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Embracing Digital with Microsoft


It’s time for artists to embrace digital

With the right tools, old traditions can be preserved and new possibilities envisioned

By Ashraf Ghori

Art AG wall


For artists world over, the canvas is changing. Even the most immovable traditionalists are grudgingly starting to accept that, just as the automobile superseded the horse and email supplanted snail mail, digital forms are assuming their rightful place in the realm of art.

But I firmly believe that, unlike horses and snail mail, we do not have to bridge a gap between conventional and digital media; rather, we should look to eliminate the gap altogether and create a smooth spectrum of harmony between the traditional and the technological.

This was my position when I spoke recently at World Art Dubai. I shared my own experiences as I had migrated from my comfort zone to a digital workspace, where I could create just as freely as I had done previously. My aim was to instruct and motivate, by making my fellow artists aware that digital tools do not need to be cold and cumbersome. As with waters and oils, practice can make one an expert and while concepts such as hardware and software might appear to lack the warmth and passion inherent in our craft, beauty, as always, comes from inside the artist.

So I believe it is entirely unnecessary to take sides on the issue of traditional vs digital. It should not be a battle; or even a debate. My experiences taught me that mastering digital techniques allows the artist to expand their comfort zone, as opposed to actually leaving it.

And the journey can be rewarding. Of course, just as conventional art requires careful selection of the right brush, the right pencil, the right canvas, so success in the digital world demands similar evaluation.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, I found, was ideal for what I wanted to achieve. I suppose many in my field look upon it as something you use in a business context, but as I evaluated it alongside alternative tools, I came to a different realisation. As with any tool, the practitioner needs to study how it is put together to know if it is up to the task at hand. With the Surface Pro 4, I noted that its screen resolution and size were optimal. You need a hefty size of screen if you want your work to breathe and 12.3 inches meets this demand. And the Pro 4’s pixel density is 267 ppi (pixels per inch), which, I discovered, is greater than any of its market rivals.



But perhaps the most significant aspect of the Pro 4 for artists, is the versatility of its pen. When we leap from traditional to digital techniques, our greatest concern is likely the loss of that tactile sensation we get when we apply our stylus to the canvas. Be it a pencil, chalk or brush, we feel a connection between our creativity and the surface we are laying it upon. It is encouraging then, that the Surface Pro 4’s pen recognises 1,024 levels of pressure and, even more significantly, that it is able to detect shifts in that pressure during a single stroke. I believe devices such as these are helping to dissolve the resistance and misconceptions surrounding digital art. Changing the minds of traditionalists in any field is never easy, but once doubters are exposed, first hand, to emerging tools, I expect they will start to get excited about the possibilities open to them. The reason our species moved on from snail mail and horses was not arbitrary – we did it to become faster and more efficient. And more effective.

But, just as in the traditional era, even after you select the right tools, you still have some practice ahead of you. Some of the most common pitfalls in digital art involve not only a poor choice of platform, but a lack of awareness of how your vision will look in its final version.

Experimentation is key, as it is all too easy to become confused, or even demoralised by the sheer number of menu options present in some graphics packages. At World Art Dubai 2016 I discussed the process I use in my own work, from conceptualisation to initial layout, and ultimately to the stages I follow in building the piece into a final compelling product. Digital artists enjoy so many advantages, not least in the pre-production phase of a project. When working with software canvases, it is considerably easier and faster to stage quick compositions using obscure references for shape, form, lighting and colour.

An exceptional artist is most commonly one who has knowingly thrown themselves into unknown abysses for the sheer joy of finding out what happens next. They are explorers, adventurers and pioneers. They do not fear embarrassment or ridicule. They challenge, they persist and they achieve. The flexibility and accessibility of digital art is perfect for such mavericks.


– AG

Interview News

Esquire Magazine Features UAE’s top Social Media Digital Influencers

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Esquire, the leading men’s magazine in the Middle East, featured UAE’s top digital social media influencers in its December 2014 issue out on stands now. Chosen with the help of HTC, Esquire met these online influencers responsible for hauling the UAE into a new world of web-based awareness, one hashtag at a time. The photoshoot was done on location around DIFC.

Photography: Audra Osipaviciute
Styling by : Kate Hazell
Interviews :  Tom Norton


Know your influencer:


CEO at Xpanse CGI. Award-winning artist and filmmaker.



Tech and lifestyle video blogger. UAE’s top English language vlogger.



Founder of PAZ Marketing, Sky News Arabia tech pundit and digital marketer.



Social Media strategist and tech blogger.



MC and digital content specialist. Hosts local comedy night, One Night standup.


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You can catch the ‘making of’ the Esquire feature with this behind the scenes Vlog created by our good friend Emkwan – don’t forget to subscribe to his channel too :



Interview News

Ford’s Stand Out Magazine Launched #iStandOut

In an unprecedented double treat, Ford Middle East kicked off their promotional campaign for the launch of their Stand Out Magazine with a series of videos produced by our team and the first one also features our very own CEO Ashraf Ghori as their first ‘Stand Out’ Ambassador.

The announcement was accompanied with a major marketing campaign from Ford, and a YouTube takeover. Our first video had over a quarter million views in just two days!



Way to go @FordMiddleEast for bringing out a spectacular campaign and for creating a new content creators hub for the MENA region. We highly recommend this cutting-edge online magazine featuring weekly stories about the people and ideas that stand out.

Check it out: Follow the hashtag #iStandOut


• G A L L E R Y •

Here are the other videos we produced for the launch with our associates, Sixteen By Nine Motion Pictures and PostHouse Pro, featuring DJ Mo Tiger & Omar Al Raisi:



Interview News

‘Creative Cool Guy’ of the day on The Dubai Egotist

Xpanse man Ashraf Ghori is featured on The Dubai Egotist as ‘Creative Cool Guy of the Day’ and we simply cannot stop repeating that phrase since.

The Dubai Egotist is a creative blog highlighting the best creative work and talent in Dubai, the Middle East and beyond. Read the full story here:




Who are you, What do you do, and What’s it like?

I’m an artist & filmmaker. I’ve been a resident of Dubai for over 35 years. I run my studio Xpanse CGI, a digital creative agency as its CEO in Dubai Media City. Xpanse is a small team of talented individuals producing creative content such as animation, branding and web sites for a multitude of clients.

Xpanse and my other actual family keeps me fairly busy. Apart from this, I get to do the artsy stuff like digital painting or CG film-making mostly for fun. Even though it is demanding work I enjoy what I do.

Anything notable that you’ve done?

I’ve done a few things which have put me on the map so to speak. I’ve created the first CGI Sci-fi film from the UAE ‘Xero Error’ which had a successful run at film festivals, even got me on the red carpet at Cannes and garnered a few awards. I’ve produced artwork for comic publishers including Dark Horse Comics & IDW Publishing and regularly get featured as a ‘celebrity’ guest at events like IGN Convention, MEFCC Comic Con among others.

So, You’ve been successful…

Although I’m grateful and flattered by this sort of attention, I certainly do not count myself as successful – not even close. I work hard and continue to do so. I am not particularly proud of anything I have produced or achieved so far and I just know my best is yet to come!

That’s a great philosophy. My philosophy is stupid people shouldn’t exist. Do you ever get asked any stupid questions?

Does this one count?

Probably. But let’s say it didn’t……?

After Xero Error was launched as a short film at film festivals and I had to shelve the dreams of doing a feature length version (owing to lack of millions in cash). I still to this very day get asked by everyone I bump into: ‘Hey how’s the film coming along?’ which puts me in an awkward spot. For people who follow me online on Twitter / Facebook etc, I post all my work and work-in-progress online on my website ( and believe me if a feature length Xero Error film was in the works they’d know about it already 🙂

There are other cool projects in the pipeline though & I’ll surely pick up where Xero Error left off sometime in the near future.

What’s the one thing you learnt when you got started as a filmmaker

Being a naive first-timer in the film industry I was expecting support and sponsors to fall out of the sky for quick fame and fortunes, but as I quickly learned that without doing the hard work and going through the motions you won’t get anywhere. This is where just about all aspiring filmmakers get caught in only to find out that if you want to do something you are better off doing it with whatever means you have at your disposal. The fame and fortunes will follow if you keep at it.

In 5 words or less, tell us your creative philosophy.

‘Outdo Yourself’.

I always try to better myself and not rest on my laurels. Which is why this is Xpanse CGI’s official slogan too. Give it your 110% and it comes back ten-fold.


Interview News

Animation Insider Interview

Animation Insiderwho are on a heroic mission to interview all talented artists on the planet, one at a time, catch up with our CEO with a fun, informal interview.

Read away below or see the original article here:



What is your name and your current occupation?

Ashraf Ghori. I am an artist and animation director. I also run my own digital design agency Xpanse CGI in Dubai UAE as its CEO.


What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?

I was an artist at Six Flags Astroworld in Houston doing caricatures, I also worked for a year as a laser show animator doing some outrageous events in the UAE.


What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

I am proud of my comic books and fantasy art that I made in Houston, and of my first short film ‘Xero Error’ which also happened to be the first CGI Sci-fi Film produced in the UAE.

I love the projects I get to do while traveling to different countries. I did a TV commercial for Lux Progress in Cape Town, where I had to create a blob of green liquid shooting through dirty plates and cleaning them in its wake. I could’ve easily done this back home in Dubai, but the client preferred to take the whole team there, No complaints from me!

I was the art director for Malal which was also the first Indo-Emirati film. We got to shoot this in a picturesque green hill station in Kerala, India. It was a wondrous week of very satisfying work while dodging blood sucking leeches from the forest!


How did you become interested in animation?

Prior to ’94 I was only into comic book & fantasy art. Then games like‘Mechwarrior2′ came on to the scene and totally blew my mind and inspired me to get into 3D. I’ve always been inspired by the original Tron but for the first time in my life I actually had tools to create such images – I started with 3D Studio DOS version.


Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?

I am from Hyderabad, India, but I’ve been in Dubai UAE, since I could remember. I’ve done my university degree in Houston.

I realized my love for 3D also had commercial applications. As a freelancer I was offered to do my first 3D animation work for a TV commercial. It was for Al Wataniya Chicken, and I had tocreate a dramatic egg with light rays bursting from its cracks. All funny when I think about it now.


What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?

At a time we are usually handling about 3 projects at Xpanse. I do a recap with the guys, for what’s pending for the day and set some goals.

I am hands on involved in creative work as well as managing administration duties for Xpanse. Meetings are a big part of the day, whether it’s to meet new clients or follow up on existing projects. You might find me frequenting cafes in Dubai for my meetings. Almost always, I end up working late to make sure I accomplish my to-do list


What part of your job do you like best? Why?

Having an outlet for creativity and not having to work for anyone. Even though I end up working long hours, or not earning enough, it’s still satisfying to know that I am doing it for myself and slowly working towards my goals.


What part of your job do you like least? Why?

The rescue operations. When working with a team, any number of things can go wrong. So me being the team leader is always responsible. That means if someone messes up I dive right in and fix it, sleep is not an option at such times. I miss working under more experienced people and learning from them.


What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?

It’s an ongoing struggle working my way up from year to year. It is challenging financially to run a business here in Dubai and taking care of my family too. But I’m always taking small steps forward and hope for the best.


What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?

I work on BOXX systems. I use 3DSMax as my main 3D software. I also use the essential Adobe packages: Photoshop, Illustrator & After Effects for my work. I have a Wacom Cintiq 12WX which I use for artworks.


In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?

I get to travel to film festivals often so I do bump into a lot of stars and many great talents like Syd Mead & Bill Plympton. I am glad I do get to touch base with a lot of amazing animation talents on Facebook & twitter like Floyd Norman, Don Bluth, Marco Iozzi, James Stone, Marco Menco, as social media friends.


Describe a tough situation you had in life.

To be honest by God’s grace, I’ve always had it easy and always compare myself to less fortunate people in the world who are suffering for lack of food and shelter.


Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?

I am trying to get my Xero Error and FOBcity films get started. I’ve been doing some writing, conceptualizing etc. and hope they see the light of day soon.


Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?

I can wiggle my right ear, does that count? Otherwise I do mundane stuff like walking or swimming.


Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?

WORK on your work. Polish it till it shines. A designer or animator is only as good as his or her portfolio. And don’t give up easily – if you’re in the business of creativity it is extremely challenging to deliver great stuff all the time and meet client expectations, but keep at it and practice often to learn and improve. Best of luck!