x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dubai proves it can animate the world

The Life: Despite all the high-tech software, making animation is still a hard slog, says the head of one of Dubai's few production studios - with video.

Andrea Dionisio, the founder and creative director of METAphrenie, at his office in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Andrea Dionisio, the founder and creative director of METAphrenie, at his office in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

METAphrenie, one of Dubai's few production studios, relocated to Dubai from Berlin in 2009. Andrea Dionisio, the firm's Italian founder and creative director, explains why animation is still a hard slog and what went on behind works such as the "Sandman vs Waterman" promotion for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Doha.

What does METAphrenie specialise in?

Anything that moves. We specialise in the moving image, whether it's 2D or 3D animation, or filming live action. We don't just execute work, but we are usually involved in the creative and strategic processes.

Your Asian Cup film featured animated footballers made from sand and water. Tell us about that.

It was a very, very large project and very high-end for what you would imagine being produced here in the Middle East. The reaction that we got from international audiences was that they were pretty surprised that it was done over here.

Why is that?

There is a lot of good work coming out of the region. But there's an overwhelming amount of sub-par work, which tends to drown out the good stuff.

I'm guessing that you put yourselves in the "good" category. If so, why?

Our day-to-day operations are very expensive compared to what a normal Dubai studio would charge. Projects range from about US$50,000 (Dh183,645) all the way up to $1 million - and sometimes, above that. As a result, we have a lot of clients that find us much too expensive to work with. But when we do projects we do not compromise on quality.

What does METAphrenie actually mean?

"Meta" means to travel, or to go beyond. "Phrenie" is "of the mind". So it's "beyond the mind", or "beyond what we know". That name came about from my college days. We were very cerebral at the time.

Animation is known as a time-consuming art. Is that a myth perpetuated by the industry given computer advancements?

We do have a button we push and it does it all for us, and we just sit back. (Laughs). No, it's not a myth at all. A project is never finished; you just run out of time. Because as creatives, we would tweak and improve things infinitely. But there is a deadline, and that's when we call it "done". We do pull a lot of long nights and weekends, and that is a reality of our industry.

You've done some 3D work as well. Do you see 3D as a gimmick, or is it the future of entertainment?

It's not a gimmick if it's used right. I think Avatar was one of the few movies that was specifically designed to incorporate 3D in its production. On the other hand, a lot of movies are being converted to 3D after they are done, so they were never really intended to be 3D. That's just 3D for 3D's sake.

* Ben Flanagan

Take an exclusive look at some of METAphrenie's animation by visiting The Life: www.thenational.ae/thelife