Shining a light on the growth of African animation and the importance collectives have on shaping and empowering young animators
Storytelling is an age old tradition which has been used as a way to educate, engage and preserve history. More specifically, in Africa, storytelling expressed through oral, written and animation are instances of self-representation that appeal to and reflect the lives of its viewers.
Niger-born Moustapha Allasane is often hailed as the Godfather of African animation, with his first contributions dating back to 1962. Allasane is an influential fabulist who is respected for his sharp political satire, through a series of animated, fictional and ethnographic films; parodying corruption of Niger's public officials and colonialist attitudes toward black Africans. Bon Voyage Sim is one of Allasane's earlier works.
Over the decades African animation has undergone remarkable change. There was a time when animations from African animators were few and far between, which saw the shift in focus of productions about Africa, by non Africans
"Animation from Africa, as a means of storytelling, still hasn't reached the pinnacle of its success".
OJ Okosun in a Nigerian animator and illustrator who has been animating since 1997. At times where funding for projects was at a low, Okosun turned to collective collaborations amongst other artists to aid with the development of characters or stories. “I've worked with Tayo Fasunon at Quadron studios. Emy of Ajebotoons and Nnamdi Nwoha from Area! Each of these animators have their own animation style and character design. It's always a big help to see how others come up with solutions to the same problems we face in our country.”
Animation is an art that is still relatively new to Nigeria,“it's still young, but I wouldn't say it's at its infancy”. Okoson adds, “most of the 2D, 3D and visual effects people here, are more or less self taught. Animation has really been accepted by Nigerians. More advertisers are willing to hire home talent instead of looking elsewhere”.
Although Okosun is widely known for his satirical approach to storytelling, he tells of times when the message of his story has been overshadowed by comedy, “In Nigeria people love comedy, anything that can make them laugh will go viral. On my YouTube channel I have videos on different topics. In my opinion, funny videos are the only videos that will get views and shares. It's quite annoying because if you're trying to deliver a message or inspire people, you have to make it funny”. He continues, “I once did an animated ad for an insurance company. I pitched a few ideas for them, after a while the boss says, “let it be funny”. The video was for funeral insurance. When you lose a loved one, there's nothing funny about that. But he was adamant that people won't share the video if it isn't funny. And therein lies the dilemma. You want to be taken seriously as an artist, but your people just want to laugh”.
"African animation studios resemble the climate of the industry in Japan during the height of the Anime phenomenon"
There are only a handful of platforms which showcase and reward animators as a vehicle of encouragement. The Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Lagos which screens every entry in animation, offers the winner a cash prize. In addition to the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) which has been running its dedicated animation category since 2008.
In 2009 Nigeria saw the emergence of Shrinkfish Media & Animation, which was started by siblings Ifeanacho and Ebele Okoye. Also in the same city, Abuja, EVCL began releasing educational clips. Although, Tinga Tinga Tales was commissioned by the BBC, it was produced in Kenya by Homeboyz Animation. Southern Africa and mainly South Africa has seen the emergence of probably the largest animation studios on the continent. Among them are the largely successful Triggerfish, Luma and Strika Entertainment. But the most interesting aspect of this situation is that these studios weren’t studios at all, in fact, they began as small teams or as duos in some cases. The animation space in Africa is still relatively small, with limited professional hands available. The absence of quality studios with the necessary technical equipment is a challenge that sees many individuals starting studios all over Africa in order to meet the needs of the market for animation.
Still image from The Legacy of Rubies
Ebele Okoye is a German 2D animation filmmaker of Nigerian descent based in Berlin. Ebele who works mostly with poetry, going against traditional elements of storytelling, “when I’m telling stories, what I have in mind is actually to sensitise people about societal problems”. She adds, “When I made my short film “The Legacy of Rubies” I specifically wanted to speak to African animators to encourage them to try and make quality animation films. I just needed to make a statement, anything is possible and Africans can make quality animations”.
African animation studios resemble the climate of the industry in Japan during the beginning of the anime phenomenon, where rather small but highly talented studios were scattered across the island taking its inspiration from the West. With the advent of the Internet and the use of digital tools, many emerging African animators have started training themselves, sharing and learning from social media forums. Despite the continents shortcomings, it’s rich with innative, animators from Morocco to Madagascar are showing increasing sophistication in a range of animation, from traditional cel animation to CG, stop-motion and 3D. It’s only a matter of time before African animation truly takes off.
Words: Mag Ibiam