Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream
“Raya and the Last Dragon” is by Disney Animation Studios. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 16 April 2021

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream
  • Louaye Moulayess on why ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is his most personal project yet

DUBAI: Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess was born and raised in a divided nation. With Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon,” his latest major project, he had the chance to tell the story of a fictional land not unlike his own, and to lay out a path forward for how it may be united again.

“When I saw the screening of the film, I realized what the movie is about: It's about trust and what we can do if people come together. Coming from the Middle East, I really like that,” Moulayess tells Arab News. “You see all these different lands inspired from countless places, and basically you see them individually. But if they are so beautiful individually, what can they do if they come together?




Louaye Moulayess is a Lebanese animator. (Supplied)

“That message resonates a lot with me coming from Lebanon, as all this especially applies to Lebanon,” he continues. “I was really proud to be part of something that just tells that story. I like that message. I know It sounds simple, but if we can just show this to kids and families, for me, that would make me happy.”

“Raya and the Last Dragon,” directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, is set in the fictional kingdom of Kumandra, which is not based on the Middle East, but Southeast Asia. In this fantasy version of that region, humans and dragons once lived in harmony, before mistrust and political division tore the kingdom apart, causing the dragons to disappear and chaos to ensue. The film follows a princess named Raya who sets off on an adventure to unite the kingdom and bridge the gaps between the various warring factions.




“Raya and the Last Dragon” is Moulayess’s latest major project. (Supplied)

Moulayess wants people in the Middle East watching the movie to apply the film’s message of togetherness and collaboration not only to politics, however, but to all aspects of life.

“It applies especially to Lebanon, but I don’t want just that. Yes, you can apply this politically, but you can also apply this to your (apartment) complex, you know what I mean? It can be global, but you can also apply it to your circle of friends. This is the appeal for me. It doesn't have to be political. It doesn't have to be big,” says Moulayess.

Moulayess himself started small — growing up primarily in the Lebanese village of Elissar. From a young age, sitting on the couch with his brothers and sisters, Moulayess fell in love with Disney movies, and saw their ability to convey a powerful message. He knew, even back then, that was what he wanted to do with his life.




“Raya and the Last Dragon” is directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada. (Supplied)

“I felt something good. I'm like, ‘I want to be part of this.’ That was the first step. The problem was, I didn't see anybody do art (among) my family and friends. So I started doing computer science. And since there was starting to be computer animation, I said, ‘Maybe I can do something with the computer.’ I did computer science for a year. Didn't work. I didn't like it. It wasn't for me, basically,” says Moulayess.

Moulayess started researching, trying to figure out how he could get from his small village on the Western edge of the Mediterranean to the halls of Disney or Pixar on the other side of the world.

One day, he stumbled upon someone who could possibly help him, an animator at Pixar in San Francisco. Overcoming his nervousness, he decided to send him a message out of the blue.




Moulayess worked on the “Ice Age” films, “The Peanuts Movie” and “Ferdinand,” before finding a home at Disney, first animating “Frozen 2.” (Supplied)

“I was around 16 or 17. I emailed him and said, ‘Listen, I'm from Lebanon, this is the situation: I want to do animation. Can you help me?’ He was very kind, he replied right away. He told me, ‘Since you don't have a portfolio, try to go to this animation school in San Francisco. It’s expensive, so you’re going to have to have a job on the side.’ He just gave me a lot of good advice. And it's because of him that I made the decision to go to that school specifically,” says Moulayess.

When he’d completed his studies, he managed to land an internship at the place he had been dreaming of: Pixar.

“And guess who my mentor was? It was that animator. I said, ‘Hey, I want to show you something.’ I showed him the email I sent him when I was 16. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I'm here because of you.’ And it was honestly a great moment. It was like everything had aligned to have him as my mentor.”




In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” he was able to put himself in the film a little more literally than you may imagine. (Supplied)

Moulayess went from working on “Cars 2” at Pixar to Blue Sky Studios, working on the “Ice Age” films, “The Peanuts Movie” and “Ferdinand,” before finding a home at Disney, first animating “Frozen 2” before taking on “Raya and the Last Dragon.” At Disney, Moulayess is not only able to add his own voice to the legacy of the greatest animation studio in history, he’s also able to thrive precisely because of his background and perspective.

“I'm very proud to be here because of the diversity that they try to push every single day,” he says. “They understand that diversity will bring more to the table. I grew up in Lebanon, and I saw movies that maybe somebody else didn't see or shows that somebody else didn't see, I read books, I saw Arabic calligraphy, I saw my culture, and I have stories to tell that my gym teacher used to tell me from the village where he grew up. I mean, who else has that stuff?




Moulayess worked on “Cars 2” at Pixar to Blue Sky Studios. (Supplied)

“At the studio, the chief creatives understand it's in their best interest to bring diversity because it means more stories, more personality. I think studios around the world are starting to understand this as well,” he continues.

In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which he considers his most personal project among the 15 films he has so far worked on, he was able to put himself in the film a little more literally than you may imagine. In fact, one of the most memorable bit characters in the film was entirely Moulayess’ creation.

“I'm gonna give you my process,” he says. “Basically, I get asked to do shots. And for fun ones, I like to shoot references of myself in the room. I put a tripod, and I just act out the performance as much as I can. I'm a terrible actor, but I try to hit the beats that I want to hit. There’s one character holding flowers who has a very comedic moment in the film. I feel it's me, I put myself in this character. I shot the references. The directors, Don and Carlos, were laughing for, say, two to three minutes. That made me happy. They said, ‘Do exactly that.’ So I animated him exactly to my reference video. I feel that it's me in the screen.”

Moulayess smiles. “I’m going to tell you the truth,” he says. “I’m incredibly lucky.”


Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine
Updated 18 May 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine

DUBAI: US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has become the latest celebrity to speak out on social media about the current bombardment of Gaza by Israel and the forced evictions faced by Palesntians.

A number of big names have recently expressed their support for families facing eviction from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah while also condemning Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

In an Instagram video, Dubai-based entrepreneur and founder of the Huda Beauty brand, and skincare label Wishful, Kattan said: “I am really annoyed at some of the things that have been happening on some of the social media platforms.

“There have been very unjust things going on in Palestine right now. Hopefully, most of you have been able to experience the opportunity to buy your own home, and I just recently did. I can’t imagine somebody coming into the home that I built and telling me I have to leave and taking it away from me.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Huda Kattan (@huda)

The 37-year-old makeup artist also accused Instagram of hiding or “completely” deleting posts about Palestine. “It is really disappointing, because a lot of these outlets have outwardly said, ‘we are going to allow fake news.’ But they won’t allow us to post or protest?” she added.

“One of the gifts of social media is the equal opportunity to spread news and to spread the things of how we see them. But that’s not actual, it depends on which side you are fighting actually. Because if you are on the wrong side, it will get hidden, or deleted, or nobody is going to see it.

“I know I have a beauty brand and I am not supposed to talk about politics or whatever, but it is unjust, and I want to stand for what’s right whether or not it makes me unpopular,” Kattan said.


Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik

Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik
The model joined forces with Paris-based label Antik Batik. Supplied
Updated 18 May 2021

Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik

Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik

DUBAI: French womenswear label Antik Batik has just launched a new collaboration with Part-Egyptian model and activist Elisa Sednaoui Dellal’s nonprofit social enterprise Funtasia, helping children and teenagers obtain access to education geared toward their development.

The Antik Batik x Funtasia capsule collection, which was released this week, includes 11 pieces such as tops, trousers, a fringed jacket, and embroidered dresses, that are meant to be mixed and matched.

“Partnering with @antikbatik_paris is the dream collaboration,” wrote Sednaoui Dellal on Instagram. “#AntikBatik is a brand of integrity that creates handmade items in India. I’ve been their fan, and a client, for over 10 years. It’s been a joy to select my favorite pieces that I have most worn through the years and create what to me is the ideal summer suitcase, that will take you from day to night. Thank you to all of you that have already made a purchase, it blesses my heart.”

Meanwhile, 100 percent of the profits from the collection with the Paris-based brand, founded by Gabriela Cortese in 1992, will be donated to Funtasia, Sednaoui Dellal’s social enterprise.

It’s not the first time the Italy-born beauty, who spent a large portion of her childhood in Cairo, has collaborated with a fashion brand for a good cause.

Sednaoui Dellal, who has walked runways and featured in campaigns for prestigious brands such as Chanel and Roberto Cavalli, is on a constant quest to assist underprivileged youth in achieving their creative potential.

In 2020, the actress teamed up with France-based accessories label Josefina on a capsule collection of 16 leather carryalls, pouches, backpacks and accessories inspired by her Egyptian roots. Much like her most recent collection with Antik Batik, 100 percent of the profits from the collaboration benefited Funtasia.

That same year, she designed a capsule collection with Italian brand Spazio that was composed of black and white T-shirts printed with the words “Respect,” “Diversity,” “Empathy” and “Identity” in Italian.

More recently, the French-Italian-Egyptian philanthropist teamed up with Italy-based coffee roasting company Caffe Vergano in support of Funtasia.


Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care
Updated 18 May 2021

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

JEDDAH: Abeer Khafaji is a Saudi artist who designs and sells luxury jewelry for her brand, Tebr Jewelry. She discovered her love for the craft when she began experimenting with handmade jewelry.

“I began studying jewelry designing. It took several courses to hone my skills. Now I make sure that each piece is made with the utmost care, using the highest quality materials from the best suppliers,” Khafaji told Arab News.

Her jewelry is made with natural diamonds and precious and semi-precious stones that she chooses to match her designs. She also pays special attention to the packaging of her pieces, which is part of the “Tebr experience.” “My biggest challenge was finding manufacturers who could help me convert my ideas to physical products while maintaining the elegance I aim for,” she said. Tebr has participated in numerous local and international jewelry exhibitions. However, the designer said she gets the most joy out of her work when she sees her customers talking about her products and wearing them with pride. “My biggest achievement was opening a Tebr atelier in Jeddah,” she said.

Khafaji explained the process behind her work: “It takes a lot of time and effort to launch a new collection at the right time. We start working on these months in advance. It is a long process to choose stones that are compatible with my designs, so to ensure perfection we make the demos before the pieces are released. Then we arrange photography sessions with the crew, and then comes social media advertising. But thankfully, it’s all worth it in the end.”


Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments
Cult Gaia is a Los Angeles-based label founded by Jasmin Larian. Instagram
Updated 17 May 2021

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

DUBAI: Harvey Nichols Kuwait announced this week that they will no longer be stocking Cult Gaia products after the Los Angeles-based brand’s founder, Jasmin Larian, made comments on Instagram that were deemed by many on social media to be “anti-Palestine.”

Her post, which she shared with her 28,200 Instagram followers read: “I am seeing so much misinformation on social… One-sided and spreading hate. Please educate yourself on the full story before reposting. I’m praying for everyone on both sides who are a victim of this violence.” She also reposted a photo depicting the words “I support Israel’s right to defend itself.” 

Many in the region perceived her post as taking an anti-Palestine stance and engaging in “bothsidesism,” and urged local department stores and e-tailers to stop selling Cult Gaia products.  

In response to the backlash her post garnered, Larian, who is Iranian-Jewish, later shared: “I realize I am part of the problem by failing to share both sides.” She added, “I also want to be clear that I am in support of the Palestinian people and their rights but not of the leadership that uses them to incite violence and hatred for Israel and Jews. In a perfect world, Israel should be a place for all people and all religions.” However, a number of retailers have already made the decision to remove Cult Gaia from shelves.

Harvey Nichols in Kuwait took to Instagram on Monday to announce their decision to stop stocking the ready-to-wear label. “Our dear followers, due to the current escalation of events, the decision has been made to remove Cult Gaia from Harvey Nichols,” said the statement.

Galleries Lafayette in Doha followed suit, replying to a user calling for the boycott of the brand in an Instagram direct message that they are “in the process of taking the necessary action.”

Ounass, a leading luxury e-tailer in the region, has also stopped selling Cult Gaia products on its online platform as well as Bloomingdales Middle East.

The death toll in Gaza has climbed to a total of 197, including at least 58 children and 34 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Since the beginning of the Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip this week, at least 1,235 Palestinians have been injured, with the number expected to rise, the health ministry said.


Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear
Updated 17 May 2021

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

DUBAI: While Arab womenswear designers continue to take the international fashion scene and celebrity red carpets by storm, menswear is still a work in progress. Understanding the need to fill the gap in the market, cousins Abla and Raneen Kawar launched ARAK, creating unique designs for men and also shining a spotlight on Arab culture. 

With sustainability and community at the forefront of the brand’s ethos, ARAK is a social enterprise, empowering local women and preserving their fading culture. Here, the duo discusses their label, fusing fashion with technology, and why showcasing Middle East traditions is so important. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

Tell us about the idea behind ARAK.

We launched ARAK (meaning “I see you”) with the aim to preserve our Arab heritage by using artisanal skills and techniques in the production of our pieces, namely cross stitch embroidery. We grew up in a family that values sustainability and caring for the environment, so it’s important for us to carry out those values. 

Why focus on menswear?

We noticed the visible gap in the market, particularly with Arab menswear brands. So, we wanted to fill that gap by incorporating traditional Levantine embroidery through our designs. As part of our sustainability efforts, we only want to offer consumers garments that are not offered in the market today.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

You say ‘each garment narrates a wider narrative,’ how so?

Each collection we produce has an overarching narrative, which the designs are inspired by, and then each piece has a hidden narrative to tell – the story of the woman who spent endless hours creating it.                                                                                                                                  

Most of your artisans are underprivileged women in Jordan, why was this important to you?    

Part of ARAK’s ethos is female empowerment. We provide the women with jobs and the opportunity to be financially independent and to help them provide for their children, all from the comfort of their own home. It was important to support these women and destigmatize the taboo around women working in traditionally conservative households.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

How does your relationship work with the local NGO in Jordan?

ARAK works with a local NGO based in Amman, for the production and operation of embroidering the pieces in order to ensure quality and consistency. The local NGO launched in October 2020, aiming to help women build sustainable income as well as build their skills professionally. They work with a not-for-profit academy which offers 100 percent free artisanal courses for members in a bid to continue advancing their skills. We offer the women work with fair wages and ethical working conditions.

ARAK’s designs also fuse tech with tradition, tell us more.               

Today’s world is shifting towards being more tech-dependent. So, it was a no brainer that the initial step we would take as a brand was to implement a woven QR code attached to each garment. Our QR code allows purchasing customers to track how to care for their garment, be introduced to who made it, and identify our transparent practices. We hope to integrate more tech-savvy solutions to our brand in the future.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

What was the inspiration behind your SS21 collection?                     

Re-discovering our country from a new lens, particularly appreciating the little things as well as the beautiful landscapes that we took for granted pre-COVID-19. The designs in this collection, translate the beauty of the Jordanian landscape through embroidery.                              

What’s your opinion on the representation of Middle Eastern talent in the fashion industry?

The region is filled with incredible talent, many that are yet to be discovered. We believe that representation of the Middle East for what it is still has a long way to go to be perceived in the light it deserves. ARAK aims to do that by making sure all our work is supporting local talent, from the production down to the photographers, models and anyone involved in the creative process of our journey.