here and people are still trying to understand how it works and how it can be used," she said.
One of the reasons why not much collaboration with local studios is happening is because not many trust that they can deliver on time, Bardic said.
"TV channels seem to think that the grass is greener in the Far East."
"When you have your own team and do everything inhouse it is so much easier to control the quality and the time you deliver," she said, rather than having the work outsourced. Local talent is not very expensive compared to Europe, but compared to India and Asia it is, Seif explained. This was why some investors looked elsewhere to get the work done.
Although it can cost a lot of money for film and TV productions, many advertising agencies are going for animation rather than a video shoot for their ads. "It depends on what you want to do," said Seif. "Eighty per cent of the time it's cheaper to post-produce something than to shoot it," she said.
While animation is a business for advertising companies and investors, in the end it remains an art, Bardic said.
With the success of movies such as Avatar, and Despicable Me, animation has no longer been restricted to younger audiences. It's become about the content more than anything else.
"The question is: are we producing the right content for the right target audience and getting the support needed for it?" Bardic said.
"This region is thirsty for locally produced content, for films and series that relate to them, which speak their language and look like them," she said.
"We should produce and create our own heroes," Bardic said.
"We need to give our children Arabic role models, roles models that are easy to relate to."
A recent animated character introduced by Fanar Production is called Fayez. The character which will be used for various sporting initiatives was designed to represent the spirit of competition and sports among young Emiratis.