Kenyan animators unwilling to push boundaries

Thursday March 10 2016

Animation is about creating a world of magic, it involves countless hours of hard work and experimentation. I look forward to the day we have a Kenyan animation film. GRAPHICS | NATION

Animation is about creating a world of magic, it involves countless hours of hard work and experimentation. I look forward to the day we have a Kenyan animation film. GRAPHICS | NATION 

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Animation started off by generating children’s content, but now, its hand is in every movie we watch. It is a world where science meets art in a painstaking process that takes years to master.

With over a hundred years of evolution, the craft has moved from a comic strip to digital and visual effects that infiltrate every creative work. Absolutely everything that comes to your screen passes through an animators desk; From Iron Man, Avatar,

Kungu Fu Panda to 9pm News. They demand nothing but perfection at every level of production from writers, voice over artists, sketch artists, software developers, business minds and the creative genius that drives the whole process.

With over 600 episode and currently in it’s 27th Season, The Simpsons is the longest running TV series in history. Making use of traditional animation, a single episode takes about 6-8 months to create, mixing old school methods with a little computer

convince. It takes about 24 handmade drawings to animate one second of movement for a single character. Different teams in different countries then add background, colour, sound effects, dialogue, and music from a 38-piece orchestra.

Tonight Show host and comedy legend Conan O’Brien actually started out as a comic writer for The Simpsons. Because of the tedious process of old school animation, there is no room for error making, demanding nothing but perfection from everyone in the team.

Tech guru Steve Jobs also got into animation after getting kicked out of Apple; a company he helped found. He literally opened the Pandora’s box when he bought Pixar: a company that is credited for pioneering 3d animation techniques.

In his time, Pixar revolutionised the cartoon and 3D animation world. Movies like Toy Story, Bugs Life and Finding Nemo grossed between $300 and $800 million each.


This bizarre twist started in 1975, when Star Wars creator, George Lucas, wanted his film to have visual effects that were out of this world. The technology just did not exist so he created it and formed ILM; a special effects company that has defied reality

ever since. To actualize George’s insane ideas for Star Wars, ILM had to invent computer hardware and software because current methods could not suffice. After the success of Star Wars, ILM started taking on visual effects projects from all over

Hollywood, bringing to life scripts that were previously impossible to produce. This evolution led to the discovery of 3D animation as we know it today, where computer generated images took a quantum leap. Because ILM wanted to focus on visual effects

for motion pictures, they decided to sell of the 3D animation department as a separate company. The company derived its name from the Pixar computer, a machine that ILM developed for 3D animation together with Render man software.

Steve Jobs bought PIXAR from Lucas Film in 1986 for 10M and sold it for 9billion in 2006 to Walt Disney. The acquisition was critical for Disney to access Pixar technology, storytelling abilities and save its dwindling fortunes.

The deal also gave Steve a 7.5 per cent stake in Disney, a share that earns his wife millions to date. On their part, ILM have continued to push the boundaries between reality and imagination with every new movie.

The mind blowing scenes of Jurassic Park, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean and 300 block buster’s are all credited to ILM and there mantra of creating the impossible. A movie like Avatar was shelved for 12 years until ILM invented the technology to create it. The outfit has also made Star Wars the movie that movie makers go to shop for tricks to put into their own movies.

Grossing over 200 billion dollars a year, animation is big business where investors flip companies for profit. In 2009 Walt Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for Sh4 billion  amidst investor skepticism.

Six years on, the critics have been silenced, with Disney making back that money in no time. Marvel Comics owns the rights to Spiderman, Iron man, Thor, and a catalog of over 5,000 characters.

Over the last six years, Walt Disney has made a fortune licensing these characters to theme parks, Video games, Film/TV Studios and merchandising companies. Disney made another ground-breaking purchase in 2012 when they bought Lucas Film; the company that owns Star Wars and ILM. Their company stock price rose within four days despite the high price, and they have been counting their fortunes ever since.

Though JTL Faiba adverts,  Makarau TV and XYZ have made great strides, Kenyan Animation is still in its infancy. Fat boy Animation CEO, Mike Muthiga, has been on the frontline pushing the envelope with characters like Mbugua and Faiba. His company created Kenya’s finest adverts and corporate clients are lining up to get a piece of the action. He says:


“Things have really improved; Kenyan animators are actually making money now. However, we lack teamwork and persistence. Most animators just want a 9-5 job with a good salary they don’t have the passion to push boundaries. Animation is about creating a world of magic, it involves countless hours of hard work and experimentation. I look forward to the day we have a Kenyan animation film, but I doubt I will see it in my lifetime.

Beyond just going to school to learn 3D software, people need to be daring and think out the box. In Hollywood, production houses are developing software just to do a new film, working crazy hours to pull off a project. We can’t expect to catch up if we don’t put in the work. “

Though he is better known for his famous radio hits, producer Saint P has made a name for himself in animation sound engineering. Saint P has worked on projects for Buni TV, Walt Disney and a few other freelance jobs. In Buni tv’s XYZ  he records and masters voice artists and also scores background music. He is also the lead translator for Walt Disney’s Doc Mcstuffins.

“Working for Disney has been a big challenge, he admits.

“After translating the script I am now directing local voice over artist to input the dialogue in Kiswahili. I see it as a step into the big leagues, although it is a small job, I think if we do it right it will open doors for bigger jobs. Kenya has a lot of potential, we just need to be patient and keep pushing on. It took countries like the US and Japan centuries to get to where they are, we can’t expect to get there in a day. We must be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to push the industry forward.”

Paul mbuvi is an accomplished voice over artists having worked on countless TV and radio adverts for the likes of Kingsway Tires, Safaricom and Airtel. He has voiced various XYZ characters and is the kiswahili voice for stuffy in Disney’s Doc Mcstuffins.

“We lack proper business structures that can transform this art into a sustainable venture,” he explains. “Most people in the industry have to substitute their income to make a decent living. Animation is taking root in Kenya, but compared to, say, South Africa, we are lagging behind. Judging by the few productions I have seen, uniquely Kenyan content is available, we just need to make the industry sustainable.”