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 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...

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