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)
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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.”


Thousands flock to Saudi capital for inaugural gaming extravaganza RUSH Festival

Thousands of video game lovers descended upon the Riyadh Front on Friday for the RUSH Festival. (Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)
Thousands of video game lovers descended upon the Riyadh Front on Friday for the RUSH Festival. (Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)
Updated 51 min 44 sec ago

Thousands flock to Saudi capital for inaugural gaming extravaganza RUSH Festival

Thousands of video game lovers descended upon the Riyadh Front on Friday for the RUSH Festival. (Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)

RIYADH: Thousands of video game lovers descended upon the Riyadh Front on Friday to kick off five days of gaming, shopping, cosplay, local food and entertainment at Saudi Arabia’s inaugural RUSH Festival. The e-sports games event is taking place until Oct. 26 in the Kingdom’s capital as part of Riyadh Season 2021.

“I’m honored to be here, it’s very entertaining,” said Othman Kisha, 23 year old software engineer from Riyadh.

Thirteen thousand tickets sold out on the first day, said Salah Chukri, one of the organizers behind the event. The first day of the gaming convention brought visitors ­— some dressed as their favorite video game characters — together to participate in a host of interactive games, compete against each other for prize money and pose with some of their favorite influencers and figures in the world of e-sports during meet and greet sessions. 

(Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)

“I love how with Riyadh Season, it’s sticking with the culture and giving everyone entertainment, such as the games and yesterday’s WWE (Crown Jewel) — it’s amazing how all these things are integrated with the culture of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

With a focus on the whole of the gaming industry, from console and PC gaming to mobile and esports, RUSH Festival aims to give video game aficionados the opportunity to access and experience the latest tech in e-games and the chance to interact with each other in real life, and online.

(Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)

“I’m in love with FIFA, I also love playing Call of Duty and will see other games here (at RUSH). I’m planning to play against Mosaad Aldossary. I want to be the first one to beat him,” said Kisha, referring to an award-winning gamer.

Additionally, the region is playing host to the PUBG Mobile e-sport tournament for the first time ever, after decamping from Los Angeles to Riyadh, with 16 teams hailing from all parts of the globe participating, including Saudi Arabian-based e-sports teams, “Power” and “25.”

“Our being here at the festival tonight let us know that we have the ambition to be innovators and to do a lot of great things,” said the 29-year-old founder of “25 E-Sports” Khalid Al-Shammari, better known by his gamer tag “KLOoODE25” — pronounced Khalloodi.

(Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)

“The e-sports gaming scene in Saudi Arabia is developing at a fast rate. In the next few years, we’re going to witness e-gaming compete at the level of sports like professional football and basketball. 

“It’ll become something foundational in sports,” he said.

25 E-Sports plays competitively in many games including FIFA, RocketLeague and Call of Duty. In over 600 championships this year alone, the gaming group came out top three in all of them, according to Al-Shammari, who personally loves to play Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. 

“We hope to see more visitors from all over the world here in Saudi Arabia, participating and enjoying festivals like RUSH and the Riyadh Season,” he concluded.


Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists

Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists
Updated 22 October 2021

Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists

Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists

DUBAI: Miss Universe UAE has unveiled 15 out of the 30 finalists set to compete in the inaugural beauty pageant.

Organizers took to social media on Thursday to reveal the names of the first contestants, along with their ages and where they live.

The finalists from Dubai include Dilnoza, 23, Alma, Emilia, Natalia, and Anita, all 24, 25-year-olds Sara and Reem, Bahar and Victoria, 26, Franki, 27, and Anna and Asher, 28.

Jasmin, 22, and Razan, 28, from Abu Dhabi, will compete in the next stage. The one contestant from Sharjah was named as Marwa, 23.

Fifteen contestants, out of the 30 models, will be selected on Nov. 5 and the Miss Universe UAE winner will be announced on Nov. 7 at an event at Dubai’s La Perle.

For Thursday’s announcement, the models were all dressed in covered gowns by Dubai-based label Amato Couture.

On Wednesday, pageant organizers revealed that former Miss Lebanon Nadine Nassib Njeim would be on the jury panel for the event.

In a video shared on the organization’s Instagram page, the 37-year-old Lebanese actress said: “I am very happy and honored to announce that I will be part of the official jury of Miss Universe UAE.”

To join the pageant, participants had to be aged between 18 and 28, and live in the UAE.

The committee includes founder and chief executive of Dubai’s Yugen Events, Josh Yugen, Dubai-based fashion designer Furne Amato, former British-Filipino beauty queen Maggie Wilson, philanthropist Alaf Meky, humanitarian Zel Ali, and general manager of Emaar, Sharihan Al-Mashary.

To adhere to the region’s culture, organizers revealed at a recent press conference that the swimwear segment would be eliminated from the competition. The event will feature contestants giving a personal statement and displays of couture activewear and evening gowns.

Miss Universe, which began in 1952, is the world’s biggest pageant. It was previously owned by former US president, Donald Trump.


IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition

IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition
Updated 22 October 2021

IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition

IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition
  • Highlights from ‘Lights of Lebanon,’ which presents more than 100 works from 55 artists in a show of solidarity with the Lebanese people

DUBAI: The Insitut du Monde Arabe in Paris is one of Europe’s most important repositories of Arab art and culture. In its latest exhibition, “Lights of Lebanon,” the institute “celebrates the prodigious creativity of modern and contemporary artists from Lebanon and its diasporas.”

The exhibition is split into three periods, running in reverse chronological order: 2005 to the present day (“Lebanon, a country of never-ending  reconstructions”), 1975-2005 (“The somber years”), and 1943 to 1975 (“The Golden Age”).

“What has always been the strength of the Lebanese … is that the fragility of their state never stopped them from moving forward, from building, even if they lived in constant risk. In short, they live in the present, without obscuring personal and collective memory,” the IMA’s museum curator Eric Delpont says in the show catalogue. “It seems to me that in the West, especially in Europe, we couldn’t do this, because we need a sense of security.”

Many of the works on display were donated by the prolific collectors of Arab art Claude and France Lemand. It was Claude who came up with the title of the show, explaining that he sees artists as the “Lights of Lebanon.”

“I mean above all those who have made Beirut the city of light of the East, who have shone at all times of its tormented history, even if over the decades, the dominant clans — who defend only their interests — have plunged Lebanon into political, economic, financial, social, health and even cultural chaos,” he says in the catalogue. “But Lebanon remains a country from which the light shines.”

Here, Arab News presents some highlights from the exhibition, which Lemand describes as just “just a drop in the ocean, as far as this devastated country is concerned, but at least we have the satisfaction of having motivated and even inspired many artists, of all generations.”

Zena Assi

‘Holding On By A Thread’

Assi is one of several artists from the diaspora featured in the exhibition. Claude Lemand felt it important to stress that the show was dedicated to “all those who have links with the country” and believes the fact that the diaspora is so widespread shows that “Lebanon is not just Lebanon; it goes far beyond the small country and its small population and it echoes throughout the world.”

Assi is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in London. This incredibly detailed 2012 piece is typical of her works, which — the exhibition brochure explains — are “punctuated with visual references to eastern cities, particularly Beirut, and the difficulties endured by migrants from different backgrounds – anonymous tightrope walkers clinging onto life by a thread. Her fragmented cities reflect the migratory and urban violence, and the violence in Beirut. Bundles of memories, identity-based burdens, and emotional baggage, she describes their wanderings in cities that are represented as a kaleidoscope of symbols and codes: graffiti on the walls, billboards, contemporary souks, and luxury goods.”

Shaffic Abboud

‘Cinema Christine’

Abboud is widely regarded as one of the — if not the — most important modern Lebanese artists. He is best known for his paintings, several of which feature in the “Lights of Lebanon” exhibition, and particularly for his richly textured abstract works, but this piece is something of a curio. It was created in 1964 for his daughter Christine and was inspired by the picture boxes of itinerant storytellers who would travel from village to village, enthralling the children. “Cinema Christine” is a working model of such a box, complete with magic lamp and narrative scrolls.

Ayman Baalbaki

‘The End’

Baalbaki’s bleak dystopian image was selected to open the show — presumably a deliberate statement that Lebanon has now reached rock bottom (perhaps tempered with the hope that, from such a point, the only way is up). The artist has spent much of his career exploring the numerous conflicts in the region through his art — his images of veiled fighters have proved particularly popular. This piece, created over the last five years, is less confrontational but equally powerful.

Etel Adnan

‘Al-Sayyab, The Lost Mother and Child’

The much-revered artist, writer and poet is still prolific today, aged 96, and is widely regarded as Lebanon’s greatest female artist. She is best known for her colorful impressionist landscapes, but has described her artist books (or ‘leporellos’) such as this one as “particularly important” parts of her portfolio. In the leporellos, inspired by Japanese folding books, Adnan complements her writing with drawings in ink and watercolor. “I avoided using traditional calligraphy, although it is wonderful, to highlight my personal writing, which, in its very imperfection, brings the person writing into the work,” she states in the show catalogue, which goes on to explain that Adnan uses the horizontal, foldable format to “create works that can be extended into space — ‘a liberation of the text and images.’”

Fatima El-Hajj

‘Promenade’

El-Hajj’s work is displayed in the second part of the exhibition (“The somber age”), but — as Claude Lemand explains in the catalogue — her vibrant work can be seen as defiance in the face of the violence and destruction that surrounded her as she began her artistic career around the time that the Civil War broke out in the mid-Seventies. “She experienced the entire civil war and all the wars and misfortunes that followed; she still suffers in body and soul, but she has never painted war scenes or scenes of destruction,” he says. “For her, painting is eternal; she’s developed thinking and a world that transcends war and death.”


Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?
Updated 22 October 2021

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?
  • We see if the award-winning Japanese restaurant lives up to the hype

RIYADH: When ROKA opened its doors in downtown Riyadh at the end of July, it was an immediate hit with local food lovers. So much so that reservations needed to be made well in advance.

Now that the hullabaloo around the launch has died down a little, it’s easier to get a spot, but ROKA is proving to be more than a flash in the pan. The Japanese restaurant has won plenty of awards in its home city of London, and its first international branch — which opened in Dubai last year — demonstrated the chain’s eagerness to maintain those high standards. Its latest offering, located in the heart of the Saudi capital, is following suit.

First impressions are good. The interior’s upscale rustic Japanese style and classy lighting suggest an easy, unpretentious sophistication, while its scale — seating for up to 243 guests — shows a confident ambition.

The interior’s upscale rustic Japanese style and classy lighting suggest an easy, unpretentious sophistication, while its scale — seating for up to 243 guests — shows a confident ambition. (Supplied)

The serving staff were unfailingly excellent; clearly knowledgeable about the food and comfortable recommending a tailored selection based on individual preferences.

Great service and nice decor are all well and good, but the most important ingredient in ROKA’s success is, of course, the menu.

Starting with the mocktails, we sampled nearly every option. One highlight was the Green Yoda — a blend of matcha green tea, passion fruit and a bright burst of lemon; perfect as a palate refresher between courses.

The lamb cutlets with Korean spices and sesame cucumber is one of the stars of the grilled menu. (Supplied)

But matcha is an acquired taste. If you’ve yet to acquire it, we’d recommend the White Lotus, a tempting mix of dragon fruit, lychee, strawberry and yuzu that goes well with any meal. We didn’t enjoy the Yuzuki as much, even though it came highly recommended by the ROKA team. It tasted somehow watered down and was quite bland.

Any disappointment at the Yuzuki was quickly tempered by the yellowtail sashimi and yuzu-truffle dressing that got our dinner started with a bang. The earthy truffle flavors were the perfect complement to the subtle sweetness of the melt-in-your-mouth fish — amplifying its natural flavors while preserving the integrity of its cut.

The sweet potato tempura and truffle sauce was less of a hit. The presentation — as with every dish — was superb, but the taste was underwhelming and lacked the punch we were expecting.

ROKA opened its doors in downtown Riyadh at the end of July. (Supplied)

We were on safer ground with the king crab, black cod and prawn dumplings with roasted chili dressing, which deserves its tag as one of ROKA’s signature dishes. The exterior of the dumpling had been seared to create a satisfying layer of crunch packed with an array of sweet seafood flavors.

For our maki rolls, we selected the wagyu tartare maki with karashi mustard, along with the crispy prawn and avocado maki with dark sweet soy. Both were fantastic, and we’d list them as must-try options.

The evening’s standout dish, though, was the black cod marinated in yuzu miso and served with pickled radish. The cod’s crunchy exterior and sweet creamy center matched with the tang of the yuzu miso is a perfect combination, making this truly the best cod we’ve tasted in Riyadh. Pair it with ROKA’s baked potato with yuzu cream and chives served tableside to make it even better.

ROKA’s offers baked potato with yuzu cream and chives. (Supplied)

If you’re not a seafood fan, then go for the Robata meat section, which offers a wide selection cooked live at the grilling station. (The restaurant is famed for its Robatayaki cooking method — the grilling technique that gives the meat a satisfying charred flavor.) Our only meat selection was the lamb cutlets with Korean spices and sesame cucumber. Apparently this is one of the stars of the grilled menu, but we found it fell a bit short of ROKA’s general high standards. The plating was once again beautiful — the lamb chops delicately balanced against each other — but the flavors were unbalanced, with the disappointing spice blend overpowering the tenderness of the lamb and leaving little room for flavors to be infused from the grill.

But our night ended on a high note with the yoghurt and almond cake. It’s a favorite on the Dubai branch’s menu and we can see why. The cake’s hard crust hides a warm, fluffy almond sponge that is topped with a mango toffee sauce and a dollop of caramel miso ice cream. It’s essentially an upscale, deconstructed mango cobbler, and it’s delicious; a perfect blend of warm, comforting flavors that brought our dinner to a very satisfying end.

Overall, ROKA justified its reputation as one of Riyadh’s most exciting new eateries.


Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences

Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences
Updated 22 October 2021

Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences

Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences
  • Teen horror show relies on earnest allegories and family-friendly scares

LONDON: Teen horror is a surprisingly tricky thing to get right. Go to far with the ‘horror’ and it makes it unsuitable for teen audiences. Go to far with the ‘teen’ and it makes it a tough sell for anyone else. In an attempt to tread this finest of lines, Disney+ has opted to adapt the works of prolific teen-horror writer R. L. Stine into a new, eight-part anthology series, featuring standalone episodes and a cast of fresh young actors.

 When a young girl realizes that the monster stalking her (“My Monster”) is created by her anxiety following her parents’ divorce, she discovers it only chases her if she keeps running. (Supplied)

“Just Beyond” covers a lot of ground in those eight episodes — from aliens and monsters to ghosts and alternate universes. Each episode stays unerringly on the right side of family-friendly, with just the occasional jump scare and a tendency to wrap every episode up with a nice, narrative bow by the time the credits roll. Fans of Stine’s books and graphic novels will find a lot to like in “Just Beyond”.

A grieving son takes his widowed mother for granted (“The Treehouse”) until a trip to an alternate dimension teaches him to appreciate that they both miss his dad. You get the idea. (Supplied)

Where the series really finds its feet is during its more allegorical moments. In among the stories of witches and ghouls are some heart-warming (yet still teen-friendly) parallels. When a young girl realizes that the monster stalking her (“My Monster”) is created by her anxiety following her parents’ divorce, she discovers it only chases her if she keeps running. A teenage witch tries to hide her gifts from her friends (“Which Witch”) until she realizes that they love her no matter what. A grieving son takes his widowed mother for granted (“The Treehouse”) until a trip to an alternate dimension teaches him to appreciate that they both miss his dad. You get the idea.

Some of the messages are a little heavy handed, and some of the performances a little over earnest. But though “Just Beyond” can be a tad on the nose, that’s probably what it’s going for. Parents, admittedly, might not find a huge amount to draw them in, but this show isn’t really for them, as the title of the first episode in the series makes clear. Its name? “Leave Them Kids Alone.”