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Digital Studio Awards 2011 Winners

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Dubai World Trade Centre hosted the 7th Digital Studio Awards ceremony on February 8th, 2011. Ashraf Ghori won “Best Up & Coming Filmmaker of the Year” and Levity Xero Error Minus1 was nominated for “Animation of the Year”.

Our collaborative film with D-Seven Motion Pictures “Malal” won the “Production of the Year” category.

Photos by @AqeelFikree

 

 

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CGI Animation Masterclass at SAE Institute, Dubai

We held a CG Masterclass at SAE Institute, Knowledge village on the 6th of October 2011. The masterclass featured an hour of tips and techniques on animation film making followed by a Q&A session.

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Xero Error at SCI-FI London

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We’ve got great news for our UK Xyborgs! Levity-Xero Error Minus1 is an Official Selection at the 10th SCI-FI LONDON – The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film. The festival runs from today, 23rd April till the 2nd of May in Apollo Piccadilly Circus – BFI Southbank.

SCHEDULE for Levity – Xero Error Minus1:
Shorts Programme 1
Monday, April 25th 2010, 5:15 PM
Apollo Piccadilly

We would highly recommend getting your tickets in advance to avoid any disappointments!

It is noteworthy to mention that Levity was chosen amongst hundreds of films that were submitted from across the globe. “We love short films and think they are a wonderful format for science fiction themes. Each year we receive hundreds of excellent films and it is a challenging task to select for our shorts programme.” , Sci-Fi-London which celebrates its tenth birthday this year.

Details of Shorts Programme: http://www.sci-fi-london.com/festival/2011/programme/short/shorts-programme-1

Find out more about SCI-FI LONDON here: http://www.sci-fi-london.com/festival/2011

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Story by Aqeel Fikree

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Official Partner BOLDtalks 2011

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Xpanse CGI, official event partner of BOLD2011, is behind the design and branding of this year’s event, in addition to managing the social PR campaign through twitterfacebook, and YouTube. BOLD talks is about bringing a selection of fascinating individuals to present on a range of diversified discussions. This year’s speakers are Penny Low, Joy Tessman, Nayla Al Khaja, Dr. Eesa Mohammed Bastaki, Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Jeremy Foster, Rushdi Siddiqui, and Dr. Robert Schoch.

Check it out at DUCTAC (Mall of the Emirates), on Saturday, February 12th and look out for a creative session with Ashraf Ghori and friends.

Tickets are available in DUCTAC, BORDERS (Mall of Emirates and Ibn Battuta) and SOUQ.com

Story by Aqeel Fikree

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Xpanse Honored for Technical Achievement in Abu Dhabi

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The Nomination

A few months ago Xpanse CGI, was approached by Abu Dhabi University to submit Xero Error for the “Made in UAE” Competition. This event focused on projects, based on technology and innovations, that were made in UAE.

From the many submissions to Abu Dhabi University, Xero Error was one of the shortlisted entries to present for the “Made in UAE” competition. Various heads of Universities and other dignitaries were present on the judging panel for the pitching session on the 2nd of January 2011.

The attendees were impressed and showed admiration for the work that was presented by Xero Error Director Ashraf Ghori who was joined by resident Xpanse Publicist / photographer Aqeel Fikree, who was also a voice over talent in the film.

 

The Awards Ceremony

Our gracious host Rima Shaban introduced the awards ceremony which was held at the Fairmont Hotel in Abu Dhabi on January 24th. She explained the need for promoting the intellectuals based in the region by showcasing their work and encouraging them through platforms such as ‘Made in UAE’ & ‘Made in the Arab World’ Awards. She mentioned that although short notice, the Award received several submissions from all over the UAE and it was no easy task to shortlist the winners.

‘Levity – Xero Error Minus1′ got a special mention & award as a distinguished achievement from the UAE. Incidentally, the certificate presented to the director was made out to ‘Doctor’ Ashraf Ghori : )

Other innovations from the region included – an application which made your phone behave as a remote to control PowerPoint presentations, a mobile application which monitored your speed while driving and advised on safety, self-cleaning solar panels and a wireless pipeline leak detection system.

Photos: @AqeelFikree

 

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Xpanse CGI in Guinness World Records

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Xpanse CGI made its way to the Most brands advertised on a single billboard in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was one of the 1233 brands featured from the UAE. Xpanse’s associated partners Playback Lounge & Sixteen By Nine Motion Pictures were also among the featured logos. Congratulations to the Xpanse team for making it to the world records.

[ Source : http://www.worldamazingrecords.com/2011/01/most-brands-advertised-on-single.html ]

With 1,233 logos on a single wall, Dubai has made it to the record books yet again.
The Most brands advertised on a single billboard were officially unveiled at Dubai Festival City after being certified as a world record by Guinness World Records, on Sunday. Measuring over 10 metres high and 100 metres wide, the massive billboard is Dubai’s latest entry in the record books.

Dubai is synonymous with the world’s largest, world’s biggest and the world’s most expensive. This is the 78th world record in the UAE and the country is certainly among some of the top record-breakers in the world” said Adam Wide, Creative Director, Guinness World Records who presented the official certificate to Discovery Exhibition Organisers.

Working for over a year, a team of 70 staff from Discovery Exhibition Organisers set out to persuade brands to advertise on the billboard and make UAE Logos a successful project. “This record is particularly significant because it’s not just about the number of logos on display but it is about the co-operation between thousands of companies who made the feat possible. The scale is absolutely phenomenal and there are a lot of logistics involved in making such a record possible,” said Wide.

Salim Al Khayyal, CEO, Discovery Exhibiton Organisers attributed the success of UAE Logos to his team. “It took a lot of hard work and persuasion to bring together all the brands and make them part of such a record. There had to be no repetitions and every logo present on the billboard belongs to a brand in the UAE” said Salim.

A representative from Guinness World Records individually verified each of the 1,233 logos on the billboard as the official verification took over four hours to complete.

The advertising billboard is open for public viewing outside the Festival Centre concert arena.

 

Photos by @AqeelFikree

 

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Mind Your Business – An Entrepreneur’s Perspective

Excerpt from the article published by SME Advisor Middle East on: http://www.smeadvisor.com/2011/01/mind-your-business/

The SME Business Summit, held in January 2011, was an event that helped forge relationships, exchange knowledge, and open doors for business. Attendees ranged from entrepreneurs and business enthusiasts to directors and C-level executives. 

Entrepreneur’s Perspective:

Featured Speaker: Ashraf Ghori, Dubai based filmmaker and Founder, Xpanse CGI.  

Ashraf Ghori is an Indian-born artist and filmmaker based in Dubai since 1975. At age 14, Ashraf gained early recognition in the UAE as a regular illustrator for Young Times. In 1993 he created original comic characters Shane & Talia and UAE’s first English superhero comic strip Voyager X.

As a student of Graphic Design in Houston, Texas, Ashraf worked as an artist for Six Flags Astroworld and co-founded Tempest Comics. He produced artwork for independent national comic publications in the US, such as London Night Studios and Titus Press. Ashraf was regularly featured at comic book conventions in Texas as well as the prestigious Dallas Fantasy Fair in 1994.

Returning to the UAE, in late 1994, Ashraf worked as a laser shows animator in Abu Dhabi before moving on to independent 3D animation work. In 2007, he launched Xpanse CGI, a specialist design and animation studio producing films, TV commercials, branding and online presence.

Ashraf’s message from the outset was to keep the faith and keep believing. He noted that throughout his journey he had many rejections, knock downs but kept going with the belief that his hard work and ideas would pay dividends. “One thing that marks entrepreneurs out from a crowd is their inability in accept no for an answer and to give up after initial rejection. I started off my journey back in 1987 when I was a student. The little mountains of expectation I had were quashed on several occasions; I was told by one editor of a newspaper during a job interview to come back when I got better! I was a little annoyed but not disillusioned and didn’t give up hope.”

One of the recurring ideas circulating in the business community in the region is the return to customer satisfaction. Ashraf reiterated this when he talked about the reasons for setting up his own company in 2007. “One of my main motives for forming this company was because I recognised that the industry here was very restrictive – there was no flexibility with other design companies and for me the quality of work was not personal – no-one was willing to go that extra bit. At the time I was working with a lot of people who wouldn’t really go beyond the remit of their basic duties – wouldn’t go out of their way for the client. With Xpanse I wanted to give it the personal attention with an ambition to concentrate more on the quality of my work and the satisfaction of customers. I wanted to keep the work very small and manageable and not go out of bounds. For me the most important thing is that you have a happy client.”

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Xero Error Cover Story – Digital Studio Magazine

This month Digital Studio Magazine features an in-depth article on UAE’s first Scifi Film ‘Levity – Xero Error Minus1’.  Many Thanks to Vijaya Cherian and the Digital Studio team for this amazing story.

 

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[ Full article below ]

When the Gulf Film Festival was launched three years ago, most of the screenings were a reflection of the rather poor filmmaking standards in the GCC. Most entries were shorts and in many cases, abstract pieces that failed to appeal to the public. Three years down the line, we have begun to see a more impressive line-up of films that demonstrate greater sophistication in terms of scripts as well as the art of filmmaking itself.

One entry that stood out at this year’s festival was a sci-fi short developed by CG expert Ashraf Ghori under the banner of his company Xpanse CGI.

The seven-minute film entitled Levity – Xero Error Minus 1 was screened to a packed house at Dubai Festival City, and was a clear reflection of the growing talent in this region.

The storyline is complicated. Scientists from the future create their first time travel experiment and their first natural intelligence Cyborg, an advanced version of artificial intelligence. The Cyborg, named XE7 has been assigned the task of traveling back in time to recover earth’s lost history. Levity is a glimpse of the Cyborg as he revisits one event in history.

The film generated a lot of interest at the festival for several reasons.

For one, this genre has not been attempted by any other filmmaker in the region thus far. Secondly, the character has been so well crafted that it could easily be mistaken for a production straight out of Hollywood.

That sophistication comes from combining passion and talent while also engaging the local community in some of the filmmaking process, says Ghori.

Although a talented artist who studied graphic design at the University of Houston, Ghori says he is a self-taught animator.

“I’ll go back to my roots. I used to do a lot of illustrations in the US and the UAE. Super heroes and comics fascinated me. After I came back from the US, I started doing laser shows and some commercial work but my love for sci-fi, comics and super heroes compelled me to think of a project that would combine all of these entities.

“Essentially, I wanted to use my skills to feed my passion. That’s how I came up with the concept of Xero Error. This was in late 2007. Back then, it was just a short script and it was much smaller in scope than what we see now” he says.

However, it’s not until Ghori and his friend Mohammed Mondal met Waqqas Qadir Sheikh, an industry specialist with a hand in several film ventures, that they began to dream of turning their small project in a basement into a big-budget venture.

“I had a look at some of their rough illustrations on paper and when I heard the story, I realised that we had something of international calibre here” says Sheikh.

“I told them not to waste their time making a short as it wouldn’t fetch any revenues. Rather we saw that the story had huge potential to be a made into 100 episodes or even into a proper trilogy. That meant thinking much bigger than a shoe-string budget. People go scouting for such projects and these two had such a winning concept,” he explains.

With four months to go for the GFF, the team decided to create a small teaser short to give potential investors an idea of what they could put together.

“Our initial budget for this eight-minute short was US $27,000 but we overshot our estimates by $10,000″ says Sheikh.

“But it helped us put up a good film and show people what the team was capable of. Of course, we have not revealed any of the action sequences. That would be giving away too much of the film.”

Ghori says he got the whole project going “through underground virals”.

“Word of mouth and social networks like Facebook helped immensely. We told people that it was an independent project so a lot of people joined us. Some people volunteered to do bits and pieces of the production. Now, we have more than 1000 fans on FB” he says.

Seven people worked on the production full time while several others volunteered to do parts of the project.

Ghori, however, reiterates that besides passion, there was no secret ingredient to creating the film.
“We haven’t used many unique techniques to create the effects we have. We started with sketches, started building the model; we had a couple of people on board to model the character and rig and set up the bone system. All of the 3D work was done on 3DSMax while V-ray was used for rendering, and the compositing was done on Fusion. The motion graphics were put together in After Effects and a combination of Flash.
“When we couldn’t afford to do something, we invited volunteers to come in and help us” he says.

One volunteer who deserves special mention is post production supervisor Tamas Tancos. According to Ghori, the team saved a lot of time because of the way Tancos worked.

“The techniques he uses are not stuff I have seen used in commercial work. We used the EXR format and we had all our separate passes for render like our shadows, our reflection, the highlight, the diffuse, indirect lighting etc in one file. Usually, people tend to make each of these layers a separate file. Getting them all into one file meant they were easier to manipulate in post production. Additionally, we didn’t have to re-feed anything this way. We were also very short of time so we used to edit on the fly even while we were rendering” he adds. In addition to Tancos, several other well known people and companies have come together to be a part of this project.

Phat Mo, who is quite well known for writing songs, supplied the original song for this project. Tambi Studios helped with the audio production for the short while. Abdul Razzak Al Busmait, popularly called Q in the community and well known for composing music for several US singers, composed the theme music for Xero Error. Though most of the work for this film has been created on the desktop, there are a few scenes, where models have been shot against the green screen and then composited back into the 3D environment.

According to Ghori, the team went with industry standard solutions to create this project although he quickly adds that to do a series of episodes or a motion picture, they will require much higher spec solutions and adequate funding.

“We did the rendering at our office with just eight Boxx systems so we were hugely limited. As a result, we approached Blackstone Studios, who offered to help us with 20% of our renders,” says Ghori.

“However, a full length feature film will require the kind of budget that any proper international motion picture of this scale and size would require”, he explains.

The team is currently on the lookout for investors to take this project forward.

“We know we have what it takes in terms of talent and skill to take this project forward. Perhaps our biggest challenge at this point is finding appropriate investors who believe in this project and will take us seriously enough to fund it” adds Ghori.

Key kit

3DSMax – Rigging and skinning of the character XE7
Vray – rendering.
Fusion – compositing.
After effects – Motion graphics.
Photoshop / illustrator Creating various elements.
VueUsed for the opening scene showing a vast Arabian mountain range.
Custom scripts were written to ensure better control of the hand/finger movements.
BOXX systems with the following specs:
Dual QuadCore systems with Intel Xeon processors [2.83 Ghz].
8 GB RAM.
Windows XP 64 bit version.

The final output for cinema projection was done on HD CAM at full HD 1080 at 25fps.

 

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