26-year-old, self-taught Nigerian animator Ridwan Moshood, recognised by the Cartoon Network Africa Creative Lab for his animation Garbage Boy and Trash Can, was inspired by a bad experience at high school, involving a rubbish bin and school bullies. Determined to learn how to make cartoons, he spent hours in internet cafés in Lagos, watching YouTube lessons and taking notes. “I would go to a cyber-café, watch video tutorials and write down whatever I’d learnt,” he says.
While stories of self-taught animators breaking into the industry are inspiring, more formal training opportunities do need to be developed, he Nick Wilson who reels off a list of countries where local animators are starting to make their mark: Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique and Burkina Faso. “Wherever we’ve been able to scratch the surface and connect the community, we’ve found pretty exceptional talent and the majority of this talent is self-taught,” he says.
A Cameroonian animator, Doh D Daiga, who lives in Burkina Faso, is responsible for skills and development at the African Animation Network. “My experience in this industry shows me there exists an immense pool of young, talented and creative minds that never get to the see the day,” he says. “The only problem keeping Africa behind is a lack of training,” adds Daiga.
While there seems to be a lack of training, the local productions have already started taking off. Chris Morgan of Fundi Films was able to draw on a pan-African talent pool for his recent production, My Better World- an educational series aiming at African schoolchildren and young teenagers being able to work remotely across the continent.
My Better World quickly became the top rating children’s TV show when it was broadcasted in Kenya, earlier this year. It was also nominated for this year’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival, one of the world’s top animation competitions.
However, not all African animation work is aimed at the schoolchildren and teenagers.
Nairobi-based artist and animator Ng’endo Mukii’s film Yellow Fever, tackles the use of whitening creams by African women. “I wanted to look at the way women are using skin bleaching products in Kenya, and what we believe is beautiful,” she says, adding she wants “to know why”. She aims at using the medium to tell stories that are challenging and confronting at the same time. For her, animation is the ideal way to approach sensitive or hard-hitting issues related to the society. “Animation allows people to have an anonymity and a distance between what they say and how others perceive it,” she says.
INCRESED DEMAND DURING THE PANDEMIC
While more African animators win professional acclaim, international studios have started taking note of the continent’s grassroots industry. International OTT platforms like Netflix acquired its first African animation, Mama K’s Team 4 – a cartoon about four teenage girls set in Lusaka, Zambia last year. Foreign companies such as Pixar are also hiring Africa-based animators to carry out production services for their films. “There is an incredible demand for animated content right now. This was true even before the pandemic because the streaming networks are really hungry for new content; and animation is a great way to get viewers from all different audiences,” says Rob Salkowitz, a Hollywood and entertainment reporter at Forbes. This happened because live productions were shut down or limited to socially-distanced teams.
As more Africans join the industry, some face obstacles while getting their content to reach the local screens since it is cheaper for broadcasters to import content than to fund original ones. However, the African Animation Network aims at looking into these issues and solving them by launching a TV network of their own. “We’re on that precipice of being potentially a thriving and sustainable industry,” says Nick Wilson.