The Animation Industry in Yemen

Extraordinary expansion of the business despite challenges
Ala'a Al-Shalali
July 14, 2023

The Animation Industry in Yemen

Extraordinary expansion of the business despite challenges
Ala'a Al-Shalali
July 14, 2023

Fine artists and animation makers in Yemen have recently become accustomed to competing in seasonal events for their artworks that are shown on satellite channels and social media platforms.

Indeed, competition has become evident between the producers of animated series in Yemen, due to the increasing demand for watching such works which withe attraction of viewers, especially young people, to follow them, in addition to the advertising support provided by commercial companies for these productions, according to the confirmations of a number of animation series makers in Yemen in their statements to "Khuyut".

It was amazing in recent years to note that many cartoon series were broadcasted through which those in charge of their production wanted to deliver educational messages that carry political and social content according to historical contexts that reflect the reality of the conflict that Yemenis are suffering from at the present time. On the other hand, some other cartoonists tried not to be drawn into the arena of conflict, and rather adhering to providing entertainment content far from disturbing the viewer's calm.

In this article, we tried to document how the process of artistic productions of animated series began in Yemen, and shed light on the most prominent of animators, as well as the difficulties that encountered the production. 

Hard beginnings

The production of animated films and cartoon series in Yemen began in 2005, when the Yemen Women Union produced a 20-minute film entitled "Salma... Justice Outside Our Village", written by: Mrs. Ramzia Al-Eryani, and illustrated by: Mazen Shuja Al-Din. The animation movie was executed in Akhenaten animation studio in Egypt and deals with the issue of a girl's education and the problem of revenge, but that film did not achieve much fame due to its limited public broadcasting and its screening on elite occasions.

“Hadhram Toon” is the first Yemeni cartoon series with a local Hadhrami dialect. It continued to be shown over many seasons, reaching eight parts in 2023. The series gained outstanding fame and great follow-up that no other Yemeni animation series achieved due to its satirical criticism of corruption issues in Hadramout and Yemen in general.

Moreover, in 2007, the "Showthab" Children's Foundation worked on producing seven cartoon episodes, each episode lasting 20 minutes, in a local context and in classical Arabic under the title of "The Return of Ahmed". It is a story whose episodes narrate the adventure of a Yemeni child accompanied by his friend, who flee their country, heading to Saudi Arabia to search for work. During their arduous journey through the mountains and deserts, one of them dies due to a snake bite, while the eleven-year-old surviving child continues his way to reach Saudi Arabia where he was forced to work there as a beggar. The goal of producing the film was, according to Mariam Al-Shawafi, director of the (Showthab for Childhood) Foundation, to "Khuyut"; It is to discourage mothers from sending their sons and daughters to Saudi Arabia to work as beggars.

Although the animation movie "The Return of Ahmed" was produced by one of the most important animation companies in Egypt at a cost of $30,000 and using 3D technology, the Yemeni channels at the time refused to broadcast it due to political considerations. This prompted its producers to copy the series into 16,000 compact discs (CDs), and distribute them to families in parks, schools, and markets in various parts of Yemen. The film was crowned in 2007, winning second place among the best artworks at the Cairo International Children's Film Festival. 

In 2008, a cartoon series was produced aimed at educating children about the dangers of sexual harassment, and that movie, which contained various songs, was displayed only in schools and places where children gather.

In his interview with "Khuyut", the visual artist, Mazen Shujaa El-Din, expresses his pride in the experience of his participation in the animation industry through the films "Salma" and "The Return of Ahmed". "We hope that real and serious experiences will be repeated for the animation series industry in Yemen, which is still in its infancy stage," Mazen told Khuyut.

Top Real kicks off

The year 2013 witnessed the launch of “Hadhram Toon”, which is the first Yemeni cartoon series with a local Hadhrami dialect. It continued to be shown through many seasons, reaching eight parts in the year 2023. The series gained outstanding fame and great follow-up on social media that no other Yemeni animation series achieved due to its ironic criticism of corruption issues in Hadramout and Yemen in general in addition to criticizing the negative phenomena in society, and the continuation of its production for eight seasons.

The series began and continued to be produced and directed by software engineer and Yemeni illustrator Badr Bin Hilabi, a young man in his twenties who began making animation while he was in his university classes, and his first work was sponsored by advertisements for commercial companies in 2008. However, that did not satisfy Badr’s ambitions, so he worked for three years on preparing and developing the idea of ​​producing the series "Hadhram Toon", as he pointed out in his interview with "Khuyut", adding: "The most important goal of producing the series of (Hadhram Toon) was to articulate our ideas and express the Yemeni identity, especially Hadhrami context."

Badr explained to Khuyut that when he thought of making a cartoon series, he used to draw the characters in the traditional way, and he looked closely at the Hadhramis, their clothes and their characters, and he remembered that he used to sit in cafes a lot unusually in order to see the forms and types of its visitors, and even their way of talking.

Badr learned to animate cartoons through lessons broadcast from the social networking site "YouTube" for three years, while he tried to be inspired by the techniques of "American style" and "Japanese style" in the "Hadhram Toon" series, after he obtained a permit from the "Autodesk" company. The company is a global specialist in the field of 3D production, which contributed to the development of his series. Badr focused on conveying the reality of people in Hadramout to the world, taking the advice of director David Al-Amoti, his professor at the British Academy of Insight Education.

Additionally, Badr bin Hilabi has also taken his consideration that the “Hadhram Toon” staff be completely local, as he involved many actors in Hadramout, such as: Ahmed Abdullah, Ahmed Mahrous, Mahfouz Bajabeer, Riyad bin Hatrash, Salem Al-Bakri, Abdullah Balqara, Afrah Mohammad, and Badia Bin Jubair, even the musical arrangement of the series was the work of the well-known Hadrami maestro, Mohammad Al-Qahoom. 

Remarkable successes

In Sana'a, there was competition between many animators, including the visual artist Mazen Al-Shalali, who succeeded last year in achieving great fame through his production of the series "Diary of the chief of Al-Hara", as he produced episodes broadcasted on social media known as "Basma", where some of these episodes were broadcasted on Yemeni radio stations.

Mazen recalls his beginnings in the animation industry in using a traditional and old ways, as he used to draw on paper and then enter the drawings into the computer via the "scanner", and then redraw them again with the mouse.

The parties to the conflict in Yemen are well aware of the importance of influencing children, through the messages they seek to deliver through cartoon series, which are receiving great interest and follow-up by Yemenis.

In his interview with "Khuyut", Mazen pointed out that the animation industry takes place through what is currently called (brainstorming), which is full time and preparing the mind and body to create the best that can be produced.

And he talks about his beginnings in entering the world of animation, saying: “The idea came after I took courses at the Government Telecomes Institute in Sana’a in 3D max and Adobe Flash, and these two programs are considered among the most important and powerful programs for the animation and games industry.

Over the past seven years, Mazen Al-Shalal has produced 40 animated videos, most of which were broadcasted on his YouTube channel. He also succeeded in establishing the "Al-Farqad" studio for the animation business in Sana'a, despite the poor economic conditions that artists and media professionals there suffer from.

Mazen pointed out that he faced many difficulties on a personal and public level, including the struggle of obtaining suitable devices and technologies for the animation industry due to their unavailability in the Yemeni market, which prompted him to request them from his friends outside Yemen.

For his part, the art critic Mustafa Al-Shami believes, in his interview with "Khuyut", that the parties to the conflict in Yemen are well aware of the importance of influencing children through the messages that they seek to deliver through cartoon series, which receive great interest and follow-up by Yemenis. He stressed on the significance of seizing some seasonal events to display, market and develop the animation business in Yemen, and work to compete with the finest animation productions in the Arab countries.

It is worth noting that there are dozens of Yemeni cartoon series in their local dialects, which enjoy great follow-up through their YouTube channels and other social media sites. Among the most prominent are the series: “Uncle Mokrad, Jaber and Latifa, Tanafis, Qasim’s Family, Za'akamah, Adeni Diaries.” 

The following are links to the most noticeable and famous channels that broadcast Yemeni cartoon series:

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