Animation’s Rising Stars
While Nollywood is expanding rapidly, and Netflix has conveniently imprinted itself in Nigeria, further elevating the industry by producing higher quality productions, animation has been quietly emerging. It’s not entirely clear why more investment hasn’t yet gone into children’s content, as children are undoubtedly the largest consumers. As such, Nigeria’s animation sub-industry has its roots in comics books, where they have built a healthy audience that has now translated to a demand for it. Much like Nollywood at large, animation studios were resourceful self-starters who built their industry from nothing.
A lack of resources is typically a significant factor in all businesses in Nigeria, which is no different with animation. On average, it takes more resources and technology to produce high-quality animations, so this might explain why the sub-industry hasn’t caught up with Nollywood at large. But don’t underestimate this silent giant as its time is approaching rapidly.
Have you heard of Kugali? The entertainment company that recently signed with Disney to produce ‘Iwájú,’ an afro-futurism animation series set in Lagos. It’s slated to be released on Dinsey+ in 2022 and marks the first time Disney will partner with African storytellers on a long-form animation series.
Guest correspondent, Kenim Obaigbena, interviewed the dream team, Fikayo Adeola, Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku and Hamid Ibrahim.Three African go-getters – two of whom are Nigerians- who figured out how to crack one of the most challenging codes in the entertainment industry—executing an animation series with THE juggernaut studio, Disney. While I could write a dissertation as to why creating an animation series is one of the hardest things one can do, instead, let’s celebrate because when Nigerians meet opportunity, we don’t carry last.
Disney is a significant achievement. Well done! Was this the first studio you signed a deal with? What did it take to secure a series with Disney, and how is that process going?
Fikayo Adeola, CEO : Yes, Disney Animation is the first animation studio we’ve collaborated with.
Ultimately, this deal is the culmination of all the hard work we put in since day one. The traction we gained from making comics was what helped put us on the map. We had quite a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, which caught the attention of the BBC. Afterward, BBC did a feature with us, which then caught Disney Animation’s attention. They then looked at all the work we had done thus far and felt like we would be an ideal team to collaborate with.
What was your work experience before Kugali?
Fikayo Adeola, CEO: I’ve always been passionate about comics and cartoons, so working in animation makes a lot of sense for me. Initially, I studied economics and had a brief stint in banking and finance. Eventually, I realized this wasn’t for me, so I did a master’s in screenwriting and decided to combine my business acumen with my creative flair to start Kugali.
Hamid Ibrahim, Creative Director: Working on big blockbusters was my dream from when I was young, and I was fortunate to achieve it. I didn’t think it was possible from someone who came from my background.
After that, I noticed African visual entertainment had been left behind by the world. A new dream was then born, and my journey with African visual entertainment started.
How did you set up Kugali? What resources did it take, and how were you able to raise funds to put it together?
Fikayo Adeola, CEO: Kugali started as a pet project between myself and my two co-founders. Initially, we all bootstrapped working on it as a side project while we continued our day jobs. Eventually, we started to gain traction, which helped us raise some pre-seed investment. We also managed to get several government grants, which were a huge help.
Lack of resources is often a significant factor in Nollywood. Is that the reason Nigerian animations don’t quite match the quality we see in Hollywood? What would it take for us to get to that standard?
Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku, CTO: Yes. We certainly have the artistic skill in Nigeria to create world-class quality. But the animation industry does not have nearly enough funding to do this. Hollywood is almost twice as old as Nollywood, so this is akin to comparing a high school athlete with an Olympic athlete. To get Nigerian Animation to the standard of the current Hollywood, we would need to tread a similar path to them: consistently improving our craft through years and years of iteration. Most animation studios in Nigeria now cannot afford to do this because the only animation jobs here that pay now are short animated adverts. There are hardly any Nollywood studios hiring animation studios to produce animated movies or series. We’re happy we have a chance to pique their interest in this. As we say in Nigeria, I’m sure those with the resources to follow in our footsteps will not want to “carry last”.
For those that don’t understand the attention to detail and time it takes to execute a high-quality animation, please break it down for us.
Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku, CTO : The specifics of this process differ from studio to studio, and there is no one size fits all approach. Apart from being CTO, I also work with the editorial department at Kugali, and before we draw a single page of any comic, we have already spent a lot of time scrutinizing and polishing the core ideas and themes of the comic. This process is even much more rigorous in animation, because the camera can catch a lot more detail than still images can. One could write a whole book on this, so I will just summarize by saying it is similar to the editorial process of writing a book, but with an extra layer for visual development, and an extra layer for audio, and an extra layer for lighting, and an extra layer for camera angles and so on.
It takes years to develop a series, from the storytelling to the themes and the aesthetics. What does it take to put together a show with the likes of Disney?
Hamid Ibrahim, Creative Director: The creation of a high-quality animation show falls under the labour of love category, with multiple departments handling different creation areas. Both technical and artistic layered on top of the fact that the team is living on different continents. It takes a lot of creativity, project management, and love for multiple years. Fortunately, our project is awesome enough to keep us going.
Where did the concept for ‘Iwájú’ come from?
Fikayo Adeola, CEO: I grew up in Lagos, and I’ve always wanted to tell a story that shows the full breadth of what the city is about. The science-fiction allows me to be more imaginative and push the envelope.
Tell us about the Kugali app you’re developing?
Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku, CTO : Nowadays, most of us [businesses] need a website and an app as well if we’re going to reach large audiences. Our app is currently in alpha on Patreon so go check that out. As CTO, I’m responsible for planning and managing everything needed under the hood to make those things work smoothly.
Any final words?
Hamid Ibrahim, Creative Director: I hope to take African visual entertainment to heights most people cannot imagine. Kugali is the rocket I am using to get us there.
Fikayo Adeola, CEO: The only other thing to add is that patience is paramount. These deals can take a lot of time to hammer out.