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.



Xero Error at SCI-FI London



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:

Find out more about SCI-FI LONDON here:



Story by Aqeel Fikree


Xpanse Honored for Technical Achievement in Abu Dhabi

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


• G A L L E R Y •


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.




[ 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].
Windows XP 64 bit version.

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