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In toon with nature

Adam Zacharias
Filed on March 22, 2010

Dubai animation troupe The Happy Planet Project are currently applying the finishing touches to a 60-second film promoting conservation and healthy eating. City Times visited their Jumeirah studio for a closer look

“A SMALL ANIMATION like this is a big job,” says Donna Don, creator of non-profit initiative The Happy Planet Project.

After four months in the making, Donna and her team of animators – all degree students from SAE University – are close to completing their minute-long cartoon, which seeks to promote helping the environment by eating less red meat.

The painstaking process includes rendering (fitting together the 1,400-plus frames), texturing, animating and post-production – little wonder then that everyone’s been beavering away at Donna’s Jumeirah villa for eight hours or more a day, six days a week.

“The Happy Planet Project says you should eat more vegetables because it’s good for you and good for the planet,” declares Donna. “You have all this marketing for children to eat sweets and fast food. Who’s doing the marketing for fruit and vegetables?”

The 3-D clip shows a “beautiful, happy little rainforest” being levelled by bulldozers, becoming a pasture field for cows before they’re sent to the slaughterhouse.

The animation then changes tack to a pastiche of The Godfather, as an old man and his grandson play in a tomato patch.

“It takes a lot of land to produce red meat,” insists the filmmaker, a vegetarian. “You have to destroy natural habitat, and in Brazil in particular huge expanses of rainforest are being destroyed to graze cattle.

“A lot of these plants haven’t even been documented, so they’ll be lost forever. Then there’s the issue of global warming, not to mention the rights of the native peoples. It’s all pretty nasty.”

Originally from Sydney, Donna has lived in Dubai with husband Garrie for 17 years. She bucked convention by entering the typically male-dominated industry of filmmaking six years ago with documentary Hello Dubai, looking at the lives of expat women and misconceptions about the emirate elsewhere in the world.

Under the banner of ‘Unmedicated Productions’, she has since tried her hand at music videos – most recently for local rock band Dahab – and made a short film called Homework.

“It’s about two women who inhabit the same space but their lives don’t really interconnect,” says Donna of the latter, which concludes showing at DUCTAC in Mall of the Emirates tonight and has also been submitted for the Cannes Film Festival.

But for now, the mother-of-two is focusing her attentions on finishing The Happy Planet Project once and for all, in the hope that the finished product will find its way onto cinema screens and television as a public service announcement.

“I just want people to think about the message – that’s all I want to do as a filmmaker,” concludes Donna.

The self-funded project, which will be translated into both English and Arabic, is looking for sponsors and animators. If you are interested in finding out more, call 050 6503827 or visit Facebook and type ‘Happy Planet Project’ in the search box.

Meet some of the team behind The Happy Planet Project…

ORIGINALLY FROM NIGERIA, David Tokuta is a movie buff who would like to work on full-length animated films in the future.

“We didn’t know what we were diving into. It took our commitment to another level,” he says of the animation team’s initial involvement with the project.

“But it’s the kind of thing we’d do pro bono in a professional capacity anyway, because it’s about issues the world is concerned with such as health and the environment,” adds David. “We’re coming from a different perspective that everyone can relate to.”

Karlo Ian G. Balerite, the main animator alongside Imran Masqood Ahmed, is looking to work in either Japan or the United States, ideally in a company like Blizzard Entertainment, creator of the hugely popular World of Warcraft series.

Sahar Abdel Karim hopes to work in children’s animation in the Middle East, and would like to help kickstart the field in her native Sudan as well.

“I’m trying to take an animation industry back to where I come from,” she says, adding that dedication is a crucial factor for any wannabe animator.

Finally, tech support Ananya Sundararajan is excited by the possibilities presented by the burgeoning Dubai film industry and the opportunities available for students. “I’d like to do more independent film,” she adds.

“They’re a great team and I’m lucky to have them,” says Donna, who first conceived the idea for The Happy Planet Project two years ago.

adam@khaleejtimes.com