A large door in shades of blue and yellow seems to beckon you through. Behind it, a short red-carpeted corridor leads you to a magical place - action, you sense someone shouting. We have just entered the 1st Sharjah Animation Conference (SAC), organised by the Sharjah Book Authority in collaboration with the Italian festival Bergamo Animation Days (BAD).
An important event that has brought together producers, animators, artists, filmmakers, technicians, creators and managers of this outstanding industry. From John Nevarez, animator and designer who can well boast of being part of the wonderful and Oscar-winning animated feature film "Coco" and "Spiderman" to Sandro Cleuzo, animator of films such as "The Return of Mary Poppins", through the director of "Dragon Ball", Takahiro Yoshimaysu, Mario Brioschi, Emmy winner, Robin Linn, senior director and Creative Talent Acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the outstanding designers Mamoru Yokota and Wouter Tulp, Kamel Weiss, General Manager of Spacetoon Go and Samaka Mahmoud, founder of Samaka Studio and creator of the first 3D animated TV series to be produced in the United Arab Emirates, executives Monica Candiana, Vice President of Hasbro/eOne, Giorgio Scorzo from Movimenti Production, Frank Falcone from Guru Studio, Aaron Gilman from Steamroller Animation, Eduardo Garagorri and Israel Tamayo from the production company Zinca, creator of Pocoyo, and Pascal Charrue, CEO of Fortiche.
They are leading participants from Italy, Spain, Brazil, Egypt, Japan, the United States, etc., with a wealth of experience in the world of animation and who have worked or are working in the major animation industries such as Disney, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation, Netflix, Paramount and others, perhaps less well known, but pioneering and innovative.
Exchanging ideas and experiences, creating an open platform for collaboration, facilitating the purchase and sale of production and publishing rights and bringing young Arabs closer to this exciting world were some of the objectives of this meeting. And they have achieved them.
This conference, the first of its kind to be held in the Middle East, had a specific space within the Sharjah Exhibition Centre, which was divided into various areas where the different master classes, workshops, round tables, the exhibition of animated films, meetings with artists, etc. took place. A real cinema space that has attracted young people and professionals, who have not only been able to listen to the best, but also to talk to them, to know how this world works, how the process works in its entirety, from the idea to the drawing, the design, the movement, the light, the colour, the music... They have even been able to leave their own creations on a blank wall that ended up full of art.
At the opening ceremony of the SAC, hosted by His Highness Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, Executive Director Khoula al-Mujaini said the conference would "strengthen the foundations of the animation industry and the allied sectors of publishing producers, digital, film and comics producers who inspire it", while Pietro Pinetti, artistic director, spoke of animation and innovation and the need to strive for excellence and "seek opportunities to collaborate and create".
After the opening, a full three-day programme got underway with panels such as the one on the transition from the book to the audiovisual world presented by Stefano La Porta and Moanis al-Hattab and numerous workshops given by Takahiro Yoshimatsu, who explained how to create your own style of animation; Sandro Cleuzo, who focused on characters with personality; and Mamoru Yokota, on how to create your own style of animation; Mamoru Yokota, whose career includes his work on series such as Naruto and Boruto, and who, under the title "How to draw super robot mecha heroes and anime style", explained his theory related to layouts, angles, the parts in which the character is painted and their influence on the final result, at the same time as he painted his drawings on the computer so that they could be seen by the students on a large screen.
"Storyboarding and creativity" were the topics addressed by Andrea Bozzetto, creative director of the award-winning studio that bears his name. He talked about how great ideas can be found in simple things.
Robin Linn, for his part, taught some guidelines to stand out among those looking for talent and encouraged the youngest Arabs to enter animation, a path that could, he said, "demystify the unfounded myths that exist worldwide about this region and its culture".
Attendees were also able to enjoy and learn from character designer Wouter Tulp, who went from illustrating children's books to becoming a reference in the world of animation and working for Netflix and Skydance. His workshop was entitled "Bringing the character to life" and from there he went over various techniques for the design of cartoons.
Mohammed Saeed Hareeb, Emirati creator of Freej Folklore, spoke about animation in the Arab world, focusing on its study and evolution to become a benchmark, a process in which the quality of the product is key; and Kamel Weiss, manager of Spacettom Go, one of the most important cartoon platforms, who focused on the consumer, who must always be taken into account, and encouraged how important it is to be aware of changes in the animation industry, which, he said, has yet to evolve in the Arab world. On the future of animation and work in this field with a special emphasis on visual effects, supervisor Ibrahim Meena spoke. These workshops also included references to what is no longer the future but the present: artificial intelligence.
Mahmoud Hemeda, founder of Samaka Studio, one of the most prestigious studios in the Arab world, born in Egypt and committed to quality, also travelled to Sharjah. His master class focused mainly on the power of authenticity and the role that the Arab region can play in the animation industry.
The first day's master classes were given by Nevarez, Linn and Yokota. The former gave an overview of his long career in the world of animation, from those more complicated beginnings to the prestige it has today, and showed his satisfaction at participating in this event, as well as his support for its continued growth.
Linn, with the title "How to increase your chances of landing", was very close to the audience and told them about the need to adapt, to change style if necessary, but to create something fresh and strong in order to, in this way, get that job in the creative world. "Understand and accept that the odds are against you. Always," Linn emphasised in one of his screenings. In response to questions from the audience on how to present a CV, the expert was quick to say that you have to be specific, confident and focused on who you want to be. For his part, Yokota, in his lecture "My life", shared his experiences, the importance of stories and how he went about creating and designing his characters.
Other master classes were given by Oli Hyatt, founder of Blue Zoo, who explained the birth of this company and the triumph achieved through beautiful stories; Sandro Cluezo, who shared his professional evolution since 1985, his experience as an animator at Disney and his work as an independent artist in the art of animation; Takahiro Yoshimatsu, who explored the creative process and innovation; and Wouter Tulp, who chose the title "The invisible art of character design" for his master class.
From Spain came Eduardo Garagorri and Israel Tamayo, directors of the production company Zinkia, which is in charge of the production and management of entertainment brands, although, without a doubt, its leading role lies in being the creator of the cartoon series "Pocoyo". And the evolution of this cartoon, which is now 20 years old, was the focus of her speech, two decades full of success all over the world. He also landed in the Asian market, in countries such as China "where it is not easy to enter", and in the United States, "where he has continued to grow", they stressed. They also talked about future plans and success on platforms such as YouTube.
Monica Candiani was the only woman who participated in this conference. During her presentation, she delved into the world of distribution and shared her experience as a children's content distribution manager. She is in charge of children's cartoons such as "Peppa Pig" and "My Little Pony".
The 1st Animation Conference came to an end with other great participants such as Pascal Charrue, from Fortiche, who, of course, gave an overview of the great success of the animated series for adults "Arcane. League of Legends" and its creative process, drawings that have won several Emmys and Annies; Frank Falconi, who explained business aspects such as distribution, rights and obtaining financing; and the artist Mario Brioschi, who explained the meaning of lighting and special effects, key elements in attracting the public's attention, using "The House of the Dragon" as an example.
And as there is no film without music, this first meeting of animation would not have been understood without it. That is why the Florence Pops Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Chiarotti, came to Sharjah from the heart of Tuscany, Italy, and delighted the audience with its musicians and singers for three evenings. The soundtrack and the most popular songs from various cartoons were played on a special stage.
On the occasion of the closing ceremony, they performed beautiful songs from "Toy Story", "Aladdin", "Beauty and the Beast" and "Princess Mononoke" under the title "Notes for Dreaming".
A golden ending to an enriching meeting that highlighted the importance of the animation industry and the great potential that exists in the Arab world.