Earlier this week an article made its way online titled "Why animation and storytelling are growing in Saudi Arabia." This draws attention to a rapidly changing marketplace: the Saudi Kingdom. Before we talk about this specific article, a recap is warranted of how Saudi Arabia is transforming.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has made headlines the past couple years for the sweeping reforms he's pressed for throughout the nation. It's part of his Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to bolster non-petroleum industries, living standards, and the nation's culture. Last September, the ban on women driving was lifted; several state enterprises have been privatized. Most relevant to this blog though, just this year the ban on cinemas was lifted.
Since the 1980s, the kingdom forbid public cinemas. Hardline clerics warned that it'd lead to immorality and other ills. However, the clerics have watched their political leverage wane over the past few years. Mohammad bin Salman pushed ahead, and in January The Emoji Movie was shown on a makeshift screen, the first public screening in decades. It took a few months for an actual cinema to be built, but last month, an AMC in the capital city of Riyadh screened Black Panther, thus marking a brand new era for Saudi entertainment.
Now that's not to say that the Saudi people have been cut off from entertainment altogether. Out-of-theater distribution, such as DVDs and digital streaming, has been popular for years. Plus, people with the means to do so simply traveled to neighboring nations to visit the cinemas there. It's also worth noting that films entering the country still have to pass certain censorship requirements. At the very least though, it's a step forward - and potentially a lucrative opportunity. More cinemas are being built. If Vision 2030 is successful, and living standards rise, more people will have money to spend on entertainment. That could mean healthy box office takes for any film that manages to get into the country. That's especially good news for animators, who put together effects for the biggest blockbusters and create animated films that already win over global audiences.
It's not just news for international animators though. Saudi Arabia has its own artists, ready and eager to show off to audiences. That leads back to the article mentioned at the beginning of this post. For example, Verve Studios, established in 2015, has thirty "partners" that it works with to deliver animation. At Effat University, an all-female school, a major is now offered in Visual and Digital Production. It's the first filmmaking major to be offered in Saudi Arabia. The article also talks about Samaher Bantan, who mentions companies asking animators for "an ad or a video for their websites." An animation community already exists in the kingdom; the ground is being laid for it to expand even more.
The resources are cropping up, and animation is being given room to breathe and spread its wings. There are still twelve years to go in Saudi Vision 2030, but by the end of those twelve years we may see a country that, among other things, loves and celebrates animation as much as anyone else. It's worth keeping an eye on, to see what else may come next.
Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production. We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.