Nigerian-UK actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is set to voice the protagonist of an ambitious Emirati feature-length animation inspired by a figure in Arabic folklore.

The as-yet-untitled picture is inspired by the folkloric figure of Bilal, a black African slave who overcame adversity to become a heroic figure in Arabic culture.

It is the first major production by Dubai-based animation studio Barajoun Entertainment and the most ambitious animated work to come out of the UAE to date.

“He’s a real hero who lived 1,000 years ago,” Barajoun’s founding managing partner Ayman Jamal told a news conference on the fringes of the Dubai International Film Festival. 

“We like Marvel movies but feel there is a gap in showing real-life super-heroes and that was the point of starting this movie. Our hero is not a super-hero but a real-life hero,” he added.

Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known for his roles in Lost and Thor and soon to be seen in Annie and Game Of Thrones, said he had been drawn to the role by the expertise of the animation team as well as the character’s African origin and its Arabian setting.

“Even though he is centuries old, many of his traits and messages are relevant today – overcoming adversity, coming of age and working out who one is,” he added.

Barajoun began officially working on the project two-and-a-half years ago, said Jamal, although research and development had been going on for eight years.

A team of 80 top animation professionals, from 22 nations, with experience on a range of films, including Harry PotterLord Of The Rings and Shrek, are working on the production.

“We’ve been very quiet during this time because a project like this takes a lot of dedication but we’re in the final stage of production and we hope it will be released a year from today, so the final quarter of 2015,” he said. 

Barajoun had shown footage at the AFM earlier this year, he added, and the company was talking to a number of potential international partners. A first official trailer is due to be released in January.

He also said the company was now developing a second feature, set in Spain 400 years ago and revolving around another real-life historical hero.