Animation in Africa over the last few years has seen a remarkable boost, in production and consumption with no signs of slowing down. In June this year, Annecy announced Africa as the spotlight territory for the next edition of the Annecy Animation Film Festival in 2020.
This is incredible news that has the African animation industry excited and for good reason: it means more visibility, better chances at international collaboration, resource and knowledge sharing and a compelling reason for more creators (especially those baulking) to enter the industry.
This news also means content producers will be on the prowl for great African animated projects. With this news also, more African animators will come out of their holes to showcase their projects and hopefully capture the hearts of these producers.
Are there any animators (or animation studios) in Africa? Of course. New emerging studios and growing interest have spurred the rise of animators and studios. Additionally, higher internet penetration in Africa and consequently more access to information and software tools, as well as universities making animation part of the curriculum have improved the prospects of African produced animation.
Many of them, however, are men (or heavily male-dominated); much like the rest of the world. Rephrasing Anna Ginsburg, the animation industry is “like a boy’s club with mad, macho energy flying around.”
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t any women directly animating on the continent. Ghanaian animator, Natasha Nayo held an incredible masterclass at the maiden edition of the just concluded Accra Animation Film Festival on the topic.
With her permission, we’ve repurposed her presentation, African Women in Animation here.
Why There Are Few Women in Animation
What’s the reason for such a small number of women in the African Animation Industry? Natasha conducted some research into the topic by herself, using Ghana as a case study to represent the continent. What she found was this:
- Almost sounds too good to be true for many people;
- A recurring theme of male dominance in the creative field as a whole;
- People who hire women animators are more amazed at their gender than talent;
- Most women do animation or videos as a side hobby or side job than full time;
- Amazing work has been done over the years but are easily swept under the rug because there are so few women in animation; and
- While a low number of females in animation could mean a number of things, intimidation and the lack of influence are some of the stronger reasons.
Inspiring Women in African Animation
Comfort Arthur (Animator, Ghana)
Comfort Arthur is a British-born Ghanaian illustrator, comic artist and animator who is currently the director of the FUPiTOONS Animation Festival for Kids. She holds a Master’s Degree in animation from the Royal College of Arts.
She has a down-to-earth illustration style that shines through her animation and comics. Her films and illustrations often juxtapose her experiences growing up in the UK with her home country, Ghana. Through her art, Comfort shows how she’s navigating back and forth between the two environments. Her stories also deal with a lot of social issues. One of her comics, Social Media Zombies, for instance, highlights how distracting and invasive social media is in our lives.
Comfort’s films have won her accolades over the years. In 2019, she won the Grand Prize at the first edition of Recontres Africanes Du Film d’Animation at 2019 FESPACO. Her film, the Peculiar Life of a Spider was nominated in the Best Animation category at the Ghana Movie Awards and Africa Movie Awards.
Her most popular film, Black Barbie, celebrates black skin while tackling Comfort’s experience with skin bleaching while growing up. The film has won her several awards including Best Spoken Piece Film at the Real Times Film Festival (2016), Best Animation at the Ghana Movie Awards (2016), and Best Female Director at the Black Star International Film Festival.
Check out her CNN feature below.
Vanessa Ann Sinden (Producer, South Africa)
Vanessa is an award-winning producer of both live-action and animated films with over 20 years of filmmaking experience. She turned her back on South Africa’s indie film sector during its rise to focus more on animation. Her passion led to her becoming one of the pioneers of Triggerfish Animation Studios, undoubtedly Africa’s biggest and most successful animation studio. She co-produced the biggest animated feature films from Africa, Adventures in Zambezia and Khumba. V
She serves as a mentor to young producers and creators through Trigger Fish’s Story Lab. She guides young talents breaking into the industry and assists them in bringing the best out of their projects in order to ready these projects for the international stage.
Vanessa is also the founder of African Women in Animation, an organization that bridges the gap between the number of female animation students versus women working in the industry studying animation. The organization promotes and empowers African women within the African animation, VFX and gaming industries by offering support and helping unlock opportunities.
Adebimpe Adebambo (Creative Director, Nigeria)
Adebimpe is a fashion, jewellery and accessories designer, animator and creative director of her own studio, Adebimpe Productions. She is a staunch advocate for animation in Africa and writes passionately about animation on her blog.
Her debut animated film, Tejumade, has screened at several film festivals such as the Silicon Valley African Film Festival, Ndiva Women’s Film Festival, Cardiff International Film Festival and the Accra Animation Film Festival.
Due to her great love for animation, she decided to produce and direct an animated short film—Tejumade which she has wanted to do for the past 23 years. She plans to eventually make it into a full length animated feature which was her original idea and is also working on a full-colour storybook with the same title.
In May 2019, Adebimpe contributed an insightful article to the Nollywood Week Paris 2019 on animation in Africa, which positioned the continent as the next frontier for animated content. You can read that here.
Malenga Mulendema (Writer, Zambia)
Malenga has been in the news recently as the writer and creator of Mama K’s Super 4, the first African animated show acquired by streaming giant Netflix. We wrote about the implications of that acquisition by Netflix here.
Mulendema’s animation journey began when she pitched her project to Story Lab, an initiative by Triggerfish animation in partnership with the Walt Disney Company and South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry.
According to Malenga, she grew up watching superheroes and, as an adult, it is still her favourite genre. Tapping into her lesson from the genre that anyone can be a superhero, she began to wonder why there weren’t any heroes that looked, sounded and felt like her. That moment led her to create a superhero show set in her city, Lusaka in Zambia.
The show’s description reads, “fighting rich and powerful opponents with limited resources means Mama K’s Super 4 will have to be smart and resourceful in a show in which taking down the bad guys and turning in your homework is all in a day’s work.”
The show is currently in development.
Natasha Nayo (Animator & Illustrator, Ghana)
Natasha Nayo is a Ghanaian animator and illustrator who graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animation and Illustration from the Maryland Institue College of Art.
She describes her style (illustration and animation) as cartoonish mixed with vibrant colours and strong linework.
In 2017, Natasha collaborated with StoryFarm to create Accidently, an unusual ad about the Second Amendment and preventing kids from holding guns in the United States. aThe animated short was screened at the Encounters Film Festival in 2018 as part of the Accra Animation Film Festival’s program of African Animation in Bristol.
Natasha, together with Lizz Johnson is also the winner of the third preliminaries of the Annecy Animation du Monde Pitching Competition held at the Accra Animation Film Festival in 2019.
Emy Yugbovwre (Animator, Nigeria)
Eguvwe Majomi Yugbovwre, EMY for short is the lead 2D animator and founder of Ajebotoons Studios in Nigeria. Emy is mostly a self-taught animator with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from the University of Port Harcourt.
Her only formal training in animation came from a one-month training scholarship to learn 3D animation from the New York Film Academy (NYFA) in collaboration with DELYORK.
She’s the brains behind the hit animation short series, Aje and Kpakpo which has garnered more than 3.5 million views collectively on YouTube. While unquantified, the series has been widely circulated across social media (especially WhatsApp) within West Africa and beyond.
Besides Ajebotoons, Emy has also worked on the Bino and Fino children’s animated series.
Bruktawit Tigabu (Producer & Animator, Ethiopia)
Brukty is an Ethiopian TV producer, director, animator and school teacher. She’s the creator and producer of Tibeb Girls, an animated show that highlights the prevalence of child marriage in Africa.
The Tibeb Girls are Ethiopia’s very own PowerPuff girls – in green Fikir (meaning love), in black Tigist (meaning patience) and in red Fiteh (meaning Justice), the three girls set out to save the day.
The show is a fun, action-packed and informative series about 3 adolescent superheroines who use their powers to free young girls from the danger of being child brides.
Bruktawit Tigabu is also the co-founder and CEO of the Whiz Kids Workshop, the small company she and her husband, Shane Etzenhouser, set up in 2005 to produce fun but educational content for preschool kids.
Through Whiz Kids Workshop, Brukty developed Ethiopia’s first educational TV show for preschool kids entitled Tsehai Loves Learning, that is watched by more than 5 million children and broadcast in schools, refugee centres and clinics.
Dami Solesi (Animator, Nigeria)
Dami Solesi is the founder and CEO of SMIDS Animation Studios based in Lagos. SMIDS Animation Studios is an animation production company that specialises in 3D animation, motion graphics and visual effects.
SMIDS is one of Nigeria’s foremost animation studios and focuses on developing creative content for kids and family entertainment meant for global audiences. The company offers end-to-end production services for high-end commercials, TV series and films.
Damilola’s passion for creating animation and gaming dates back to her childhood when she saw her first 3D animated movie, which was her actual light to realising the depth of her passion.
She founded SMIDS in 2010 with savings from her national youth service year (NYSC) and she is a beneficiary of the YOUWin Initiative by the Nigerian Federal Government for her animation project design.
At the 2018 continental finals at Discop in Johannesburg, Solesi’s The Makerbolts and won one of two places to represent Africa at the 2019 Animation du Monde Finals. The other winner was The Trouble Makers by Nildo Essa from Mozambique.
Dami has a background in animation with a certificate in Autodesk 3D Max and specializes in 3D animation, content production and storytelling. You can learn more about Dami in the interview below.
While Natasha Nayo’s presentation touched on only the women described above, there are a few more women worth mentioning in animation in Africa.
Ebele Okoye Weber (Animator, Nigeria/Germany)
Ebele Okoye Weber is an iconic Nigerian animator based in Germany who produces animated films that treat and process African-related topics and make them accessible to European audiences.
Born in 1969, she studied Fine and Applied Arts at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu and graduated in Graphic Design/Illustration. She worked as a freelance graphic artist and cartoonist in Lagos before migrating to Germany where she pursued her education in 2D animation at the International Film School Cologne.
Ebele has about 7 animated films to her credit, shifting between roles as director, animator, writer and producer on them. She produced, directed and animated the award-winning Legacy of the Rubies film.
Watch the trailer for her film, Legacy of the Rubies below.
Omoyefe Majoroh (3D Generalist, Nigeria)
According to AsikoBeampeh.com, Omoyefe Majoroh is a graduate of Computer Science from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria. She later obtained a master’s degree in Computer Animation and Visual Effects from the University of Bradford, West Yorkshire and currently works as a 3D Generalist with Komotion Studios.
She is part of the team that worked on the epoch-making Dawn of Thunder animated short film and is currently being worked on as a fully animated feature film.
Omoyefe is also working on her personal project – the Bae n Boo animated series while studying directing at the Royal Arts Academy—a film school founded by award-winning Nollywood producer Emem Isong-Misodi.
Najilau Dramundu (Animator, Ghana)
Najilau Dramundu is a Ghanaian animator and programmer who wants to do more than preserve Ghanaian culture with her work. She hopes to address body image issues that are being exasperated by social media and are affecting the younger generation in her hometown, Tamale, in the northern part of the country.
“My biggest drive is telling the Northern Ghanaian story and empowering the people around me,” says Najilau, a graduate of Ghana’s National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI).
Through animation, Najilau has created projects that either project or integrate the ideals of Northern Ghanaian Society.
Speaking to Cartoon Brew about animation, she says, “I’m obsessed with the idea of being able to manipulate events in your own way. Animation is fascinating…it’s like you’re God, you can create whatever you want whenever you want.”
Kabelo Maaka (South Africa)
Kabelo Cabblow Maaka is the founder, director and lead animator of Cabblow Studios – a Johannesburg based studio that has worked on several 2D medical animated shorts. She’s also an illustrator and animation lecturer who’s passionate about animation and about sharing that passion with others.
She founded Cabblow Studios in 2017 in fulfilment of a childhood dream and as part of her vision to be a gamechanger in the animation industry; locally and internationally. Kabelo is skilled in digital character animation, character design, storyboarding, scriptwriting, illustration, film editing, research and singing.
Maaka has received a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Honours) in Animation and Scriptwriting from AFDA and has also been educated at Gobelins L’École de L’Image, Paris France. Kabelo describes herself as a visionary with a warm and infectious personality who is a curious and keen observer of life.
How to Create That Female Spark For Female Inspirers
According to Natasha, the top reasons why there aren’t a lot of African women doing animation can be summed up into four bullet points:
- Women aren’t encouraged to learn;
- There’s a general lack of knowledge in animation, more so amongst women;
- A strong DISBELIEF that women can animate; and
- Animation has historically been a male-dominated industry.
As an important demographic passionate about animation, women need to ACT in order for African women to appreciate animation enough to want to produce content.
To make African women appreciate animation, a number of things need to be done and the ones already started, need to be intensified.
- More Workshops and Female oriented group meet-ups about the industry;
- Encourage women to try and explore animation as much as they want;
- Spread awareness of the lack of women; and
- More mentorship and guidance programmes.
For even more women in animation, check out this mini-documentary by on the women that featured at the Cape Town International Animation Festival 2019.
“I think PASSION is the secret ingredient that drives HARD WORK and EXCELLENCE.”Kelly Ayotte – Former US Senator