Monday, December 15, 2008

Tell Us What U Thought!



Hi One and All,

Thank you for attending and helping make the Animated:Kenya Seminar held at the Sarit Center on December 6th the biggest animation arts event in Kenya to date!

We would love to hear what you thought of the event, get any suggestions you may have on how we can make the next one even better.

We invite you to take some time to fill-in our feedback form located at this weblink: http://www.kenyan-animation.com/feedback.php

Your feedback will be greatly appreciated.
Otherwise stay tuned for more.

In addition to Bint Ali's really cool review of the event below, you can read some other reviews on the December 6th seminar at the following links: http://www.kenyan-animation.com/

We have also posted a CNN iReport on the December 6th Animated:Kenya event which you can view here: http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-162702

Thanks to Maina Mucoki for the superb video coverage of the event. Some more video clips of the event will be popping up online soon. Stay tuned.

Do not forget to send us you feedback on the event.

Otherwise, happy holidays and let's keep animating and make 2009, the year Animation Arts explode in Kenya!

Regards,
Event Organizers
Michael Onyango/Peter Mute

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kenyans Animated?

So it’s been a week since the Animated Kenya seminar and with 6 days to digest everything, a post-in-hindsight is long overdue (as Daniel’s ‘enthusiastic insistence’ will attest to.)

There’s an official account of how the day went - although it’s missing the morning session - in step-by-step updates here so if you don’t mind, I’ll avoid the news-y vibe.

Was there early (thanks, Dan) and really hoping things would start at 8.30 as expected. However, ‘No Hurry in Africa’ isn’t a phrase that popped out of nowhere, and it was closer to 10.30 when the event did start. Few people scattered the room, and plenty of empty chairs that I didn’t really expect to fill up completely. We got front row seats, so it wasn’t really until lunch break that I actually looked around and realised how packed the room was.

There was a sense of something solid looking at the sea of faces all listening eagerly to whoever was on stage. Like there was finally proof that an animating community existed in Kenya and we weren’t just a small handful of creative geeks dreaming up big things on our own. The seminar was a means of solidifying the industry into a tangible group, I think.

I believe a lot of the audience were artists or in media, but the fact that there were so many curious about the process of animating and actually looking at it as a feasible career was...well, pretty cool :)

The morning had the bulk of the creative presentations, I think. Kwame Nyongo presented one of the Owen and Mzee clips he’s worked on and I liked the fact that he (and the others) showed the ‘process’ and not just the result. There was a lot throughout the day on conceptualizing, brainstorming, ‘noodling’ and just getting the creative juices to flow.

In fact, Celestine who’s a designer on the Tiger Tinga project actually summarized my entire year and a half’s worth of animation theory in her 20 min presentation! She also mentioned her initial misgivings at being able to actually be good enough at animation when she compared her work to that of others, which was heartening because it’s something I personally do all the time. And yet, there she was speaking to an entire crowd as a pioneer in Kenyan animation and working at on a Disney affiliated project!

Throughout the event, the thing that struck me was the total innovation of every presenter. Daniel spoke about writing your own stories, Jim Chuchu when asked why his work stands out from others said that he simply tried to create what he wanted to see himself, Wesley Kirinya had to find ways to learn game design on his own because there weren’t any courses available locally and Alfred Muchilwa’s journey to overcome the obstacles he faced in mastering stop motion were each facets of the same idea: if you’re creative and truly have something to say, then you’ll find a way to do it.

In all honesty, the little bit about business and government involvement that came up in the middle of the day kinda dampened the mood for me. It was necessary and important no doubt, but there was a certain inspired mood from the morning session that dissipated for a bit. Given a choice, I’d have skimmed over the business possibilities locally available to animators and then dedicated another session/workshop for the details.

I had good intentions to ‘mingle’ over lunch,but got a little...umm..distracted. Although some good came out of it (as you will see a few paragraphs below) in that I met with a couple of friends M&M who then joined (hmd)Deen and myself in the front row.

The afternoon session started at around 2.30 and had Gado and James Kanja take the stage with their XYZ Show. I’d seen a clip of it a year ago online, but getting a chance to see how they handled the huge puppets and set was a revelation. So much green!! :) The fact that two different people had to co-ordinate themselves to synchronise facial expressions with hand gestures and all the while keep in line with the audio dialogue gave ‘teamwork’ a whole new meaning.

Wesley’s presentation in his journey to the making of The Adventures of Nyagi was in some parts uber-geeky and perhaps would have benefited from some mad gaming tendencies like hand twitches or random shouts/maniacal laughter in the middle of the presentation! I know M2 and I gave each other looks when he mentioned that games designed for men and women differed in that women preferred games that required less play time - 15 minutes was what he said, I believe. I know we’ve both played games for hours and actually looked away from the screen wondering when the sky change colour...so we found that a little presumptuous.

But the highlight of the afternoon was Alfred Muchilwa’s take on stop motion. He even inspired hmd(Deen) and M2 to do a little impromptu stop motion clip with the camera - which was supposed to be snapping presenters - of which they were both very proud and hope to enter into the Kenyan Oscars next year.

Seriously though, the drum sequence he showed from Olokut was beyond amazing. I think it was one of those things that had everyone stop and silently watch, not just because it was so ‘fluid’ but also because of it’s authenticity and energy. When he said it took him two months to do, my first reaction was: “Only?”

And last, but definitely far from least was the joint presentation by Rahim and Pete. I wish they’d have been given more time and slotted in earlier because a lot of people were tired by then. The thing that impressed me a lot was the high quality of the work presented by Pete. And he did mention that compositing and the work put into polishing up the ‘final product’ once animation is complete is what makes it stand out. He also spoke working smart when having to meet deadlines without compromising on quality. There was a lot of international standard, jaw-dropping, 3-D work on display that caused a wave of appreciative murmurs to ripple more than once through the crowd.

At the end, because of time-constraints, the panel of speakers was sacrificed for a more informal one where guys just came forward and went around to speak to those they wanted to. And that worked out quite well in its own way. Got a chance to do some of the ‘mingling’ I wanted and also got a poster (they were waaay cool) of the event to bring home as a souvenir.

Looking back, I’d hope that future events would be more specific in nature and perhaps spread out over a weekend. It can be taxing to be bombarded with so much creativity for a whole day and in many cases it makes you want to share something in return. A morning of talks followed by an interactive workshop in the afternoon would be an interesting alternative next time.

The other thing I noted was that people tuned out at different times. Those who found 2D more appealing seemed to settle into a haze when it came to talk of render passes in 3D, while perhaps the 3D people listened to the 2D presentations with uninvolved curiosity. I’d like to think of a future event where I can participate in something more intensive and specific to my interest.

However, considering this was literally the Birth of the Animation Community, it was an fantastic success I think. Like discovering members of a long lost family you didn’t even know you belonged to! :)

Lots of inspirations, lots of itchy fingers to get something done and lots of incentive to just put your head down and head willy-nilly for that elusive dream of creating the Next Great Animation. :)

P.S. I'm having some issues with uploading images, so this is the wordsy version of events. A photo journal (complete with captions) will appear soon. And perhaps even a sneak-preview of The Impromptu Stop Motion Feature tentatively titled: A Star in the Sparkling...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Animated Kenya

This Saturday the 6th of December will see the first ever Animated Kenya seminar!

It'll be a whole day of talks and presentations about animation in the country. Speakers will include Kwame Nyongo, Pete Mute, Gado, Jim Chuchu and myself (!), showing and talking about our work, enthusiasms and inspirations...

Pete says, "This event will be an amazing opportunity for Kenyan design geeks and animation enthusiasts to meet up, share ideas and plot on how to take over the world with our own animation content starting 2009!"

The event will be held at the Sarit Center from 8.30 am. You can confirm your attendance and download the infopack here.



Friday, November 28, 2008

The Stated Opinion Show



We're pleased to present an interview with Musa Ihiga, who is the enthusiaistic young man behind The Stated Opinion Show, Kenya's first ever cartoon talk show.


Please introduce yourself, tell us what you do.


Musa Ihiga is a your normal everyday Kenyan citizen; a triple-diploma holder who has chosen to digress from the I.T. industry and get his hands dirty as he delves into the uncharted territory of the “animation jungle” here in Kenya, East-Africa as he forges ahead while endeavouring to develop “Musamedia Productions” which is a small company of three years since its inception on the 14th Day of December 2005. All the works made by Musamedia Productions are “Meditated Creatively”.


What do you mean by “Meditated Creatively”?


It is “Meditated creatively” and it primordially stems from nature of the animations and other creative productions at Musamedia Productions. It goes without saying, especially to those with a creatively inclined mind that unlike a majority of other professions (don’t I just love stabbing at other people’s professions) where you can basically go about your thing completely absent minded until you get jolted back to reality when somebody either nudges at you, accidentally bumps into you or after you disengage that “Auto-pilot” button on the cockpit dashboard (Oops! Did I just give that away?) Animation requires a sober mind that is sharp in addition to, as I mentioned before, bucket loads of creativity which as you may have figured by now doesn’t come by a simple “flick” of the button and therefore the reason and need if I may add for one to meditate.

How did you get into animation?


Whether I got into animation or animation got into me is apparently not very clear to me even till this very day though I must admit that I have an innate hunger for all things that are artistically inspired and animation is one of them, whether it be the in the crude form of a flip-book or a High end CGI animation my attention gets caught quicker than a bolt of lightning with the mass media playing a role in whetting my appetite through the years.


Why do you choose animation as your medium of expression (as opposed to something easier and/or more established, locally, like live action or even painting)? Do you do anything other than this to pay the bills/express

yourself?

Allow me to correct you and many other people who for some reason yet to be known by myself are under the illusion that there are other easier media of expression.

Yes! I do agree that to a certain level that animation belongs to a certain class of individuals without sounding like a segregationist hence it therefore wouldn’t be fair to allude to there being other easier forms of expressions but to answer your question let me say that I have tried acting and painting (domestic and artistic respectively) at different levels through my educational and personal journey but none has ever quite had an appeal to me like animation. I am currently reviewing alternative methods of expanding my financial base.


What are your favourite animations and animators?


There are a number of animations that I would classify as favourites but off the cuff I will say that Ed, Edd and Eddy really cracks me up and with the story being based on characters living in an estate neighbourhood, a setting that rings true to many estate neighbourhoods in Kenya however there are the old classic animations like Tom and Jerry, Pink Panther, Wallace and Grommit etc.


As for animators, well Walt Disney, Blake Edward, Fred Quimby, Danny Antonucci, Genndy Tartakovsky are just but a few individuals I can remember at the moment whose animations are way up at the top of my list.


Tell us about the Stated Opinion Show. What was your inspiration, the driving force behind its creation?


The Stated Opinion Show is a daring animated talk show hosted by one witty “Oliver Otieno”. “Oliver Otieno” is a pseudo-character that borrows his name from the famous Kenyan celebrity Olivia Otieno. “Oliver Otieno” is a witty character that does not mind putting prominent members in the Kenyan arena like the politicians and activist’s on the hot seat to their great discomfort while the crowd roars with laughter at their attempts to dodge, verbally trip-up or totally decline to answer the questions.




The inspiration for “The Stated Opinion Show” came as a result of watching on the television and reading in the newspapers and noticing how good people in general, be they politicians or celebrities are at denying their proclamations at the drop of a hat which is just but one of the myriad of goof ups they find themselves in.


It is also a kind of wake up call to members of the Kenyan public to be aware of politicians and their off-hand pronouncements.

Impersonations of politicians are becoming quite popular nowadays. Who did your voice acting?

I believe you are familiar with the saying “Necessity is the mother of invention”. All the characters voices in “The Stated Opinion Show” were done by none other than yours truly Musa Ihiga, talk about having a big ego.


Which local politicians can we expect to see in other eps of The Show?


Well! Well! Do I want to let cat out of the bag yet? To be fair I will say that the idea behind “The Stated Opinion Show” is not to air opinions from politicians only but rather opinions from any period, any person/groups of people and any corner of the world and not just locally so having said that therefore you can expect opinions from people in other notable professions and countries and not just Kenya.


Why do you think that political commentary, humourous or otherwise, is such a popular subject, locally?

One highly respected CEO in Kenya and East-Africa by the name Michael Joseph was once quoted saying, “…Kenyans have peculiar calling habits.” which was in relation to mobile telephony industry but to add on to that I will put in my own contribution and say that for whatever reason Kenyans seem to like talking about politics so yes! Give them what they want and Oh! Don’t even mention the football craze, would you have any suggestion as to why Kenyans as are so engrossed in it?


Will the sporty side of life will always be out of reach for us computer arty types??? Heh...


Tell us about your process and tools. How long did it take to make the show? Did you have assistants?


The process engaged in the making of the “The Stated Opinion Show” is as listed below:-

• Creating a storyline.

• Carrying out an incisive research and gathering information of the subject upon which the storyline is based.

• Writing the scripts.

• Sketching out the storyboard.

• Character drawing.

• Background and colour scheming

• Creating and composing a jingle.

• Recording and voice morphing.

• Animation and Lip-synching

• Rendering

The major tool used was a high end user computer with a vector based animation software and Sound recording/editing software plus bucket loads of creativity.

The whole process from creating the storyline for TEN 3-minute episodes before finally rendering them took ONE year with no assistants.


How has the reaction been to the show so far?


On the local scene those that have previewed the show which ranges from a local Programmes Acquisition Executive to your every day TV buff the reception has been warm.


You showed the Stated Opinion show at KIFF last year, how was the KIFF audience? What’s your view on festivals? Have you investigated any other ways of getting the work out in front of the masses?


Yes! I did exhibit “The Stated Opinion Show” at KIFF and the audience was impressed more than anything else. My conclusion as far as film festivals are concerned is that they are a good venue for exposing ones film and a method of getting instant and real time feedback from the audience.


Yes! I have distributed copies of “The Stated Opinion Show” to a number of Exhibition Stalls locally albeit not yet recorded sales and I have also uploaded one episode of the same onto the world re-known social website you-tube where it has now hit a five-star rating since uploading it in the middle of last year.


Thoughts on the local industry. Any problems? What does it need to improve?


I think that the local industry is slowly warming up to local productions as is evident with the new entries on the some of the local television programme line down but it is only recently that the powers that be have showed concerted efforts to crack down on pirates by coming to the aid of the artists and enforcing anti-piracy laws.


As far as the Kenyan animation industry in particular is concerned what I have noticed is that the local audience is either ignorant of the goings on or are least bothered. This is my conclusion based on the good performance of “The Stated Opinion Show” internationally on the social website but lukewarm performance locally.


We hear you’re also teaching at NIT, tell us about the experience of passing on knowledge to eager young minds.


As for now I have taken a short break from teaching for a period of two months till the end of the year to attend to personal up comings although I hope to return fully next year all things remaining constant.


However my experience at passing on knowledge to eager minds has been like a breath of fresh air seeing that this happens to be my first time. It is also an eye opener to just how talented the Kenyan youth are which has in turn challenged me personally as a local animator.


Any advice for someone who would want to get into the industry?


Persistence! , persistence! , persistence! I can’t insist anymore than that but of course you know that a pinch of creativity goes along way so why not just have bucket loads of it.


Are you planning on making more episodes of TSOS or are you moving on to a new concept? In short, what's next on your plate?

I probably have already alluded to this in your previous question but I will reiterate and say that I have a flexible mind and therefore I am open to try any thing that I may have a gut feeling about. I am currently in the initial stages of putting together a more child-centred animated cartoon series with the goal being to have one running on one of the local television stations in due time so you can think of this as being two-pronged approach. A lot of things have taken place including the teaching job that I have taken up this year and therefore you will understand why I may not be able to give a clean cut answer in relation to when it is projected to debut.



Project a future for the local animation industry.


As the Creative Director of Musamedia Productions I project a future where due to the astronomical rise in the Asian economy and the boom in Information Technology of the Asian continent; which was once the hub of outsourcing of jobs due to its cheap labour Africa and especially more so East-Africa will begin to attract more investors in the creative industry and anybody in the creative field can look forward to getting well paid outsourced jobs, well at least by our standards.


Project a future for yourself.


At Musamedia Productions I envision better days ahead and I am placing all requisite infrastructures in preparation. Musamedia Productions projects to have a child-centered animated cartoon running on one of the local television stations in due time.


And now, here's The Stated Opinion Show! Enjoy!



Friday, October 24, 2008

Making Hey


We just put out a new (partly) animated video for Just A Band! It's called "Hey." Wilberforce “Boflo” Kangwana and Betty Katunge star in a twisted tale of love gone horribly wrong.

For the concept, we were originally going to do a different take on the song, which is about someone who really misses his girlfriend. We were going to build little sets and have Boflo go travelling around different places, always thinking of Betty. When the time came to shoot it, though, we flipped it almost entirely and turned it into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

To help with planning out projects, I got a couple of nifty noticeboards so that now I can much more easily sort out the mess of ideas when I’m working on something. That really helps because of all the little scribbles I do on little papers all over the place.


Here’s some sections of the storyboard, including a scene we never shot:


Construction: Boflo is made out of an old pair of trousers, stuffed with anything I could find. (I had to get reacquainted with needlework for this! And you don’t even want to know the shops I had to go to to find puppet eyes. And the hoodie came from a stall that sold kids' clothes... Hunting down all this stuff was actually a lot of fun, and makes me want to use construction in animation, instead just drawing stuff all the time...)



By the time we were done with the day of shooting, Boflo really looked it. :( Here’s some pictures from the shoot, which was done in our house. Friends checked in to observe, and there was a lot of outtake-worthy silliness. It’s really weird how Boflo would come alive, like, we didn’t change his face or anything but when we wanted him sad he’d be sad and when we wanted him scared he’d be scared. Bizarre...


Then it was time for animation! I got to sit down and try to do some of the rough-edged, straight-ahead animation I had wanted to do since I got my tablet. Also, I got to do silly drawings and use lovehearts, which is a very cheap thrill, but hey... Jimmy put it all together in AfterEffects, then came editing sessions and last minute reshoots. We finished it only hours before its TV premiere!

This was some of the most fun I’ve had on a JAB project thus far, I think because everyone was involved in some way, pulling strings and holding up things in the background, it was very collaborative and lighthearted. There’s a lot of cool puppet videos out there but hopefully this one packs enough punch to grab people by the scruff of the neck and get them hitting Replay.




And here it is! Enjoy. And then let us know what you think.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Iwinyo Piny at the KORAs!


We are puffed up with pride to announce that Iwinyo Piny, the animated music video we produced for Just A Band, has been nominated for a KORA All Africa Music Award for Best African Video clip.

You can find more information (and vote for the video!) here.

In other big news, Alfred Muchilwa, a local animator, will be interviewed on CNBC Africa this Thursday morning (16/10/2008) on The Business AM Show. The discussion will be centred on the developing of the animation industry in Kenya. Tune in from 7.15 to 7.30 (East African Time)

Check out Alfred's work in one of his many homes on the web...

http://www.myspace.com/bringthenoise07
http://mfanyikazi.cgsociety.org/gallery/
http://www.olokut.wordpress.com
http://no-spec.com/

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hard At Work

Working on a partly animated kids' show for Kenyan TV. Observe the animators, hard at challenging, oppressive work... :)



Here, we had pinned up the storyboards and were casting a critical eye over each others' work. We've been drawing a whole menagerie of oddities: Superhero fantasies, mutant destroyers, and kids turning into superheroes, giants, and even mutura!


The other day one of the writers popped into the room and after checking out the work we were doing, he was talking about how imaginative all the clips were. But, you know, we’re working off of a script that they wrote! The WRITERS are the mad people that we should be afraid of! But I guess we make it look cool. :)

Or not.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Murfy's fLaW AMV Competition

Murfy's fLaW in association with Kenyanimation (that's us) and Anime Anonymous (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2418283004) is running an Anime Music Video Competition based on the song, Your Friend, from their upcoming album. An anime music video (AMV) is a music video consisting of clips from one or more anime series or movies set to songs. It may be an existing anime, or you could create your own original anime artwork.


How to Enter:

If you're in Kenya competition packs will be available on Friday 27th June at the Murfy's fLaW show at Dass, and on Saturday 28th June at the Anime Anonymous group meeting at Junction. The competition pack is made up of a cd containing a copy of the song Your Friend, and a PDF version of the entry form.If you're not availale for the meeting, a soft copy of the competition pack can be requested by sending an email to:flawbymurfy@gmail.com or downloaded from http://www.myspace.com/flawbymurfy


How to Submit Entries:

Method One:

Digitally submit your entry by uploading your files to MegaUpload/RapidShare or another/your own web hosting. Please upload the file in a zip/rar archive together with the entry form, then send us a download link at flawbymurfy@gmail.com so we can retrieve your entry.

Method Two:

We also accept snail mail entries which can be forwarded to the following address: Murfy's fLaWP.O. Box 44368Nairobi 00100Kenya


Deadline:

Monday 21st July (Midnight GMT).All entries received by this point will receive feedback on receipt of the videos.

Winners:

Short-listed videos will be shown during the Anime Edition of the Murfy's fLaw gig at Dass Ethiopian restaurant, which will be on Friday the 25th of July. The winners will be picked based on the Judges opinions and a factor from the audience reaction.The videos will remain the property of the creators. The winning video may be used as a bonus feature in the upcoming album, at which point royalites will be discussed.

1st Prize: KSh 7,500

2nd Prize: Ksh 5,000

3rd Prize: Ksh 2,500

4th Prize: Bag of Peanuts.


Competition Rules:

Accepted formats/codecs: avi, mkv (XviD, DivX, DV AVI), mp4 (h.264), mpeg-1, mpeg-2, swf. Anything else, contact us first please.

Prizes will be awarded to what the judges deem to be the best three (3) videos. The judges decision will be based on technical merit (30%), artistic merit (30%), crowd reaction (20%) and judge's impression (20%).

No video headers/credits. Title cards will be made specifically for the competition.

Videos are to have no visible subtitles/fansubs other than those which you have added yourself and have noted on your submission forms for the judges (this includes text from opening/closing credit sequences). This is to ensure fair judging.

The majority of source sound (as in 95%+) must be the song “Your Friend” by Murfy's fLaW. Additional sounds effects can be added to aid one's concept (for example explosions, kittens mewing, puppies barking) but the song itself should not be otherwise modified.

The majority of source video footage (as in 90%+) must be anime. This could be your own artwork, or from an anime (or anime-style game, in-game footage not to exceed 10% of total time). Any other content will not be accepted. If you're unsure, don't hesitate to contact us.

As Murfy's fLaw loves children, any overtly mature themes, excessive violence, nudity, etc, will result in disqualification. Artistic merit will be taken into consideration, though we reserve the right to disqualify any video we deem unsuitable.

International entries accepted.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lean on me…NOT!

Today I got left, yes left somewhere where I had no way of getting out. I could have taken the bus halfway home and then the train a quarter of they way home but after that…well that would be the end of public transportation and I would be stuck at a train station closer to home.

Why would this have happened to me? Well, because people can’t be trusted and people don’t always follow through. This made me think, all the times I have tried to work on a project, someone somewhere has flaked on me. What does this teach me every time it happens to me? (Oh, and it keeps happening) It teaches me that your lead actor should always have an understudy, that you should always have the numbers for three other camera guys in your phone, always have a back up location for your shoot and always remember that someone is going to flake on you.

Once you’ve established your cast and set them up and all establish a second cast…potential actors and actresses, do it all over again as back up and make sure you have a solid plan B…a back up.

I’ll tell you this, come on, lean in a little closer and open your eyes just a little bit wider: if life doesn’t teach you that you should always back up then the power blackouts will when you’re working on your precious, precious animation. And in that giza, when nothing but the stars and the moon are shining, you’ll see a little glow in the dark sticker that every computer has in a secret location saying, “Do NOT lean on me!”

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Limited Animation?

It’s been long since my last post and I now find myself writing this in a foreign land. This is supposed to be a ‘working’ holiday for me, so naturally the first thing I did when I came here was to start looking for opportunities in the local market. One of the first people I met was a man who owns an advertising agency - let’s call him H. for convenience. He asked me the usual questions about what software I knew and what kind of work I was looking for and from his conversation, I could tell he was a man who knew what he was talking about.

However, as our conversation went on, it became clear that he was definitely one of the ‘realistic’ elements of the industry. He listened to my stories and hopeful enthusing about the potential for a creative revolution locally and then with a quiet smile said, “That’s all well and good, but that kind of work won’t earn you your bread-and-butter.” Then he told me that most marketing managers locally preferred to either choose print media because it allowed for a greater profit margin or to outsource animation projects so they could thrown in a free trip abroad for themselves… that really hit hard. The Classic Cold Splash.

And I found myself believing him, especially when he went on sensibly about how the creative side of things had to be left for the sidelines, as a hobby perhaps or when you’ve earned enough money, etc., etc.

For a couple of days, I trod dejectedly amongst the shattered shards of my dreams. Was it really unrealistic to believe that I could succeed if I picked an idea and gave it my all? I already know it’s hard, and that there’s the financial element to think about - to support both the project and myself. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Focus on the idea and do commercial work to support it? If you’re already giving your all to earning the money, then what’s left to give to the sidelined project?

It's difficult having to make that choice, but I think it’s a choice every artist makes.
At some point in time or another. The question we need to ask ourselves is: “Am I doing this for myself or to fulfill the expectations society has of me in this capacity?” When I began to study animation, the most common reaction I’d get was “So, you’ll be going to work for Disney some day!” That would be nice.

What would be better is if I could stand up with something I created from the very core of my being. Something that said bint Ali is every nuance, in every line, in every aspect. It wouldn’t matter if I’d had to live on bread and water all the days I’d spent creating it; I’d have fulfilled my true purpose as an animator.

But even in doing that, there are so many other choices that could change the future in unimaginable ways. Choices that depend on deeper issues than just commercial vs. creative. Whichever path you decide to take, you then need to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go to achieve that goal.


Just last week, I was asked to take on a project that would put all my skills to use. It had the potential of becoming so
mething huge on a national level. It was challenging, creative, risky and the perfect way to jump right into the deep end of the industry. Except for one thing. The project was based on an idea that conflicted with my religious beliefs.


When I first started the animation course a year and a half ago, we discussed career opportunities in class and I realised even way back then that I would never be able to work within an agency simply because you can’t choose your projects and I would have to constantly compromise my faith if I did. Freelancing was the only option for me and that meant having to fight every step of the way for work. (Which gave rise to an interesting story idea, but I’ll leave that for another post.)


Turning down the offered project was a hard, not so much because I was tempted to take on the challenge, but because it also meant that if I haven’t explained myself properly or if the person at the other end doesn’t understand my reasons, I might have lost future opportunities too. And yet, if I had taken it on, I would have lived with a guilty conscience every day.


I wonder if every animator/artist goes through that when they choose their work. It could be in accepting or rejecting a project, or even within a working project. How many boundaries will you cross to pass on your message? You have to jolt the senses of your audience sometimes to make them realise a certain point, but just how much of what you show/create serves that purpose and how much of it is simply a ploy to take advantage of the shock-factor syndrome?


When people speak of religion with animation, they think of faith-based features: historical, educational and moral stories made to suit a specific audience. But I believe every animator needs to have a set of personal or religious principles that define their limits; things that they won’t sacrifice for any reason. That is what gives a backbone to an idea. It allows an audience to know you through your work, to become familiar with your set of standards. It doesn’t mean you have to hold back on creativity or inspiration. Just that you refine both to something that uniquely identifiable as you, regardless of what it is. It is the essence of your work.


I’m hoping the choices I make will help me create that kind of identity so that some day, just like people look at work and say “That’s so Moebius” or “I can see Miyazaki in that”, they’ll be able to say “That’s classic Bint Ali”! :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Animated Instructors

Recently I completed four really short and simple animations for a training video, and afterwards sent a few questions to the project's director, Joel Lehmann, who kindly took some time out to send the following answers...


Could you describe the project?

This is a tutorial-video which will be shown to school counsellors and counsellors-to-be in Tanzania.

It is comissioned by an initiative called "PASHA" (Prevention and Awareness in Schools of HIV/AIDS) which is a collaboration of the Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and the Tanzanian-German Project for the Support of Health (TGPSH), which is financed by the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and implemented by the Swiss Centre for International Health (SCIH).

The video has two main parts, one about "Communication Skills" (body language, active listening, asking the right questions) and a second part about the five stages of a conselling session. The goal is that the counsellors can see examples of how to apply these skills and just to remind them. I don't think the video can work as a standalone-thing, it needs to be combined with conventional face-to-face teaching.


What motivated the incorporation of animation?
I found an animation ideal to visualize some ideas and especially to bring some variety into the video. I also wanted to try something new. Furthermore the time given for the prodcution of the video was relatively short and the budget relatively low, so that the video without the animation would have been (or maybe still is) a bit dull.
Was it difficult to convince the client to go for the technique?
The client was somewhat sceptical in the beginning, so I guaranteed the payment from my own money. When the client saw the result, they liked the idea and agreed to pay for it.
How was the work experience? (Also, instead of just shooting what you want to and creating your own images you had to entrust a lot of it to someone else, so it was a bit more removed, was it difficult to "let go"?)
The work experience was great. Similar to work with other people (let's say a cameraman or an editor) I realized that it is sometimes difficult to convey an idea completely, so that some re-working is probably normal and necessary. It was not difficult to "let go", I liked the work of the artist a lot.
Do you think it's a successful addition? What if anything would you do differently next time?
It is a succesfull addition without any doubt. Next time? I think I would commission more and longer animations, if the money for it is there.
In general now, do you think that animation is a good technique to deal with documentary/instructional topics?
For instructional topics, it is ideal. For documentaries.... I haven't really thought about it, but I think it is very refreshing. I know the example of Michael Moore using animation to present his view of American history in "Bowling for Columbine" but I have not seen any other animation in documentaries. I hope to be able to try that in the future.
Thanks to Joel for taking the time to answer these questions. Hmm, I wonder if K.I.E (Kenya Institute of Education) would be interested in something new...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Heading in the right direction

When I was in high school, we read this story in one of those obscure English books they make you buy…you jua what I’m talking about. So after reading this one ‘special’ story, as I would usually do, I went and wrote my own short story in the computer lab…during class, ah good times.

When I turned in my voluntary composition to my teacher, he couldn’t help but notice the similarities between it and the story we had just read in class. He then proceeded to tell me, (and hopefully not just because of the crushed look I had on my face) that it was pretty good and that just because it was similar to the story we just read didn’t mean it wasn’t good or that it isn’t original in it’s own way. That story, whose name I can’t remember for some reason, inspired me to write my own ‘not so bad’ story, just as daft punk may have influenced the making of just a bands latest production.



This weekend I was watching Kenyan music videos and stumbled across one video…let’s call it video X, that had scenes from an American movie meshed together with some chroma keying that needed help. Hear me when I say, that is NOT the way to move forward, this is http://www.youtube.com/justabandwidth

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Move It To The Beat Now...

Hello there, and welcome to Kenyanimation Music TV! A special edition of our blog where we'll treat you to what has gone before in animated music videos in the region...

It's all still a pretty new thing, but we're seeing more and more use of animations in the background of certain videos. Such as this one, featuring a mix of live action with cartoon characters; it's pretty cool and funny...



That was "Waria" by Roba featuring KJ. The artwork for this one was created by Fozi. KJ is also a comedian and cartoonist, and has expressed an interest in animation, I guess that influenced the decision to add some cartoon dancing girls. Now that he's taken up politics, I don't know if we'll ever see any animated cartoons by KJ, but Fozi is still around... And it might be a good thing to have a cartoonist politician. (Might inject some humour into the proceedings...)

Videos are a very cool form that allows and even encourages you to take liberties with style and structure, and so it's kind of sad that they haven't been really explored by local musicians, as such. But on the other hand they cost money, and often people don't want to take the risk of alienating their audience by doing something that they might not respond well to. Not everyone enjoys this more experimental stuff.

Personally, I really like looking at something that was "handcrafted", to me it's like it humanizes the screen. (I tend to favour 2D and those really cool styles of 3D that really have that textured feel, things that look natural. And I actually like it when the animator visibly changes in the middle of a scene! That's pretty cool, you can't get that in live action.) And ofcourse there's the fact that animation is SO flexible, it can take you anywhere as a viewer, and I usually expect it to. And the styles you can create! Man, cartoons are just the way to go.

This post came about because of some conversations about Iwinyo where people referred to it as Kenya's first animated video. It's not! Here it is: Wakimbizi's Mariko. This video was pretty popular. But maybe not in the way the artists would have liked...



We just had to show Mariko! Hehe. I wonder what happened to Wakimbizi? The video looks pretty amateur but on the other hand you see a lot of rough-hewn stuff like this online, to some points of view, it's a valid style. I guess the ultimate test is the audience, will they "get the joke" or will they rubbish your efforts? (Like when the maid accidentally throws out the piece of modern art, mistaking it for a warm-up doodle.) Or will it be obvious that the artist just lacked certain skills?

We'll try hunt down all the people who made these videos and sit them down for short interviews. We will also find more videos!!! And as always we await your comments, critique and so forth.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the show! See you next time on K-MTV! The station that rocks the Animation Nation...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My First Post

I have always asked myself why animation is dear to me. Is it because of the freedom to do your own thing, where the only limiting factor is your creativity. Or maybe it’s because of the attachment one feels after a gazillion hours of manipulating polygons. The animations become like your children, disobeying your every command until they finally grow disjointed bits of colour in your head to things/individuals (I use this in the loosest of contexts) which can be explained to people without the use of frantic hand gestures. If there was a way of directly placing your figments of imagination onto paper, film or whatever medium you choose, there would be no hair pulling, cat kicking or any other forms of stress relief. But the question rises, would you feel the same affection for your work? Then I realised something, the time you put into it doesn't matter. There's stuff I’ve been working on for the last three years (there's seems to be no end in sight) and there's stuff I’ve done in a day or two and my attachment to it is no less.

Since it was my first post, its kind of short, but as compensation (I hope) I put up pics of some of my stuff. Enjoy…

Friday, April 4, 2008

Iwinyo Piny


Late last year we finally completed making Iwinyo Piny, which was Just a Band's first video. It had taken us a really long time to make it, especially considering that it was just myself and Jolly Jim Chuchu working on the visuals... We tried to do someting interesting. The animation wasn't going to be the most lavish, so we thought we'd better dazzle the audience with some crazy ideas/designs. Apparently, we may have gone too far...


The phrase "Iwinyo Piny" means "you move the world." The song itself doesn't have much else by way of words, so we had space to play around with that idea. I wouldn't want to describe too much of what we were thinking when we came up with the images, because I'd much rather hear what you guys think it's all about. The interpretations I've heard so far have been so much more interesting than our own that I'm getting into the whole "Leave things open to interpretation" thing...


I did the character stuff in Flash, and Jim did all the other visuals in After Effects. Most of the photographs had been taken previously, without this particular project in mind, although some new ones were taken once we started. Then we sat down to edit it all together in Premiere.



The most interesting stuff happened once it was finally finished, though. We sent this off to the local TV stations, and we got an interesting comment from one Programme Manager: Apparently, it's 5 years ahead of it's time, in terms of what people are doing with music and videos locally, and so would alienate his audience. In short, he won't show it.

And so I wanted to open up the discussion: Do you guys think we went too far? Is this some incomprehensible madness set to nasty music? Does it just totally mess with what people associate East Africa with? (And would that be such a bad thing?) What do you think? You can watch the video here.



P.S. It's not all bad, the video has been shown on local TV and on Channel O (!) and we are planning more animated videos for Just a Band. So if you like it, stay tuned...



-Daniel. Yeah, I know it says "Posted by Bint", long story... :S

Thursday, March 20, 2008

TWENDE!

www.joeyL.com

There's no salutations, there's no pretending ati I'm even going to jaribu to put up pichas. Click the above link, even if you don't get to the end of my post: YOU MUST CLICK THE LINK!

This photographer is simply amazing. I'm not sure there's another way to say it, but I'll try anyway.
He invokes feelings of excitement and motivation in the artists soul. Looking at his work, I can't help but want to get hold of a camera, snap some pictures and photoshop the carp out of them (yes, carp...not the other word).
On looking at his work I ended up asking myself questions like, 'what the *insert slightly offensive word here* are you doing?, ebu show me your work. Kama ulikuwa unalala, amka! This is a wake up call, a preview of the kind of stuff you want to do but, for some reason aren't...man, this is is some good stuff.
One notable picture involves two men in a fight. That picture reminds me of the movie Fightclub. It has such amazing detail, of the blood mixed with spit flying out of his mouth and through the air as he gets punched in the face, the sheer force that the attacker is using is expressed as he closes his eyes and gives his all, and like that's not enough, the brother goes and uses soft lighting, a back light to the left...can anybody say, haiya?!?

Leaving me saying the one thing that shows that I am truly a shagsmudu in Amerrrrica (many r's because of my Amerrrican accent); heh, hii ni real?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Two Countries


Hey people!

We're still pushing the project forward! Ever so slowly...

We are calling it "Two Countries", for now. Below are some designs for our two leads, named the Fat Man and the Hat Man (also working titles). We're making up a lot of this as we go along. I just saw Pete Rock, the hip hop producer, describing making beats as being "like a jigsaw puzzle", and that's exactly what this stage of the process is like! Figuring out how much to show, how much to hide, how to show it... Man. Unfortunately, we're not even really sure how long it'll end up being, at least until the storyboard is done.


Flash will be our weapon of choice for this project, probably with some After Effects thrown in towards the end.

And as for the schedule, we're actually a liiiitle bit behind, but since we're working in advance of the real due dates, I guess we're OK. We'll have to work on that, though...

I gather a lot more people are reading this than we thought! Thank you!!! Please drop us a line from time to time.

Coming soon: The story of Iwinyo Piny. :)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Worth It?

Sometimes I hate animation. So much that I actually begin to believe I could just turn my back on the whole thing and go and do something a lot less stressful. Like achieve world peace. Or chase butterflies.

I've been working ALL day (hours and hours of exposure to screen radiation...) on a 3-D model that I need to get done for a college project and have barely done a 1/4 of what I was supposed to. And there's two other projects I need to make a dent into and then my portfolio to polish up. Did I mention I sometimes hate this career?

You can sit and struggle with one tiny detail and it Just. Won't. Work. And there's absolutely nothing you can do about it except keep trying minute variations of the same thing in the hope that something somehow will work and you can hit Ctrl + S as soon as it does.

Oddly, this morning I was explaining the process of animation to my mum and after I'd gone through the whole 24 drawings per frame and acted out poses for her in slow motion and all, there was this pause and then she asked: "But is it worth it?"

And when I exclaimed in indignation "Of course!" she smiled and my dad chuckled, like it was a plot on their part just to make sure that if I was going insane, it was for a reason I believed in. It made me realise that a lot of people would - and do - just give up when it gets too hard. I'm hoping I don't become one of them.

I worry sometimes that being an animator demands more of a person than I can give. It's hard for family and friends to understand this sudden withdrawal from so many social circles simply because I don't have the time for it all anymore! Most times they ask me when I'll be done with the course, because then I'll go back to 'normal' life. How do I explain this is what normal is going to be like from now on?

No wonder so many artists are lonely people or hang out only with their own kind. We really are a species unto ourselves in some ways.

Enough rambling though. If the project works out (and I don't have a choice except to make sure it does) I'll put up screenshots and all. But in the meantime, it's a Godforsaken hour of the night and I have to get back to work - because yes, it IS still worth it. :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Action!

We're making a short film!

The image above is part of a test to see how the whole project would look. It's far from the final version because we'll sit down and discuss the designs and so forth, and probably make a lot of modifications to both the visuals and the story, such as earlier this week when I showed Bint some of the character designs and she asked me, "So how can you tell that they're politicians?" (Story hint!) And so it was back to the drawing board. Literally.

As we go, we'll update the blog with screenshots and designs and all, we'll let you know about all the stages of making the short and our ideas behind the whole process. The short doesn't even have a name yet, all we have is an outline and we're fleshing out a lot of it as we go. SO this whole process is as suspenseful for us as it is for you. (Assuming that we have avid readers on the blog already...) Stay tuned... (Personally, I can't wait to compose the score...)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Spreading The Bug

Nothing beats the enthusiasm and imagination of children. It's a joy watching them do things that interest them, because they become so immersed in the activity, that you can't help but become a mere spectator. Which is what I was for the better part of yesterday morning.

There was a Parent's Day thingy at a local school and we had a table - two actually - all to ourselves. Daniel (I am allowed to mention fellow bloggers in my posts, aren't I?) got to sit on cobbler's stool, armed with cutesy-pie drawing tablet (Genius 4 x 6) and I got to hang around and spectate.

The original plan was to use Daniel's drawing skills for a marketing ploy as he sketched on the little grey square and the pictures - as if by magic! - came to life onscreen. As it turned out, children don't like watching others do something; they'd rather do it themselves.

So for the next 4 odd hours, the tablet passed from one set of small fingers to another as everyone tried their hand at it. You could see the differences even then - the giggly-girl bunch who came only to try out a new 'cool' thing and scribbled little love notes on the screen (aah, the total lack of guile at that age!) and the serious ones who hung around until the very last minute for one more chance to wield the pen.

It's the second lot that really amazed me. These little kids sitting there drawing without a care for what others will think of their abilities. We forget that as adults. And that's what animation reminds you to do. Just put your heart into the story and forget everything else while you tell it.

There was one boy who stuck out though. I'm hoping I don't forget him for a long time. He had this air of sincerity about him and an interest that seemed to run just that necessary bit deeper than the usual boyish obsession in super heroes and comics. Very likeable chap. Okay, okay, he was just shoo shweet! :)

So anyway, N (let's call him that) made his very first movie using the tablet and I have it saved in the unrealistic hope that someday when he'll become this great animator and want to have it as a memory. I know I have a lot of my firsts that I keep for purely sentimental value. That's what helps keep the dreams alive when you're down, that drawing or piece of writing that you pulled out from deep within in a moment of complete Belief that you would succeed. (And why shouldn't you?)

Fears and insecurities are things we teach ourselves as adults. True, they save us from getting hurt, but when it comes to art, getting hurt is part of the process of production. I think that's one of the most obvious differences between an animation that is well-produced and one that actually touches you. The artists behind the scene or the drawing that stays with you for ages afterwards must have put something of themselves into the work.

That's why as I put up my first offering to the visual side of this blog, I do so with a trembling ego and a silent thanks to N for reminding me of the really important thing in this business: purity of involvement.

After all, a drawing is simply a bunch of lines. It's the artist who breathes life into it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

KU!

I did Fine Art in Kenyatta University, and right when I finish they revamp the syllabus to give the new kids what we wanted. Sigh.
So now you can study Film, Animation, acting and so forth all under the banner of the School of Visual Arts.

Interestingly, a lot of people in the creative industry have come from KU, from the poetess Caroline Nderitu to Reddykyulass, the comedians. (It might be that the conditions are such that you have to develop a sense of humour to cope! Naw, I'm just joking...)

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Many Faces of a Fan

So. Saturday. My first post was pretty clear on how excited I was about the meet. So why haven't I come back and posted all those stories aplenty? Possibly, because it was a humbling experience in one way and an enlightening one in another.

I've watched a few Ghibli movies, caught a series here and there, and I thought I enjoyed it enough to call myself a fan. Saturday was a reality check. The people there were fans. I'm just someone enjoying the ride.

And yet. I liked the whole feel of being amongst people discovering each other, starting conversations that held the promise of outlasting the meet, getting excited at finding that all elusive episode or series. People sharing a common interest. It was energetic and pleasingly self-absorbed. Like we'd created a space in a pocket of time to which we all belonged. I say 'we' because despite my "newbie-ness", I didn't feel entirely alienated.

People were cool. I got recommendations on what to watch, and someone even gave me a sorta, verbal pat-on-the-back for being brave enough to venture into anime :)

Do I see myself starting to avidly follow plots, memorising characters and watch the latest series? Not really. But that's probably because I've done that a lot with non-anime stuff and I'm looking for a new experience from this medium.

I'd love to attend another meet, but perhaps stay on for the actual discussion part (which I missed this time) and see how that goes. I'd probably sit and listen more than I usually do, simply because there's so so much to learn. And because I really don't do that well in crowds unless I know the people.

But there is promising news! I got goodies! And I gave away too - which felt surprisingly nice.

Verdict: Saturday was a pretty good idea for different reasons all around :)

(( And I don't think 'Gatherum' is a true word. ))