Why African animation is on the up
Johnson Mboutidem, founder of Lagos-based Basement Animation (Halima’s Vote, Joko & Dide) and member of trade body Animation Nigeria’s board of trustees, talks to Content Nigeria about the country coming under the spotlight at the recent Annecy festival and why African animation’s future looks bright.
You have come a long way in African animation. How has the experience been so far?
The experience has been a good one. At Animation Nigeria, we have always approached building the industry as a marathon rather than a sprint. Everything we have built up until now has been built with the perspective of longevity. The journey started out slowly, but now the ship is sailing well. One major highlight was the recently concluded Annecy International Animation Festival [MIFA], where the Nigerian animation industry was duly represented. It has been so amazing to experience how things have been evolving in the industry.
How was Annecy and what major highlights can you pinpoint?
This year’s festival was mind-blowing. In the previous two years, the festival took place virtually because of the pandemic, so it was exciting to finally be able to attend physically again. The turnout was massive. Beyond this, the icing on the cake was the MIFA event. Animation Nigeria had its own stand for the first time. We had support from the French embassy and Air France, and we were able to take more than 15 Nigerian animation studios to the festival. Another highlight was the Nigeria Focus @ MIFA event, where the winner and the four finalists of the International MIFA Campus Talents initiative got the chance to pitch their projects at the Partners Pitches event at Annecy.
Can you share some of your upcoming projects with us?
Animation Nigeria has always encouraged content creators to carry their ideas to the market. Presently, the top five selected projects for the 2022 edition of Nigeria Focus Annecy workshop are: Chuso & the Bandits by Tukur Kwairanga and Mustapha Bulama; Prepared to Die by Esther Kemi Gbadamosi; Ulegi by Somto Onubogu; Pepe n Tomati by Seyi Fajimi; and Tejumade by Adebimpe Adebambo. These projects are mostly still in development and should be looked out for when they hit the market.
As a trustee of Animation Nigeria, what would you say is the one thing that can make African animators stay relevant among their peers and competitors?
There is such high demand for African content in the market right now, and the potential that African indigenous stories have is what makes us distinct. Beyond the skill, the act of storytelling and the visual interpretation of these stories is what makes us stand out and remain relevant. African culture is unique and dynamic. In Nigeria alone, we have hundreds of tribes, languages and diverse cultures, and this is a strong selling point for us.
With the emergence of new and upcoming African animators, would you say the industry is doing better than a few years ago? How do you think it will look in the next few years?
The industry is doing better right now than ever before. I can categorically say there has been a steady growth in the quality of work that is being produced. Prior to now, African content creators were perceived in a certain way. We were looked at as poor people, from a poor continent that needed help. It was more or less a stereotype. People didn’t know that African animators and content creators were actually turning out stuff. So now that Africa has been highlighted, it has been like a discovery.
Disney has picked up a Nigerian project called Iwaju to develop; Cartoon Network has picked up Garbageboy & Trashcan; Netflix has picked up Mama K, which is being produced in South Africa… Most recently, Nigerian comic IP Iyanu was picked up by Cartoon Network and HBO. You can see that there is major focus and a high demand for African stories and content.
I am sure that in a couple of years from now, the African animation industry will boom just the way the music industry has boomed. We have experienced Nigerian artists – born and bred in Nigeria – winning Grammy Awards so, certainly, the same will happen for the animation industry as regards winning Academy Awards.
In terms of partnerships and collaborations, which make more impact, producing with African or international partners?
Creating African content is best done with Africans, not foreigners. We cannot deny the fact that experience and expertise is always needed in every project and our industry is still budding, so having collaborations that bring experts on board will have a very strong impact because we want our stories to be universal. We want them to travel far so we are not just telling African stories to Africans but to the whole world. So the collaborations work both ways, but African stories should always be told by Africans.
How can African animators leverage investment opportunities both locally and globally?
They must first understand that animation should be approached as teamwork, not a one-person project. It requires collaboration on all levels, from the story creation to the distribution of the final product. The landscape for investment in this industry is quite large. It does not just begin and end with producing content. If the content creators are open to collaborations, that can translate to investments on different levels, from creating and developing the original idea, to setting up an industry-standard studio, producing and distributing content, merchandising content, games, theme parks, books and so on. All of these can translate to income.