Ex-Disney Animator's "Muhammad" Animated Feature!
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  1. #1

    Ex-Disney Animator's "Muhammad" Animated Feature!

    'Muhammad' Movie Sets Out Religious Hurdles for Makers
    Animated feature being shown in the Mideast is a collaboration between a U.S. director and an Arab businessman, who call it a 'bridge maker.'
    By Tony Perry
    L.A.Times Staff Writer

    November 3 2002

    MUSCAT, Oman -- As Ahmed bin Khalifan and his two sons hurried toward the Al Shatti Plaza movie complex, he knew exactly what he wanted to see.

    Not "Bad Company" with Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins. "Too vulgar, too American," said the 35-year-old plumbing contractor. And not "K-19: The Widowmaker," with Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson. "The reviews were bad," he said.

    The Khalifans, arriving in a late-model Lexus, were headed for the animated feature "Muhammad: The Last Prophet," which is attracting respectable, if not blockbuster, audiences throughout the Middle East since opening Oct. 16.

    "This is family entertainment," said Khalifan with a nod as his sons, ages 9 and 11, headed for the snack bar.

    That the 90-minute movie was even made is a testament to the collaboration between a former Disney animation director and a Middle Eastern businessman eager to break into the movie business.

    "When we began, people were very skeptical but I knew there would be an audience if we did things right," said Muwaffak Harithy, whose other credits include working in his family's construction, maintenance, real estate and portfolio management interests.

    "This movie is a bridge maker, a way to show Islam the way it truly is," said Harithy, chairman of Syria-based Badr Intl. "The journey has been the reward."

    A half-dozen years and upward of $10 million in the making, the film had to fight objections by Islamic clerics concerned about how their holy story of Muhammad and the Koran would be handled by a moviemaking technique associated with Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.

    For openers, director and producer Richard Rich -- selected by Harithy because of his animation experience and track record of successful religious films -- faced an obstacle that few moviemakers encounter: His hero could not appear on screen.

    Islamic law considers it a sin to display images of Muhammad, the 7th century prophet who spoke out against corrupt political and military leaders in Mecca, was driven into exile, and later led a battle to liberate the holy city from nonbelievers.

    "We knew from day one that our main character could not be seen and could not be heard," Rich said. "Our goal was to be true to Islam, not to give our version or interpretation of it."

    Muhammad is symbolized by blinding light. His words are never heard, but his message is relayed by a loyal follower who is persecuted.

    Rich and other employees of his Rich-Crest Animation in Burbank videotaped themselves acting each scene. The tape would then be sent over the Internet to animators in South Korea, a process known as "smacking." Nearly 196,000 drawings were needed before "Muhammad" was finished.

    The ghost of the 1976 "The Message," another biopic of the prophet, starring Anthony Quinn (as Muhammad's uncle, Hamza) hung over the production. The Quinn movie drew protests from Islamic fundamentalists incensed over a rumor that Charlton Heston or Peter O'Toole would play Muhammad.

    The Moroccan government withdrew permission for filming, and the company took refuge in Libya under the sponsorship of Moammar Kadafi, which only increased the controversy. The effort was a financial flop.

    To avoid the same fate, "Muhammad: The Last Prophet" omitted not just the prophet but also his uncle.

    And the film was submitted to Shiite clerics in Lebanon and scholars at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most respected theological center in the Sunni Muslim world. With minor changes, both gave their stamp of approval.

    Still, the chief censor in Egypt, invited to a sneak preview, was incensed at scenes showing Muslims smashing idols that looked like Pharaonic statues. The scenes were cut, and the movie opened as scheduled.

    In Oman, a traditional Islamic society where Western influence is not as apparent as in more tourist-dependent Persian Gulf countries, "Muhammad" was approved by the state censor without a hitch. The Al Shatti Plaza complex is part of an outdoor mall popular with the middle and upper-middle classes.

    Rich worked 14 years in the Disney animation department before leaving in the mid-1980s to start his own company.

    At Disney, he directed "The Fox and the Hound" and "The Black Cauldron." For his own firm, he has directed "The Swan Princess," "The King and I," and "The Trumpet of the Swan," as well as more than 50 videos from stories taken from scriptures and world history, including the "Animated Heroes Series" that aired on HBO.

    For "Muhammad," Rich wanted an epic feel, something that "captures the moment."

    The colors are vivid, the movement lifelike and captivating, and even a viewer who doesn't speak Arabic is drawn into the drama of the battle for Mecca. Composer William Kidd, a Hollywood veteran, did the musical score.

    Initial plans were for "Muhammad" to be shown in the U.S. with English subtitles.

    Movie publicist Don Barrett pitched distributors with the idea that, more than ever, the U.S. needs a movie that can help Americans understand the founding of Islam. The reaction, he said, was not encouraging.

    "9/11 has complicated the problem [of getting the movie shown] in the U.S.," Barrett said.

    In Oman, and eight other countries in the region, there is no such problem. The audience this night included families, younger teenagers and even a German couple on holiday.

    "Now my sons will have more respect for Muhammad the prophet because he has his own movie," explained Khalifan as he left the theater.
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  2. #2
    Knowing Rich and his work...I am QUITE curious to see this film or even come across images of it! :bounce:
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Elk River, Minnesota
    I like his movies. My parents own many of the Living Scriptures and others he has done.

    I am having a hard time imagining this movie where Muhammad is not seen at all and is shown as only a light. He was a man, a prophet according to Muslims, yet still a man, so I don't understand why they cant show him as a person.

  4. #4
    That is a question for someone who understands the Muslim doctrines. Makes no sense to me personally.
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  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Headed down I-95 south to Orlando with 3 yowling cats!!
    The reason why they can't have pictures of Muhammad is because the Qur'an specifically forbids idol worship. The showing of a person with god-like qualities would go against the Islamic belief that there is nothing like God. This comes from when Muhammad conquered Mecca and destroyed the idols at the Ka'bah. The Ka'bah is the place (you've probably seen it, it looks like a big cube) that muslims face when they pray. The idols were seen as going against the reverence of God. After the idols were destroyed, Muhammad had all of the images of Abraham and idolistic images within the Ka'bah destroyed. The only one left to remain was of the Virgin Mary. So, in a nutshell, the reason that they can't show Muhammad is because the image of him could be seen as an idol.
    Last edited by Disneypro; 11-06-2002 at 10:15 AM.
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  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Elk River, Minnesota
    I can respect that, but it still doesn't make sense to me. An idol is something you worship, so if they worshipped a picture od Muhammad then that is bad, but just showing a picture of him - how is that bad?

  7. #7
    There in lies the rub of the aspects of any religion. It's all up to interpretation.
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  8. #8
    Granted not much to go by...but at least here's the poster image for this film...
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  9. #9
    Here's the film info gotten off of Arab-Actors-

    MUHAMMAD The Last Prophet

    More than fourteen centuries ago, Mecca was filled with gambling, drunkenness, superstition, slavery, the mistreatment of women, and greed. The holy Ka’bah was littered with idol gods. Pilgrims came by the thousands to worship them. Quarysh, Mecca’s ruling body, reveled in their good fortune but cared little for the welfare of the pilgrims of Arabia.

    Against this dismal scene, a man named Muhammad (pbuh) retreated to a cave high above Mecca to pray. The events that transpired in that cave changed the course of human history. The archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad (pbuh) and his prophetic mission began. He was to restore Mecca to the pure religion of Abraham, to the way of charity, and to the belief in the one and only God.

    At first, Muhammad (pbuh) preached only in private. His words were recorded and collected as the Holy Koran. These powerful preaching were transforming the lives of humble Meccans everywhere. Rumors of his teachings began to swirl around the city. Quarysh became anxious. When Muhammad (pbuh) finally declared himself in public, Quarysh launched into a campaign of intimidation. But the new muslims were full of faith, not fear. Powerful converts like Bilal, Hamzah, and Abu Bakr were won each day.

    The years that followed in Mecca were trying and bitter. Quarysh vacillated between pleading with Muhammad (pbuh) to stop his preaching and out and out violence against his followers. After a boycott against Muhammad (Pbuh) and his people was obliterated by a dramatic revelation, Quarysh finally attempted to assassinate Muhammad (pbuh) in his sleep. Rescued once again by the help of God and good friends, the Prophet escaped to nearby Medinah where fellow Muslims vowed to take him in and protect him if he would only bring peace to their strife-ridden city.

    The Muslims prospered in Medinah. There, the first mosque was built and the new, young religion could worship in peace – and yet, Quarysh had confiscated much of their goods before their exodus from Mecca and began trading them to neighboring countries. An attempt to regain some of their badly needed resources resulted in the Battle of Badr in which three hundred Muslims under the direction of Muhammad (pbuh) defeated a well-equipped Meccan band three times their size.

    The battle of Uhud would follow. Vastly outnumbered once again, the Muslims routed the Meccans at first, but when soldiers went against the inspired direction of Muhammad (pbuh) they suffered a crushing defeat.

    Hoping to deal a final blow to the man who had caused them so much grief, the Meccans came again, this time with the greatest army Arabia had ever seen. Muhammad (pbuh) directed the digging of an enormous ditch around Medinah which kept the Muslims safe until an act of God dispersed the Meccan army for good.

    Now the tables had turned. Whereas Mecca and Quarysh had once been mighty and invincible, Muhammad (pbuh) and Medinah had surpassed them. Converts flowed into Medinah as the message of the Holy Koran was spread abroad. Sensing their growing strength and the blessings of God, Muhammad (Pbuh) turned his sights back to Mecca.

    Despite their superior strength, the Muslims returned to Mecca peacefully. Only the idol gods were dealt with harshly. They were purged from the holy Ka’bah and the establishment of a new order began. From Mecca would go the message and revelation that would transform the world.

    Developing the screenplay for Muhammad (pbuh) The Last Prophet involved exhaustive research of the best historical materials available. The story itself was heavily supervised by UCLA-educated screenwriter, Ms. Firdosi Wharton-Ali, and UCLA professor of Islamic Law, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl. Each draft of the screenplay was scrutinized for its accuracy as well as its faithfulness to the mission and message of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The final screenplay was submitted to Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy for review, and approval was received prior to production. A

    finished film was recently submitted to Al-Azhar Al-Sharief and a screenplay approval of the film was received pending a correction, that Badr is implementing.

    Film Consulting Team:

    Dr. Khalid Abou El Fadl UCLA

    Ms. Firdosi Wharton-Ali UCLA

    Dr. John L. Esposito Georgetown University

    Dr. John S. Voll Georgetown University

    The Making of the Film

    Muhammad (pbuh) the Last Prophet has been in production for two years and includes more than 196,000 drawings. It was created as a traditional two-dimensional film, but the computer has played a huge role in its creation. Each “cell” is computer painted and fantastic computer effects can be found throughout the production.

    All the designing for the film took place at RichCrest Animation in Burbank, California. Under the watchful eye and careful hand of the film’s executive producer, a devout Muslim, characters and backgrounds were created to bring ancient Mecca and its people to life. The designers are all top professionals in their particular discipline as well as accomplished fine artists in their own right. After extensive study they went to work. The result is stunning.

    Bringing the vivid characters of Islam’s history to life required an exhaustive search among professional theatre, television, and film actors. Once they were selected, director Richard Rich took them through a series of recording sessions, making sure that each performance was distinct and precise. Early on in the casting it became clear that the voice of Abu Talib would be crucial. Though not an adherent to Islam, Abu Talib was a loving uncle to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). His was the responsibility to support his nephew but also to lead, placate, and sometimes stand up to his peers of Quarysh. The voice needed strength, majesty, but also kindness and a gentle quality. It was found in Eli Allem, a veteran actor of stage and screen. With each recording session it became clear that Eli was creating a unique and powerful performance. Finally, his job was done. On the day after his final recording session, he passed away.

    It is to the film’s great fortune that Abu Talib was Eli’s final performance in life. The power of Muhammad’s mission as portrayed in the film shines more brightly for Eli’s magnetic performance.

    William Kidd has created a thrilling epic score that illuminates this most important moment and man in history. Mr. Kidd helped solve on of the film’s greatest challenges. According to tradition, the Prophet (pbuh) is not physically portrayed in the film. How then does the filmmaker convey his presence in a powerful way? Cinematically, Mr. Rich used the camera’s point-of-view to indicate the comings and goings of the Prophet (pbuh). But this technique is completely brought to life by an unforgettable melody created by Mr. Kidd. The effect is stirring.

    Muhammad the Last Prophet is a pioneering film in many ways. It brings the life of God’s Prophet (pbuh) to millions in a new and exciting way. It will also be the first movie in cinematic history that will be finished in high definition video, then transferred to film. It is the hope of all those who have worked on the film that this retelling of the story of Muhammad (pbuh) will bring a new peace and understanding to our world.

    The Producer

    Badr International Corporation, a British Virgin Islands Corporation, is a development stage production and distribution company in the entertainment business formed to produce films and video material for television, theater, and the home video market. Its products will be specifically targeted to the worldwide Islamic market, which is grossly under served in quality production material dealing with their cultural beliefs and interests.

    It is Company’s vision to become the major provider of high quality Islamic animated stories, episodes, and series for distribution to Islamic countries and people worldwide. Such stories will be produced in Arabic, English and other significant languages in the Muslim world. Badr will embark upon an aggressive program of developing animated programs that will capture the hearts and interest of the Islamic people. Simultaneously, the Company will initiate efforts to creatively market and identify distribution channels to effectively distribute product for maximum visibility.

    The Company’s primary mission is to convey knowledge and cultural values through the medium of animation in an entertainment format, targeted to the entire family as a single audience. Through a long-term commitment to this mission, Badr will be known as an entity that produces and distributes high quality family oriented entertainment that is educational and enjoyable to view.

    To implement this mission, Badr is utilizing the successful formats of the American film industry, and its expertise in producing animated films. By combining the vast cultural material from Islam with the "Hollywood" style of production, the Company will produce entertaining and educating films unlike those available in the Islamic marketplace today. The content of the productions will encompass a range of topics including religion, history, and cultural issues.

    In order to establish the Badr's presence as a premier provider of Islamic entertainment, the Company has embarked upon the development of a prestigious and high quality animated full- length feature film, Mohammed (pbuh): The Last Prophet, regarding the life of Mohammed (pbuh). The film, which will be approximately ninety minutes, is planned for release during 2001.

    Other Projects of Badr: Due to be release this year

    Before The Light: From Zamzam to the Year of the Elephant

    Salman, The Persian: A companion to the Prophet (pbuh)

    Great Women of Islam at the Time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

    The Production Team

    The Director

    Richard Rich

    After fourteen years of experience at Disney, which included directing the animated classic “THE FOX AND THE HOUND” Richard went on to form Rich Animation Studios. Since that time he has directed dozens of high-quality animated tales like “THE ANIMATED HERO CLASSICS” (in conjunction with Time-Warner) which were featured on HBO. He enjoys bringing drama and laughter to the screen accompanied with a message that tugs at the heart and changes lives. He has directed more than seventy short form stories and six feature length movies, including the popular “SWAN PRINCESS” series and E.B. White’s “THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN” which will be distributed by Tristar for the Spring of 2001. Directing “Muhammad, the Last Prophet” has been an incredible journey for the veteran filmmaker. Of the experience, he states, “Bringing his story to life has been an enormous challenge but it has given me a great appreciation for what Muhammad has accomplished for the world.”

    The Screenplay Writer

    Brian Nissen

    While working on his Master’s degree in acting from The California Institute of the Arts Brian wrote a one-act play that won the American College Theatre Festival’s Best Short Play Award. It was consequently produced and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Since that time Brian has been writing screenplays for RichCrest Animation. His credits include over sixty short form screenplays and five feature length screenplays.

    Music Composer

    William Kidd

    William Kidd was educated in composition, conducting, and orchestration at the prestigious Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Southern California. In 1992 he won an Emmy for best original score and received an Emmy nomination in 1990 for his musical direction of the 62nd Academy Awards Show. He has orchestrated scores for numerous motion pictures including STAR TREK VI, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and KARATE KID III. His work is heard in movie theaters, on television sets, and in theme parks across the world.

    Production Company

    A Brief History of RichCrest Animation

    Originating in 1984 as Rich Animation Studios, RichCrest has established a reputation for top quality family animation. For years it produced religious videos along with its critically acclaimed “Animated Heroes Series” which ran on HBO. In 1994 Rich entered the feature market with the theatrical release of its animated classic, “THE SWAN PRINCESS”. Two sequels quickly followed. Rich Animation then teamed with larger Hollywood studios to produce the features “THE KING AND I”, “SCARECROW”, and “THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN”. In 2000 Rich was acquired by Crest, an animation company based in India, and became RichCrest Animation. RichCrest now looks to the future with a greatly enhanced capability in the exciting new world of computer animation.
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  10. #10
    One image...
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  11. #11
    And another...
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  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2002
    8 miles from DLR!
    :mEars: Is this being released here in the U.S.? It looks like a video or DVD that I would like to have. Hopefully in English! :mEars:
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  13. #13
    Highly doubtful we'll get a release over here...unless if one lives near or knows of an Arabic run store that might have it on video once they release it as such. It's certainly intriguing!
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  14. #14
    Join Date
    May 2002
    8 miles from DLR!
    :mEars: That's what I was afraid of! Bummer! It does sound as though it would be both interesting & educational if in English. :mEars:
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  15. #15
    IDD! I'm quite up on all the things being created in the animation world...but this film really slipped by me till it was released by the studio! So I'm quite curious as to what it's like! Even if it's in arabic with english subtitles...sounds educational.
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