Tag Archives: Mbuotidem Johnson

Word from the Basement

Nigerian animator Mbuotidem Johnson, CEO of Basement Animation, tells Content Nigeria about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on production, his company and the sector at large.

Mbuotidem Johnson

What do you think about the spread of Covid-19 and its effect on the economy?
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives and even how we do business. No one knows how long this will last. Many businesses have been forced to adapt to the situation and revamp their models and those that have not been able to quickly find and implement new models that work are going out of business. This has brought about massive lay-offs, unemployment and uncertainty all over the world.

Businesses in the media and entertainment industry are not left out as content distribution has been affected. For example, there are movies that ought to have been released in the cinemas in this period. However, the choice has to be made between releasing their movies now and not meet their targets as cinemas are shut down or have their release dates pushed later when they will have to compete with even more movies for the consumer’s money. So it’s not exactly a win-win situation.

Most productions have been temporarily shut down but you have kept production going at Basement. How did you do this?
We are able to work remotely because before the lockdown started all members of the production team were provided with the equipment they need to work from home. We also provide data allowances so that we can send all of the large files we need to send during the course of our work.

Meetings are being held on WhatsApp groups and video calls. The system is not perfect, yet as the unpredictability of power supply is an issue that affects our working hours. It’s a work in progress and we are facing the challenges as they come.

Are you working on any animated series at the moment?
Since late last year we joined the production team of one of the most popular kids animated series from Africa: Bino & Fino [from EVCL]. Depending on our responsibilities we will be on this project for the next few months. We are also in the development phase of our own IP: Adefellas. We hope to start the production phase soon.

Bino & Fino is aimed at two- to six-year-olds

How do you intend handling any unforeseen challenges you may encounter while working remotely?
The greatest challenge would be if any of us contracted the virus. That’s one of the reasons we encouraged everyone to start working from home before the lockdown directive was given. Other than that, we are still facing the same challenges we were faced with before the lockdown: reliable internet access and epileptic power supply. And because everyone has their unique challenges, we communicate regularly with everyone to know what challenges they may be facing and help figure out a way out of these challenges.

Do you think other animation production houses will follow suit? How can they manage what is going on without it affecting their productions?
I am in touch with a number of animation studios and many of them are still functioning. We all have the same issues about power supply and reliable internet access. Eventually everyone will decide what works best for them.

Looking forward, do you intend changing how you operate in the post-Covid-19 landscape?
I don’t think it will be back to business as usual after the lockdown. People will still be wary of crowded places for some time after it is called off.

For us at Basement Animation, we have been able to build a system where people can work remotely and we intend to continue working remotely for some time after the lockdown is called off until we are sure everywhere is safe, so as to protect the health of our staff. We are also growing our team so this will be an opportunity to work with talent from other states who will not have to relocate to Lagos to work with us.

What lessons do you think Nigerians can learn from this crisis, particularly in the Nollywood and animation industries?
We really cannot predict when these types of things will happen even though we have to make plans for them. We have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. For the Nollywood and animation industries, many of us in these industries only get paid when there’s a production going on and now that production has stopped, everyone has to rely on whatever savings they had before.

Perhaps we need to try a different approach to content production and distribution such that the content we create will have a longer life and consumption of these content is maximised. This could ensure that stakeholders continue to get some payment from their past works over the course of the life of the content.

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African prodcos reveal animated projects

African animation prodcos Triggerfish, Basement Animation and Arobase Studio have unveiled a series of new projects on the opening day of MipJunior in Cannes.

Adefellas is from Nigerian studio Basement Animation

South African studio Triggerfish has eight new projects in the works – four feature films and four TV series. The company is working to secure partnerships and greenlight its upcoming series.

The South African prodco also creates animated content for the gaming market, and producer Vanessa Ann Sinden revealed that the firm channels its profits from this to help fund upcoming TV and feature-length projects.

Additionally, Triggerfish will be establishing a Director’s Lab initiative in the coming year in order to train local talent and foster new directors of animated content. Sinden mentioned the Lab will focus on bringing through black, female talent in order to address issues of diversity. Triggerfish previously set up a Story Lab and Writers Lab.

Nigerian animation studio Basement Animation presented two new original projects, Adefellas and Tech Timi Out, both 26×11’. The new series are aimed at six- to 11-year-olds and keep Nigeria and Nigerian issues at the core of the stories.

The company’s creative director and producer, Mbuotidem Johnson, said the two projects are currently in development and are seeking to secure copro partnerships and distribution deals.

Meanwhile, the Ivorian animation studio Arobase Studio revealed that a second season of TV5 Monde-backed series Kassa the Messenger is currently in production.

The French-language series follows a grandfather and grandson duo as they learn about local culture as they explore the country with their pet dog.

On top of that, two additional series are also in development and seeking production partnerships and distribution. The series are The Queen and The Successor, and Tamia the Explorer.

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Animation goes DownTown

DownTown Lagos follows two friends who struggle to make it in the city

Nigerian animator Mbuotidem Johnson, CEO of Basement Animation, tells Content Nigeria about his new series DownTown Lagos, why he created it and the challenges he faced during production.

Mbuotidem Johnson

What inspired you to create DownTown Lagos?
At Basement Animation, we believe in responsible business practices. DownTown Lagos was created because we felt the need to use animation to address relevant social issues. This way, when we capture our viewers’ attention, we can pass across relevant, relatable information that addresses the current issue, albeit with a humorous tone.

What message is the show passing across to its audience?
DownTown Lagos is the story of two friends, Olajide Dollar and Chike Chicago, who despite their daily struggles are determined to ‘make it’ in Lagos after relocating to the city. Each episode will use animation and comedy to illustrate how they constantly come up with new and, more often than not, silly schemes to make money and become successful in the city. The show also touches on real issues affecting their community and Nigeria.

What challenges did you face during production?
The main challenge was a lack of constant power supply during the production process as the production of animated content requires constant power. Also, in the course of producing DownTown Lagos, we were transitioning to a new animation software to meet up with market and innovation demands. Finally, Basement Animation is a relatively small team, therefore we did not have a dedicated team focused solely on the project, and as such, a few of our projects had to be put on hold to enable us finish DownTown Lagos.

What shows do you have in the pipeline?
Our other upcoming animated content includes Tech Timi Out, Raga Shaga Mama and Adefellas. These are all currently in production. Basement Animation is one of the fastest growing animation studios in Lagos and is focused on producing qualitative kids, teen and family entertainment content.

DownTown Lagos aims to offer comedy with a message

In 2017, Basement Animation was mentioned as one of the top five Nigerian animation studios by Discop. That same year we had the opportunity to produce a TV commercial for Fupitoons Festival that was broadcast on Cartoon Network Africa.

In 2018, we coproduced the pilot episode of l’Arbre à Palimpseste, which won the Gulli Prize in Animation du Monde/MIFA pitch at the Annecy Animation Film Festival and was subsequently pre-bought by Gulli, the Lagardère-owned kids’ network. Basement Animation and two other African animation studios will kick off production in the third quarter of this year.

The pilot episode of DownTown Lagos, titled Do As I Say, was released just in time for the recently concluded election cycle in Nigeria. The episode encourages everyone to become more proactive as regards every aspect of nation-building, politically and service wise. It is not enough to be newspaper analysts or social media activists or everyday mourners of bad leadership. Our actions must follow our words and we must do as we say.

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FupiToons to feature TV toon Adefellas

Adefellas will be part of a one-hour screening at FupiToons

Satirical animated TV show Adefellas, from Nigeria’s Basement Animation Studios, will be screened at FupiToons Festival in November.

Mbuotidem Johnson

FupiToons is Africa’s first festival for African-made kids’ short animated films. It was set up by African Animation Network in partnership with Joburg Film Festival (JFF).

Mbuotidem Johnson, creative director at Basement Animation, told Content Nigeria: “Adefellas has been selected to be part of a one-hour screening at the FupiToons Festival, which will run parallel to Discop Johannesburg 2018 and tour Africa in 2019,”

FupiToons takes place at Cinema Nouveau Rosebank in Johannesburg during JFF between November 9 and 17.

“Adefellas is a humorous expose on friendship, dating, problem solving, education and socio-cultural commentary in an African context. Basement Animation decided to create Adefellas because there is a dearth of quality original African Animated content,” Johnson said.

“We believe, as African creatives, we are strategically positioned to tell our own unique stories of the issues facing us in a manner that not only entertains but also instils positive values in our kids.

“We feel excited at the opportunity to put Nigeria on the map when it comes to quality African Animation content. This will open doors for coproductions and more opportunities for other Nigerian animation studios.”

Adefellas is currently not being aired on any Nigerian television station but Basement is working on more episodes that will be made available on its YouTube channel in late 2019.

“The FupiToons Festival is an exciting time for Basement Animation and the Nigerian animation industry as a whole. It is an opportunity to put Nigeria at the forefront of the African animation revolution,” Johnson said.

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Drawing the future

Togo animator Ingrid Agbo’s TV series L’arbre à Palimpseste

Nigerian animator Mbuotidem Johnson tells Content Nigeria about the challenges facing his industry and his plans for his company, Basement Animation Studios.

The animation industry in Nigeria has often been overlooked, especially by audiences who are unaware of the power of storytelling with animation.

Mbuotidem Johnson, founder of industry body Animation Nigeria and creative director of production company Basement Animation Studios, told Content Nigeria about the problems plaguing the animation business, what is being done about them and – above all – how the industry is growing.

Mbuotidem Johnson

In a bid to address the many problems that hold back the industry, Johnson created Animation Nigeria, a non-profit organisation that aims to establish the Nigerian animation industry by ensuring adequate promotion and visibility, both locally and internationally.

Johnson also discloses the plans he has for Basement Animation Studios and the projects the company has been involved in so far. These include coproducing the pilot episode of TV series L’arbre à Palimpseste, from Togo studio Nebularts and animator Ingrid Agbo, which was selected for Annecy-MIFA Pitches Animation du Monde 2018 and awarded with The Gulli Prize.

As the founder of Animation Nigeria, can you give us an overview of your plans?
Animation Nigeria [AN] is a body that helps offer a better perspective on what we are about for the government and to help structure the animation industry. Before now, different studio heads have had such an idea of putting things together but have been met with a number of challenges. I didn’t know this until I started the organisation.

After I attended Discop 2016, I had a discussion with representatives from Animation South Africa and I told them about starting the same thing over here. We deliberated and they advised me on what to expect, from the difficulty of getting government attention to the benefits and flaws associated with it.

On returning, I contacted some studio heads based here, told them my vision and we began the process. As a non-profit organisation, we are still in the process of putting everything in place, because it’s a long process. Nevertheless, we’ve been able to partner with the African Animation Network [AAN], which is based in South Africa. We are looking over the whole network of Africa whilst trying to create synergy and collaboration between different countries.

AAN has been a big partner, supporting us at Discop and giving us opportunities to showcase things that have to do with our industry. A big win for AAN was when we went to Annecy in June and they partnered with Annecy in terms of the pitching competition within Africa. The finalist chosen from Africa also won at Annecy 2017. It was a huge deal, not only that they won but that a big channel network, Gulli in France, picked up their project. That was kudos for two years of hard work.

For AN, we have had a lot of discussions with studios trying to see how they can create their own IP. A lot of studios in Nigeria do more of service work – like advertising – rather than create their own content. Everyone is sceptical about doing that because it requires funding and to keep a studio afloat for a couple of years before any returns is quite difficult.

Would you say these challenges are particular to Nigeria?
Not really, but Nigeria has its own cases. Like having to run a studio with unstable power supply or a lot of animation companies going after projects in the same market because there are very few agencies available. These are some of the causes but some of these are normal challenges worldwide.

We started our project two years ago and focused on producing our own IP, which is why we began attending Discop and other markets. During that process we met Nebularts, a studio from Togo that was in the pitching competition. We coproduced their pilot episode that won at Annecy.

The perspective I’ve always been selling is how to get the studio funded without government support. In this country, we have a media industry, Nollywood, that produces content in a week with low budgets. But it takes us about two years to produce animated content, and this makes many prospective sponsors reluctant to support with funding because the returns are not as swift.

With this in mind, we decided to move into coproduction, partnering with studios that can produce quality content and reach out to other continents as well.

Presently, we are in talks with Ingrid Agbo (Nebularts), the owner of the IP, and studios from Burkina Faso and Madagascar, to coproduce a full 52×7’ season of L’arbre à Palimpseste, which was selected at Annecy. With this, we’ve broken the norm by working on coproduction based on our business formula and are able to fund the studio and get the necessary equipment. We keep producing and having a big network like Gulli pick up one of our projects has given us credibility, not only for Basement Animation but the animation industry in Nigeria.

How do you go about distribution?
For coproduced content, they’ve got Gulli ready to showcase it, and also putting in funds for the project. They also raise funds from different countries, some of these have policies put in place and the government tends to fund the project because a studio within their country is producing.

For our own content, we are in discussion with producers in France. We also pitched some of our ideas at Annecy in June and are working out the details. However, many companies are reluctant to sponsor a new studio and also one in another continent but our projects have given us credibility and we’re being taken seriously.

Do you have any plans to produce, coproduce and distribute shows in Nigeria?
Yes, we do. But it’s all about funding. Even when studios want to collaborate, getting the money is the question on everyone’s mind. Networks are also hesitant to fund animated projects; they usually tell us to produce it first and then they’ll buy it. Then studios get stuck because there is no one ready to invest.

With our own IPs, we’re thinking of other angles such as creating shortform shows rather than 11-minute episodes, distributing them online, gathering audiences and leveraging brand placement. From there we finally get our show in the market.

At the Annecy market, we had a number of companies offer to have our content on their platforms based on certain conditions, such as showcasing our content and generating income if we reach a certain number of views. They are not ready to invest but it is easier compared to doing 11-minute videos with no returns.

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