Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ben & Izzy

 Ben and Izzy is an educational CGI series made by the Jordanian animation studio Rubicon. The official website is no longer online, but a few bits and pieces of the series can be found on YouTube.

Animation Magazine has a short summary of the series' premise:

"The action-adventure comedy series follows the adventures of two eleven-year-old boys, Ben, an American, and Izzy, a Jordanian, who embark on historical quests to ancient times and places in the Middle East and Africa region. The property has been popular on Cartoon Network Arabia, and in its featured window on Emirates and Qatar Airlines flights."

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Sketch in Motion


Sketch in Motion is a Jordan-based studio that was founded in 2007 by Zaidoun Karadsheh and Tamer Qarrain.

From the studio's official website:

Sketch in Motion is dedicated to delivering meaningful messages with humor and laughter.  We recognize the ability to cross divides through laughter, utilizing its genuine universal experience. Sketch in Motion aspires to reach a wide audience range from adults, teenagers, and friends to couples and children of all ages through animation and cartooning products with witty content and stylish artwork, combined with meaningful messages. 
Sketch in Motion, produces one of the best animation show in the Arab World, “Al-Masageel”, aired 2 seasons in Ramadan 2011 and 2012, season 3 aired in Ramadan 2013, with creative animation, variety of funny characters and surprising plots.

As well as Al-Masageel, which is a sitcom about a traditional Bedouin Saudi tribe, the studio's projects include Ben7bek ya Baladna, a series of short clips intended for Palestinian audiences; Yahoo! Safety Oasis, a series of online games teaching children about safety on the Internet; and Iraq, a public information film about terrorism.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Abdollah Alimorad's Let's Reconcile

Let's Reconcile is a 13-episode stop-motion series made by the Iranian animator Abdollah Alimorad for the Ministry of Culture-affiliated Hozeh Honari. Mehr News has a short article on it with a few screencaps, along with the creator's description of the series:

"The animation relates the story of two neighbors’ fights and reconciliations. When the issue of money is at stake, they would quarrel; but when a common enemy appears, they unite and drop their hostilities.

The sound arranging of the animation has just been completed. The animation has used puppets made for stop-motion, where the movements are recorded frame-by-frame. The plastic material has been used to make puppets. It has some advantages over other materials. Working with plastic material is easy, puppets are highly malleable, and when the situation demands, they would be changed easily, and even they could be totally deformed."

Alimorad's career goes back at least as far as 1987 - I hope to write more about him in the future.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Naif Al Mutawa's The 99

Created by Kuwait's Dr. Naif Al Mutawa, The 99 is a comic book and animated series about a team of Islamic superheroes. As far as I can tell the series was never broadcast in the US or UK, but an English language version does exist and has been shown certain countries, including Ireland and Australia. It is also viewable online.

The series has managed to attract a good deal of controversey in certain quarters. Pundit Pamela Gellar claimed that it was part of an "ongoing onslaught of cultural jihad", while the Saudi Grand Mufti issued a fatwa against it. On the other hand, it won the endorsement of Barack Obama. See the official website here.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Crazy Piranha Entertainment

Founded by Jordan-based animator Amer Koch in 2005, Crazy Piranha Entertainment fits squarely within the Spike & Mike Sick and Twisted tradition - perhaps with a bit of Jamie Helwett on the side.

One of the company's more recent works is The Chainsaw Incident, a 2D-animated video game:

Crazy Piranha appears to be best-known for its games, but it has also worked on animated shorts and commercials. See its animation portfolio here.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Amir M. Dehestani's The Messengers

The Messengers (Daastaan e Payaambaraan - literally, "The Story of Prophets") is an Iranian animated feature that was completed in 2000 but never made it to cinemas. It consists of three segments, each following a different prophet of Islam: Noah, Hud and Saleh.

The  Noah sequence and the trailer can be viewed online. Director Amir M. Dehestani details some of the background in the video description:
The Messengers is the first iranian digital feature animated movie, it was produced in the year 2000 by hand drawn animation aided by old DOS based 2D & 3D animation softwares(Autodesk animator pro & 3D studio) the production studio for the film is Hoor animation in tehran and it was directed by "Amir M.Dehestani" Due to the low budget ,very few proper talent resources and low technology problems it had a
very difficult production progress but unfortunately it wasn't released on the big screen and only had few TV broadcasts.The Messengers (by the persian name : "DAASTAAN E PAYAAMBARAAN"- The story of prophets )in three episodes tells three stories from holy Koran.The story of Noah, Hood and saleh.
It really was a pioneering work for it's time!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Malik Nejer: Saudi Arabia's most popular animator?

 One of Malik Nejer's web cartoons, مسامير - كلمة أخيرة (Nails - A Final Word, according to Google Translate)

According to this New York Times article, the fourth most-subscribed YouTube channel in Saudi Arabia (at the time the article was written, in 2011) belongs to an animator: Malik Nejer. He is noted for his satirical cartoons:
A natural disaster two years ago gave Mr. Nejer his break in the animation business. The 2009 flood that swept Jidda, killing more than 100 people, prompted him to make a short, satirical animated clip, “The Real Reason Behind the Jidda Disaster.” The sketch, featuring a government official who falls in love with, and marries, his chair, went viral.
The article goes on to discuss the specific cultural backdrop to Nejer's work:
Mr. Nejer’s success is helped by Saudi Arabia’s brand of Islam, which bans cinemas, segregates the sexes and imposes censorship on the news media.
“YouTube is becoming more successful in Saudi Arabia, and people are creating more genuine content because we have nothing else to do,” he said. “This kind of helped create traffic.”
You can see his YouTube channel here. Nejer is also active on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Jamshid and Khorshid

Directed by Behruz Yaghmaian, the feature film Jamshid and Khorshid has been hailed by at least one viewer as "Iranian anime". From watching the trailer, it looks to me as though its main inspiration is 90s Disney animation, although there's a definite bit of anime influence in there too - and perhaps coincidentally, a trace of the Russian studio Soyuzmultfilm. The main character is, from what I can gather, a king from Iranian legend.

This article from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting claims that the film is a response to the highly negative portrayal of the Persians in 300 - although as the same article makes the bizarre claim that 300 was funded by the US Department of Defence, it should be taken with a little salt...

According to WhatsUpIran the film came out in 2007, although most material about it that I've found online comes from 2009 or later.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Mohammed Saeed Harib's Freej

Created by Dubai resident Mohammed Saeed Harib and running since 2006, Freej is a CGI television series about a quartet of elderly women. It has attracted quite a bit of attention in the English language media, with articles at Wikipedia, Thinkup News and The Economist, the last of these comparing it to The Simpsons because of its cross-generational appeal and grilling Harib on his inspirations:
In one of the classes at university our professor asked us to come up with a superhero "from your culture”. Before we had this oil infusion, our grandfathers used to go pearl diving for six to seven months. The female figures had to raise six to seven kids in a very harsh financial environment and climate. She used to teach the kids, she used to work, so she was the superhero. On top of that she looked very unique, thanks to the mask she was wearing. Hence my first character was born.
Some of the series can be viewed on YouTube (in Arabic).

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Frenkel brothers' other characters

Earlier on I wrote about the Frenkel brothers, who created the character Mish-Mish Effendi in Egypt. One of my main sources was this article by the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt, which showcases some other characters created by the Frenkels.

Their first character appears to have been Marco Monkey, who fits squarely within the tradition of early animated characters based on Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse:

Later on they created this character, identified in the article simply as "an Egyptian Betty Boop". I can't quite make out her name in the caption (Saad?) but she appeared alongside Mish-Mish, presumably as a love interest:

The same character appears in this group shot - Mish-Mish's supporting cast?

Thursday, 27 February 2014

It's Ours by Avigdor Cohen

Avigdor Cohen is one of the Israeli animators mentioned in Bendazi's Cartoons, where he is identified as having been born in Vienna in 1920 and directing a 1979 film called Samson's Love. I was unable to find any further biographical information on him, but at least one of his shorts is available on YouTube (or so I'm guessing; due to the scanty information, I cannot say for certain if the is the same person, or a different man with the same name):

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Save the Children helps Syrian refugee children to make animation

Sulafa's Story, one of the six shorts made by the children has a 2013 article on workshops held by Save the Children in Lebanon, in which Syrian refugee children use animation to tell the harrowing stories of their experiences in being driven from their home country. All six shorts can be seen in this playlist.

More information on Save the Children's Syria appeal can be read here.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Tsvika Oren

The website of the Animator festival has a brief biography of Israeli animator Tsvika Oren:

TSVIKA OREN, Israel – A veteran animator, director, journalist, festivals’ adviser, curator and lecturer, member of Asifa International board of directors. He has competed over 30 auteur films, among them BERESHEET BARA... (1974), ICE-CREAM & OTHER VEGETABLES(1975) and THREADY GAMES (1976) and most recently Diary 1: ReANIMACJA 08 (2009). He has also made many shorts, documentaries and commission works for TV. Oren is also a lecturer of animation history and theory at Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in Jerusalem and an author of numerous articles and publications on animation.

I could not find a great deal of information about Oren online, but Sharon Katz of AWN has posted an in-depth interview with him that is well worth a read.

Mermaid S.O.S., a 2004 film by Tsvika Oren and Avi Ofer.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Forgotten Israeli animators?

I've been continuing my reading of the sections on Middle Eastern animation in Bendazzi's Cartoons and again come across a few names who are mentioned in the book, but appear to have no substantial coverage online. Here is an excerpt from Bendazzi's writing on Israeli animation:
Arye Mambush, another singular talent, experimented with abstract cinema while working for educational children's films on commission. Ytzhak Yoresh, who began animating in 1964, produced a large number of educational and entertainment films such as King in Jerusalem (1969), on tourism; The Widow and Her Lawsuit Against the Wind (1971), based on a biblical story and The Goal is Production (1976), on economic problems.
Bendazzi goes on to namecheck a few independent Israeli animators, including Albert-Alain Kaminski, who was apparently born in Brussels in 1950 and directed films called Little Hirik (1979) and The Flower on Top of the World (1980).

Information on any of these filmmakers would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Esfandiar Ahmadieh: father of Iranian animation

Esfandiar Ahmadieh (1929-2012) is regarded as the father of Iranian animation; a short biography can be found in this obituary. His works include Molla Nasreddin, Satellite, Jealous Duck, Wheat Crop and Where Are You Going Kite?

I ran his article on the Farsi version of Wikipedia through Google Translate. Apparently, his other films include works with titles along the lines of Cat and Mouse, Orange and Bergamot, Rooster Place and Hunting Moon.

Judging by this page, he also directed a 90-minute feature called Rostam and Esfandiar (this is not an autobiography, but rather based on the story of a legendary hero also called Esfandiar).

This YouTube channel has a ten-part documentary on Ahmedieh, but it consists primarily of interviews (with no English subtitles) and shows little of his work.

Rostum and Esfandiar (رستم و اسفندیار)

Friday, 31 January 2014

Tonguc Yasar

Born in 1932 and a professional caricaturist since 1952, Tonguc Yasar would appear to be one ofthe key figures in Turkish animation.

From Bendazzi's Cartoons:
In 1972 Tonguc Yasar, who had cut his teeth at Studio Cizgi, made How the Boat of Belief Proceeded, a beautiful graphic excercise based on the shapes of the old - and today abandoned - Turkish alphabet. Screened at the Annecy Festival of 1973, this film enjoyed considerable success and influence, and was the one that opened the era of 'personal films' in Turkey.
 How the Boat of Belief Proceeded (Amentü Gemisi) can be seen here:

Amongst Yasar's other works was Hodja and the Thief, which was one of the entries for a 1978 Ministry of Culture contest calling for films about the folk hero Nasreddin Hodja; it was joint winner along with Tunc Izberk's similarly-titled Hodja and the Thieves.

See the Turkish Cultural Foundation website for more biographical details on Yasar; meanwhile, his filmography can be read here.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Antoine Selim Ibrahim

Giannalberto Bendazzi's book Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation will be a great help in getting this blog started, but there are times when I have trouble following up on the information provided by Bendazzi. A good example is with the case of Antoine Selim Ibrahim.

According to Bendazzi, Ibrahim was born in Cairo on 11 November 1911. In 1938 he made Aziza and Youness in El Shiek Barakat's Book, notable as the first animation to have an Arabic soundtrack. He made three more films in the following decade, including 1940's Dokdok.

The website of the Torino Film Festival (which claims that Ibrahim was born in 1910, not 1911) says that he made Islam and Aziza, an Italian-German co-production from 1959, with co-director Farid Al Mezzawi. The site describes this short as "A cartoon about the friendship between a child, who loves animals, and a bird, who is searching for a medicine for his young." Was this the same Aziza who starred in the 1938 cartoon?

After a stint of animating commercials and title sequences for films, he moved to America where he found work at Hanna-Barbera and DePatie-Freleng.

Beyond this, I've had no luck in finding anything about him. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Israeli animated features

Waltz with Bashir

When it comes to full-length animated features from Israel, the best known would have to be Ari Folman and Yoni Goodman's Waltz with Bashir; this came out in 2008, the same year as $9.99, another high-profile Israeli animation. Waltz was not Israel's first animated feature, however, despite what at least one report has claimed.


The earliest film of this kind from Israel that I know of is Ba'al Hahalomot (Joseph the Dreamer), made in 1962 by Yoram Gross Films (a studio better known for its work in Australia). As can be seen from this trailer, the film is a stop-motion version of the Bible story:

Does anybody know of any earlier animated features from Israel?

For a good overview of Israeli animation, see this article from the Israel Film Center.- which notes that an in-production film, The Wild Bunch, is set to become the country's first CGI feature.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Frenkel brothers and Mish-Mish Effendi

"The small Egyptian animation production was mainly due to the Frenkel brothers", says Giannalberto Bendazzi's Cartoons (2006 edition) in its overview of 1930s animation. Most of the information in this post is lifted from Bendazzi and this comprehensive article, courtesy of the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt.

Herschel, Shlomo (Anglicised as "Salomon" in Bendazzi's book) and David Frenkel were born in Jaffa, Palestine, to parents named Betzalel and Gnissa. The HSJE article gives an account of the family's flight from Jaffa to Cairo:

Betzalel created there a bookshop and tried to live of trading, printing and binding books until the Turks came into the First World War. In November 27th 1914, the Turkish expelled from Tel Aviv the Russian Jews suspected to become enemy spies. Compelled at another exile, Betzalel and his family counting then six children were deported to Alexandria, Egypt.

The brothers were inspired to become animators after watching Felix the Cat cartoons, and they came up with a series star of their own: a fez-wearing character named Mish-Mish Effendi. The character made his debut in the 1936 short Mafish Fayda (Nothing to Do); later shorts starring the character include National Defence (1940) and Bilhana Oushefa (Enjoy your Food or Bon Appétit, 1947).

According to the article linked to above, the character got his name because a skeptical producer said that he would back the brothers' work "bukra fil mishmash" Literally meaning something along the lines of "tomorrow, there will be apricots", this phrase is apparently equivalent to "when pigs fly".

These publicity images for Bilhana Oushefa place a lot of emphasis on the character of the dancer; judging by the (very low-quality) stills below, she was live action for at least part of the film.

David Frenkel later moved to France and made cartoons about a character called Mimiche - essentially Mish-Mish in a different hat.

Some of the Mish-Mish cartoons were posted on YouTube, but removed after a copyright claim from the Frenkel family. Writing on one of the shorts, Milton Knight notes that is is partially pirated from a pair of Van Beuren cartoons, while Jerry Beck comments on "the crude animation, which I find entertaining; strangely hypnotic and bizarre, in a good way."

Jerry Beck would comment again on the series:
The character was the star of a popular Egyptian cartoon series of the 1930s by the Frenkel Bros. – who apparently were so taken with American cartoons they literally traced animation, character designs and ideas directly from them. This one, National Defense, is a World War II epic presented in two parts. In the musical first half, the animators borrow from Bosko and Buddy, mix belly dancers and dancing hooka’s, and possibly the worst caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, Eddie Cantor and Charlie Chaplin you’ll ever see. The second half takes place on the battlefield and it’s probably the funkiest animated propaganda ever made. The crude animation only adds to the charm. No matter what you think of Mish Mish, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore! 


Back in 2009 I began a blog devoted to British animation, as I found that there were very few resources dedicated to this subject. Now, a few years down the line, I think it's time for me to begin exploring a different geographic region...

After a bit of thought, I decided that my second animation blog would focus on work from the Middle East, a subject that has received even less documentation in the English-speaking world. But while living in the UK gave me an advantage in writing about British animation, I have never been to any of the countries of the Middle East and currently know almost nothing about the history of animation from the area. If all goes to plan, my new blog will be a journey of discovery for myself as much as my readers.

So, I hope that you enjoy my blog, and I am eager to hear any feedback from people who are more knowledgeable when it comes to Middle Eastern animation.