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Oscar Hopeful ‘Bilal’ is the First CG-Animated Feature from the Middle East

First fully Middle Eastern-funded and produced CG-animated film produced by Dubai-based animation and VFX studio Barajoun Entertainment among 27 features submitted for consideration for an Oscar nomination.

Bilal is an action-packed adventure full of swordplay and dynamic animation that sweeps viewers back more than a thousand years to the story of Bilal ibn Rabah, an African hero and companion of Prophet Mohammed who braved oppression and ultimately became a leader of his time.

Featured in a special presentation at this year’s edition of Animation Day in Cannes and screening out of competition at Annecy, Bilal was recently nominated for Best Animated Film at Asia Pacific Screen Awards, where it went up against Carl Joseph Papa’s Manang Biring (Philippines), Sergey Lubinetsky’s Savva (Russia), Max Volkov’s Sheep and Wolves (Russia), and winner Yeon Sang-ho’s Seoul Station (South Korea).

The film is also one of 27 animated features submitted for consideration in the Animated Feature Film category and one of 145 scores in the Original Score category for the 89th Academy Awards.

Produced by Dubai-based animation and VFX studio Barajoun Entertainment under a budget of $30 million, Bilal was brought to life by a dedicated team of 360 international artists and staffers. The musical score -- much of which was recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studio -- is a fusion of Arabian elements fused with Norse and European sentiments composed by Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson.

The first fully Middle Eastern-funded and produced CG-animated film, Bilal is inspired by true events, telling the story of an authentic hero who has earned his place in time and history. It follows a young boy with dreams of becoming a great warrior who along with his sister is abducted 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, determined to make a change for equality.

A historical epic taking place more than 1,000 years ago, Bilal challenges the norms of conventional animation production. It not only illustrates the inspiring story of this ancient hero, but also tries to depict ancient Arabia along with its geographic and cultural distinction. A massive undertaking that promises to bring a new flavor to world of animation, the project stands apart in a class of its own as being the first animated feature to represent an African hero.

Bilal was directed by Khurram Alavi and Ayman Jamal, who also served as producer on the project. To maintain a balance between artistic liberty and accurate depiction of the ancient times, the creative team behind the film completed massive amounts of research and development intertwining storytelling with technology in order to materialize their vision for the film. 

The heavily stylized designs and features of the characters is a blend of art and realism, demonstrating fanatic attention to detail. The character development team worked closely with a costume designer who generated countless physical Arabic/African costumes for the project, and the environments team aimed to depict the ancient landscapes and cities of era with a colorful twist.

Here’s the official synopsis, and you can watch the trailer in the player below:

1,400 years ago. Bilal, a seven-year-old boy, finds himself with his sister under the tyranny of slavery. He bears many burdens of life in his childhood from which he discovers inner strength he did not know he possessed before. Bilal knew from the bottom of his heart that he must be brave enough to raise his voice and choose his own path, and that everything is possible with determination. His courage was able to undo his handcuffs and set him free. His strong beautiful voice was a real gift from the Creator, but the voice of faith has made his childhood dream come true.

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.