The “In Conversation” session of Roger Allers, writer-director of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet - the closing night gala at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival, with fellow animator Mohamed Saeed Harib offered interesting insights into the career of the admired animator whose passion for the art goes back to when he was only four years old.
Allers said Disney’s Peter Pan influenced him so much that he always wanted to be a “Disney animator”. However, he went through several setbacks, including an early rejection by the art school and three of his first feature film projects never making it to the screen.
His advice to animators, therefore, was “to follow your passion, talk to people to learn more and find opportunities and never to give up. It always helps to know what everyone less does in the studio”, said Allers. “So, find time to talk to others to learn what they do.”
Allers, who started his career working with a studio doing the entire breadth of animation work, finally got his big break with The Lion King, which he co-directed. The Academy Award-nominated animator (The Little Matchgirl) said he had been profoundly influenced by Gibran’s The Prophet, which he read as a student. “It brought a big change of consciousness within me, and that has stayed with me ever since.”
He said the book finds resonance in people across the world, and was “very excited” with the opportunity to create the film, co-funded by Doha Film Institute. “The film is not just my vision; it is the vision of all the different directors.”
Allers said his task, entrusted by the film’s producer Salma Hayek-Pinault, was to create a “narrative that binds the different poems”, adding that Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is very different from other animated films as it presents philosophical observations on life.
Philosophical takes, however, have been not been new to him. Allers said The Lion King connected to audiences because “it explores deep themes – the subject of loss, finding that connection within, dealing within and finding one’s place in the world. It was about finding one’s own way to live responsibly for the community”.
On the transition from hand-drawn animation to computer-generated (CG) effects, he said ultimately “the vocabulary is the same for traditional and CG animation”.
Narrating his experience of working on Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and the evolution of the industry, Harib said it was a great time for animators and filmmakers to be in the Middle East – the testament being the close collaboration of the region’s talent on the path-breaking film that has gained worldwide acclaim.
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