What is your name and your current occupation?
Ashraf Ghori. I am an artist and animation director. I also run my own digital design agency Xpanse CGI in Dubai UAE as its CEO.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I was an artist at Six Flags Astroworld in Houston doing caricatures, I also worked for a year as a laser show animator doing some outrageous events in the UAE.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I am proud of my comic books and fantasy art that I made in Houston, and of my first short film ‘Xero Error’ which also happened to be the first CGI Sci-fi Film produced in the UAE.
I love the projects I get to do while traveling to different countries. I did a TV commercial for Lux Progress in Cape Town, where I had to create a blob of green liquid shooting through dirty plates and cleaning them in its wake. I could’ve easily done this back home in Dubai, but the client preferred to take the whole team there, No complaints from me!
I was the art director for Malal which was also the first Indo-Emirati film. We got to shoot this in a picturesque green hill station in Kerala, India. It was a wondrous week of very satisfying work while dodging blood sucking leeches from the forest!
How did you become interested in animation?
Prior to ’94 I was only into comic book & fantasy art. Then games like ‘Mechwarrior2’ came on to the scene and totally blew my mind and inspired me to get into 3D. I’ve always been inspired by the original Tron but for the first time in my life I actually had tools to create such images – I started with 3D Studio DOS version.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from Hyderabad, India, but I’ve been in Dubai UAE, since I could remember. I’ve done my university degree in Houston.
I realized my love for 3D also had commercial applications. As a freelancer I was offered to do my first 3D animation work for a TV commercial. It was for Al Wataniya Chicken, and I had tocreate a dramatic egg with light rays bursting from its cracks. All funny when I think about it now.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
At a time we are usually handling about 3 projects at Xpanse. I do a recap with the guys, for what’s pending for the day and set some goals.
I am hands on involved in creative work as well as managing administration duties for Xpanse. Meetings are a big part of the day, whether it’s to meet new clients or follow up on existing projects. You might find me frequenting cafes in Dubai for my meetings. Almost always, I end up working late to make sure I accomplish my to-do list
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Having an outlet for creativity and not having to work for anyone. Even though I end up working long hours, or not earning enough, it’s still satisfying to know that I am doing it for myself and slowly working towards my goals.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The rescue operations. When working with a team, any number of things can go wrong. So me being the team leader is always responsible. That means if someone messes up I dive right in and fix it, sleep is not an option at such times. I miss working under more experienced people and learning from them.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
It’s an ongoing struggle working my way up from year to year. It is challenging financially to run a business here in Dubai and taking care of my family too. But I’m always taking small steps forward and hope for the best.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I work on BOXX systems. I use 3DSMax as my main 3D software. I also use the essential Adobe packages: Photoshop, Illustrator & After Effects for my work. I have a Wacom Cintiq 12WX which I use for artworks.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I get to travel to film festivals often so I do bump into a lot of stars and many great talents like Syd Mead & Bill Plympton. I am glad I do get to touch base with a lot of amazing animation talents on Facebook & twitter like Floyd Norman, Don Bluth, Marco Iozzi, James Stone, Marco Menco, as social media friends.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
To be honest by God’s grace, I’ve always had it easy and always compare myself to less fortunate people in the world who are suffering for lack of food and shelter.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I am trying to get my Xero Error and FOBcity films get started. I’ve been doing some writing, conceptualizing etc. and hope they see the light of day soon.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can wiggle my right ear, does that count? Otherwise I do mundane stuff like walking or swimming.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
WORK on your work. Polish it till it shines. A designer or animator is only as good as his or her portfolio. And don’t give up easily – if you’re in the business of creativity it is extremely challenging to deliver great stuff all the time and meet client expectations, but keep at it and practice often to learn and improve. Best of luck!