Barajoun Entertainment’s ‘Bilal’ re-imagines an African hero’s epic journey

UAE-based Barajoun Entertainment had fairly recently released a two-minute teaser for its upcoming animation feature film Bilal that created quite a buzz on social media. Zuhair Fayez, chairman of the studio, said the project involves professionals from at least 22 countries. A remarkable account of faith, hope, and self-discovery, the animated feature, Bilal is the true and telling story of an African hero and his epic journey, from braving oppression to becoming a noble leader. The animated feature takes inspiration from an actual account that took place 1,400 years ago and re-imagines it into a colorful and passionate tale. A history epic, Bilal is unique in that it challenges the norms of animation, while adhering to the story’s historical value. The animated feature not only illustrates an inspiring story about an ancient hero, but also maintains the ancient world’s geographic and cultural distinctions. Bilal also stands apart in a class of its own as one of the first animation films to portray an African hero from the Arabian region. The film producer, Ayman Jamal, wished to portray Bilal’s story as it showcased a hero that “raised his voice against oppression and injustice when all odds were stacked against him. He says, “These sentiments are universal and transcend race, language, and culture. I was inspired by what Bilal represented to the world and the universal messages his story conveyed. This seemed even more important to us as Barajoun has been founded on the belief that enchanting stories and lovable characters were a novel way of communicating powerful messages, building bonds, and transcending borders.” As most animated features are based on fantasy rather than reality, they do not face the challenge of re-imagining a complex and beloved story. Bilal, however, overcame all of these challenges and more. Although a true story about slavery and discrimination, the movie focuses on Bilal’s emotional journey and personal struggle. According to Director, Khurram Alavi, “The goal of the movie was not to create a documentary, but to re-imagine and illustrate a story that appeals to a broad audience.” To maintain a balance between artistic liberty and accuracy of the ancient times, the producers of the film intertwine storytelling with technology to transform imagination into reality. This is a reason why the designs and features of the characters are slightly exaggerated to create an aesthetic and emotional appeal, prompting animators, artists, and story developers to give realistic textures but stylized effects to the costumes and the environment. Despite this stylization, textures in, for example, the hair and cloth of characters are realistic and display a great level of detail. “This combination of realistic textures and stylized features is very rare in animation. Despite the challenges, we did not let the complexity of the design and the artistic challenges negatively impact the production of quality. Characters were treated as interesting mascots of the world,” informs Ayman Jamal.
Bilal Official Teaser Trailer 2015A thousand years ago, one boy with a dream of becoming a great warrior is abducted with his sister and taken to a land far away from home.Thrown into a world where greed and injustice rule all, Bilal finds the courage to raise his voice and make a change.Inspired by true events, this is a story of a real hero who earned his remembrance in time and history. #BilalMovie Posted by Bilal Movie on Sunday, 22 February 2015
Bilal also features characters and pet animals for symbolic purposes. The pet animals are an artistic way to represent the nature of their owner’s personality. The team went an extra mile to develop the animals’ furs and feathers. The eight years of research and development led the team to realistically portray the costume designs and location settings. Their designs were influenced by ancient Arabia and Africa. A costume designer physically designed the materials and the fabrics so the artists could accurately animate the texture, shapes, and color schemes of the costumes. The artists and animators wanted to accurately portray the ancient city in order to showcase the culture and society of the time. They added colorful fabrics and vibrant props to make the ancient environment and locations aesthetically pleasing and interesting with an artistic touch of Arabesque designs and textures. The stylization of the characters, but realistic nature of the environment and props is what makes Bilal so unique. The Barajoun team – creators, directors, and animators – passionately believe in the hero’s journey and in their own creative direction and hope the world will appreciate the craft too. Bilal is expected to be released at the end of 2015 in theaters worldwide. The Dubai-based animation and visual effects studio, recently revealed that award-winning British actor, director, and voice artist Ian McShane will lend his voice for Umayya, a merciless merchant who abducts and enslaves Bilal and his sister. McShane’s repertoire of recent projects in TV, animation and live action films has shaped his emergence as Hollywood’s go-to villain. Among his notable successes, McShane has voiced versatile and malevolent characters including Blackbeard from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Ti Lung in Kung Fu Panda.