How a Dubai-based startup is changing the face of Middle East VR filmmaking

Entrepreneurs believe VR technology could soon be used in schools. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 January 2020

How a Dubai-based startup is changing the face of Middle East VR filmmaking

  • Karim Saad created the Middle East’s first VR filming start-up in 2013 after a lifetime of fascination with technology
  • Giga Works offers VR marketing campaigns to top brands and creates immersive entertainment

ALEXANDRIA: Advances in virtual reality (VR) technology are opening a new world of possibilities in areas ranging from filmmaking to medicine, merging the digital and physical worlds to create fully immersive, life-like experiences.

For Karim Saad, VR was an obsession that started at a young age. After graduating in the 1990s with a degree in filmmaking from Saint Joseph University in Beirut, he began exploring his talents in many creative ways.

“When I was in college, filmmaking was primitive. But by the time I graduated, a noticeable shift in filmmaking started to take place,” he said.

It was not until 2012 that Saad had his first VR experience at a trade fair in Germany. “I remember the day I first put on a VR headset, a beta version of the Oculus we know today,” he said.

“Despite it being just a prototype, I was amazed and determined to bring this technology to the UAE. One year later, I did.”

In 2013, the Middle East’s first VR filming startup was born. Around the same time, the Oculus Rift headset was released, and Saad began experimenting with the technology.

“I was obsessed with VR and 360 videos. I would buy equipment all the time and document everything — from weekend travels to day-to-day life — and show my friends, family, network and even potential clients. By the time I started Giga Works, I already had more than what I needed, in terms of tools.”

Two years after launching the startup, Saad got his first real job — a marketing campaign for a food product imported into the UAE.

The campaign revolved around the concept of comparing old and new Dubai.

Using the Oculus Rift for the first time in the region, Saad delivered a video experience that plunges the viewer into the desert in a vintage Land Rover (also one of the first cars to come into the UAE) and then suddenly takes them to the “new” Dubai, featuring the Marina Skyline, Sky Dive Dubai and more.

The campaign was just the beginning for Saad and his VR startup.

“When it comes to tech, people are reluctant to try new things. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced was introducing VR to the conventional marketing landscape in the UAE,” he said.

“VR marketing isn’t cheap, but it is worth it. It offers immersive experiences that help customers connect with the brand and product in new and exciting ways. I try to overcome this obstacle by educating people about VR’s uses and potential.”

According to Saad, VR today is only at 5 percent of its potential. Future uses will include sports, recruitment, medicine and education.

“With VR tech, you can access a wider audience,” he said. “VR education, for example, will enable those with limited resources or funds to go to schools and get an education virtually.”

In a TED Talk last year, Saad spoke about “smart education” and explained how VR would soon replace schools.

“The uses are exponential and up to our imagination,” he said.

“There are no limits to what we can do with this technology, especially when you combine AR (augmented reality) and VR to create mixed reality.”

Giga Works conducts VR marketing campaigns for leading brands, creating travel experiences, documentaries, educational videos and immersive entertainment.

Now the futuristic filmmaker is working on an immersive VR expedition around Antarctica to raise awareness about global warming.

“For me, the next phase is all about telling stories, creating art and filming more movies. VR has come a long way, but still has a long way to go,” he said.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 

 


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”