ADVENTURES OF ALAYO, a story about a hungry man whose wish for food came alive in unusual way, was one of the five nominees for the best animation at the 6th Africa Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria in April 2010. It was the only one from sub-Saharan Africa as the others were from Algeria and Egypt. The creator of that film, Nigerian Olanrewaju Oluwafemi, speaks to ArtMatters.Info about his affair with animation.
Please introduce yourself.
I am 30 years old and the CEO/Director of Lafem Animation, a registered two-time award-winning classical 2-D Animation production studio/company located in Lagos, Nigeria. I learned animation during my 12 years residency in the USA. I graduated from Mifflin High School, Columbus, Ohio and studied Accounting at the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. The style of animation that I do is hand-drawn (2-D). It consists of a rapid display of a sequence of images to give a believable illusion of movement. Examples of popular animated cartoons of this genre/style include The Lion King, The Simpsons, Tom & Jerry, and Voltron. My company also specialises in Storyboards & Animatics production, Kids Content-Development, Mascot-Creation, and Character Animation. Other than that I am a prospective member of the International Association of Animation Filmmakers (ASIFA). I am consolidating efforts to establish the Sub-Saharan Africa chapter of this prestigious international association, with Nigeria as the headquarters.
Animated films are a rarity in Nigeria’s film production, how has it been venturing out in this genre in your country?
Animation production is a different ball-game as it demands a skill set that isn’t widely available locally more so it can be expensive to produce. Precisely, I specialize in 2-D animation, I do the Classical/traditional/hand-drawn style that’s associated with Walt Disney, Warner Bros, and DreamWorks. This style requires skilled proficiency in draftsmanship (drawing skills) as well as very technical knowledge of motion and animation. It’s a purely technical craft that can be time-consuming and can take some time to master. Unfortunately, this knowledge is often expensive to acquire and can only be obtained in the West. For me, I am fortunate to have lived 12 years of my life in the USA where I was able to learn the craft . I am self-taught, by the way. However, living in the US exposed me to animation in a way that I wouldn’t have here in Africa; I had access to equipment, software, mentorship, materials/books that helped me develop the skill. So far, I do most of the drawing and animation of my films, while my wife helps with digital painting, scanning and compositing. My vision is to hopefully obtain a loan that would enable me set-up a world-class studio where I can hire and churn out animated films that tell African stories. I was recently contacted by a British firm which is interested in producing 52-episodes of a 15-minute length animated series for the African market. This has made me see the need to train and proliferate my knowledge in order to position Nigeria/Africa as a viable destination for outsourced animated jobs from the West (as is the case with India, South Korea, China, and Malaysia), as well as produce animated films that tell our stories as Africans via the medium.
Is Nigeria ready for animated films?
Definitely, the market is there. In fact, the market extends beyond Nigerian and African shores, as our indigenous films have proved. The opportunities are ever-increasing. However, the only impediment is the lack of trained animators to help tap into the huge market.
What is the real story behind Adventures of Alayo?
The idea behind ADVENTURES OF ALAYO was borne out of my desire to do an animated short subject that would appeal to a much wider audience than my previous animated shorts. The difference between ADVENTURES OF ALAYO and my previous films was the fact that it had no dialogue, which greatly enhanced its appeal. I have submitted my animations to international festivals where they have won awards; however, I discovered that my animations could have greater appeal and acceptance internationally if done without dialogue. This decision has paid off a great deal because at last count, ADVENTURES OF ALAYO has been officially selected by more than 10 international film festivals in Africa, Europe and North America. I’m currently working on a five-minute animated film which is in post-production; it has no dialogue and I believe it’s my best animation to date, and I expect it to go very far at international film festivals.
How has ADVENTURES OF ALAYO, an unusual film in Nollywood, been received?
So far the reception’s been very encouraging. It’s been selected in more than 10 international film festivals all over the world and was one of the five nominees in the ‘Best Animation’ category at the recently concluded 6th Africa Movie Academy Awards where it narrowly lost to an Egyptian short film, Honayn’s Shoe by Mohamed Ghazala.
What was the cost of producing Adventures of Alayo?
The overall budget for the film was approximately US$2000.
Had you worked on any other projects before ADVENTURES OF ALAYO?
Yes I have 10 animated shorts to my credit, as well as numerous advertisements. The films I have worked on include: OFFICIALLY AFRICAN, CHEF DE SOUND, POLICE REPORT, LAGOS SANITIZER, THE ADVENTURES OF ALAYO, ONE NIGERIA ONE NATION, NAIJA CHICKEN, NIGERIAN BALLER, PLAQUE DARE-TALK, and NATIONAL CAKE EMBEZZLEMENT.
What chance does animation stand in the Nigerian film sector?
With enough skilled hands, animation will definitely prove a viable alternative and complement to the local indigenous Nollywood film sector.
What is the future of animation on the wider African continent?
I see a bright future for animation on the continent. Currently, the global animation industry is worth an estimated US$80 billion. The major players in this global market are the USA, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. Interestingly, these countries are evolving from animation production-dominated societies to consumer entertainment-dominated society. In other words, they now outsource the production of most of the animation they consume to other countries, a majority of which are developing countries where costs are cheaper and therefore attractive: India, Malaysia, China, The Philippines, Thailand, and more recently, South Africa. Consequently, this development has created a huge window of opportunity for outsource destination countries to attract hundred of millions of dollars in revenue via animation productions/co-productions. Currently, India and China lead the pack as the preferred outsource destination countries. I believe that Africa can favourably compete with both countries as we have the manpower to do so, but we first must develop an army of proficient animators to achieve this.
Are you working on any other animated film? Can we expect a longer animated film from you any time soon?
Yes. I’m working on a five-minute length animated short. The working title for the film is ‘THE AUDITION’, and so far it’s something I believe would set a standard for quality animation production on the continent. I look forward to making feature-length animated films as soon as I put together a large enough team of assistants to accomplish this.
So far what has been the greatest challenge working as an animator in Nigeria?
The first major challenge is the lack of trained and skilled animators. To be maximally productive, animation demands a pooling together of skilled artists that can specialise in various tasks to speed up and streamline productions. The second major challenge, at least here in Nigeria, is the lack of stable electricity. I end up spending way more than necessary to produce my animations due to my heavy dependence on diesel-guzzling electricity generators. But, in spite of these challenges, I’m undeterred in my quest to pioneer quality animated film production in Nigeria.
Apart from festivals, where can your work be seen?
My works can be viewed on youtube by entering ‘lafem animation’ or by visiting lafemanimation.wordpress.com to learn more about my works.