Penning an art through animation


Penning an  art through animation

He turned his back on a secure job and decided to do what he loved: art. It was a risk, but one that young Emirati cartoonist 
Khaled bin Hamad was willing to take when he discovered Freej. He hasn’t looked back since. A brush with the creator of the Dubai Expo’s official cartoon characters


Kelly Clarke

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Published: Sat 24 Aug 2013, 9:33 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:19 AM

After sticking out a career in IT for close to five years, despite loathing every minute of it, Emirati cartoonist Khaled bin Hamad broke away from the norm, much like he did in high school, and re-started life again at 28.

With a passion for art stemming from a young age, Hamad wasn’t your typical boy and would rather pick up a paintbrush than talk cars with friends.

A lover of martial arts too, the popular student didn’t follow conventions, but managed to evade the ‘nerd label’, despite his love of all things creative.

Despite penning a number of impressive drawings as a youngster, Hamad thought it was “impossible” to make a living doing what he loved and felt pressured to choose a more “acceptable” career path.

“When I was in high school I loved art…but people kept telling me IT is what people want. So that’s what I did.”

Born and raised in the country’s Capital, Hamad was keen to study media, but due to cultural influences — and a “lack of appreciation” for art in Abu Dhabi — IT came calling.

After receiving his Bachelors degree from Abu Dhabi’s Higher Colleges of Technology, the naïve graduate struck lucky and walked into a full-time job.

With his creative flare still dangling in the background, Hamad hoped the new position would be anchored more towards the graphic design elements of computing, but he soon realised he’d made a “big mistake”.

“I hated IT to be completely honest. All I was doing was programming,” he says.

Bored with the path he was going down, Hamad was determined to make a change so started attending art classes, although at that time, he says, art was always pushed towards something cultural.

“All you could do was paint or draw falcons, camels…I wasn’t interested in that,” but he says he conformed to the style to stay within the “bounds of acceptable art”.

Soon after discovering Freej — an Emirati-based animated television series — the budding artist began to realise he could make the switch from art as a hobby, to art as a way of putting food on the table.

“That was one of the biggest decisions that made me make the shift. Freej started a new feel, movement in regards to art in the emirates. People became interested in art,” he says.

And so came the turning point.

“I knew I couldn’t be happy unless I was doing something that I really loved,” he says.

And after turning his back on a secure job and high salary, Hamad took a “leap of faith” and decided to re-enter the world of education, despite warnings from people that a career change was a “risky move”.

A self-described expressionist, Hamad said he found it easy to communicate with people so combined the two and chose to study a Master’s in marketing in Japan.

After relocating to Osaka, the 28-year-old fell in love with Japanese pop culture and started attending manga classes — a popular Japanese animation style — and not long after stumbled across a particular manga, which he says, “changed my life”.

“It was called Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue. It was beautiful artwork on every single page and it blew my mind. It is the best (manga) I have ever seen in my whole life.”

This discovery, combined with his earlier introduction to Freej, saw his love for animation grow more apparent and the aspiring cartoonist, who had began brainstorming ideas for his own comic before the big move, began to visualise the finished product.

Not long after his most famous workings to date was born — Nasser’s Secret.

Intent on creating a never-before-seen, UAE-based sci-fi novel, Hamad says he was sick of seeing the same genres plastered across the television in the Gulf region.

“Lots of the shows here (in the UAE) are either comedies or really depressing dramas. I wanted to do something original.”

Based on the disappearance of three teenagers for three days, Nasser’s Secret depicts how they return after those three days, 15 years older.

Initially published as a visual comic, the intricate imagery unfolds the events that occurred during those ‘lost days’ and Hamad is now working on turning the project into an animated television series with a “pilot coming soon”, he says.

With a real grasp of animation beginning to take hold, art began to dominate Hamad’s life in Osaka and after being asked to exhibit some of his artwork in Japan, his family began to realise the extent of his talent.

“The great thing with my family is they trust me. It was always an acceptance thing with them, not support as such. They had the attitude of ‘let’s just wait and see’,” he says.

Now back in the UAE, with the countrywide success of Nasser’s Secret propelling Hamad to respectable artist status, the thirty-something has partnered up with the Expo 2020 team in a project he describes as “exciting.”

Creator of the Expo’s official cartoon characters, Hamad is set to become the talking point of the UAE art scene with the work to be exhibited worldwide, during the lead up to the bid’s final announcement in November.

“This (Expo 2020) project will go global, so the exposure will help me…it’s a big step for me,” he says.

The comic series he has created revolves around one Emirati family, and the dreams of their fun-loving son, Nahyan — who Hamad says bears a striking resemblance to his own 5-year-old nephew.

Nahyan hopes to one day exhibit his new invention at the Expo 2020 and Hamad illustrates the young Emirati boy’s journey through a series of fun animations, introducing a number of other characters along the way including Nahyan’s sister Shamma, his parents Um and Abu Nahyan, and his grandfather El Waled and the storyboards will be appearing on the official Dubai World Expo 2020 social media pages.

Taking inspiration from some of the industry’s quirkiest innovators, including film director Peter Jackson, Hamad’s battle to shake off the negative perceptions towards art have proved successful, and despite a number of struggles along the way, he is positive for the future.

“Art is about how to be creative and how to influence people with it in your daily life. As a career, I’m still working on it, but eventually, I want (my art) to go global.”

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