Okeremute Ovuorho is an Abuja-based animator and founder of Blue Ribbon Animation Studio. Also, a scriptwriter, producer, and media consultant, his animated film titled ‘Lake Kabula’ won the 2020 Tagore International Film Festival (TIFF) Best Film on Nature/Environment/Wildlife in India. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he speaks about the animation industry in Nigeria and the journey so far
PREMIUM TIMES: How did your foray into animation and film begin?
Okeremute Ovuorho: My desire for animation started in 2005. I was fascinated by the way characters in animated movies (cartoons) were created and how they interacted with one another. I searched the internet for ideas and engaged in further research and studies. In 2014, I went to the International Film and Broadcast Academy, Lagos where I studied cinematography and editing. That gave me the opportunity to learn the technique of film making. In 2017 and 2018, I attended an animation workshop organized by The French Institute, Goethe Institute Nigeria and the German Embassy. That exposed me to the principles of animation and the acts of film creation.
PT: Animation is quite expensive to make. A recently shot 3D feature-length Nigerian animation reportedly cost $1m to make. Why so?
Ovuorho: Animation is capital intensive, it involves different sections of production from scripting, storyboard, animatics, characters development, background development, modelling, texturing, voicing, animation and rendering. All these processes of production require specialized skills and resources. The cost of production in terms of all the machines and software is also a major factor. Paying actors who voice on behalf of the characters and hiring animators also adds up to the budget. This is also the reason why we don’t have a lot of indigenous animated films.
PT: What are the challenges in your field?
Ovuorho: Firstly, the absence of quality studios with the necessary technical know-how. Secondly, lack of funding and infrastructure. These include the cost of studio space, high cost of buying high-end graphic computers, graphic tablets, rendering machines, insufficient power supply, payment of staff, etc. Inadequate policies and regulations by the necessary government bodies to help regulate the industry and put policies that will make it difficult to release uncensored content into the public spaces. Thirdly, lack of collaboration. Embracing a more open way of collaboration that focuses on leveraging on team strength rather than an individual’s strength is important in finishing projects successfully.
PT: What projects are you currently working on & why?
Ovuorho: I am currently working on another animated film about poaching in Africa. As an environmentalist and an animal right activist, I feel the need to raise more awareness on the effects of poaching, highlighting the pain and trauma animals go through as a result of these illegal activities.
PT: How can animation be applied as a tool for social change like the effects of climate change?
Ovuorho: Animation can be applied as a tool for social change like the effects of climate change in the area of awareness creation. Climate change is a problem that occurs gradually and appears complex. To further simplify the subject and show how it affects both plants and animals, animation can be deployed as a better approach to demonstrate how and what can be done to stop or reduce the effects using whiteboard animation, motion graphics, and inspiring stories.
PT: Tell us more about the animation industry in Nigeria (opportunities and challenges)?
Ovuorho: The animation industry in Nigeria is still small with great potential to expand and employ a large number of people in different sections of film production. The challenges include lack of professional trainers and training centres, high cost of equipment, shortage of power supply, insufficient grants and poor government regulation. These are some of the challenges making it difficult to meet the needs in the market.
PT: Do you think Nigerian film audiences are receptive to animation?
Ovuorho: Nigerian film audiences are receptive to animation. I say so because good quality sells itself. I believe everybody appreciates high-quality materials, the same goes for animated movies. It starts from the quality of your story, how appealing are your characters, and the believability of the environment in which you place them. I’m sure if you get it right at these levels, your animated movie will pass the test of universality and be appreciated not only in Nigeria but all over the world.
PT: In terms of returns, how lucrative is your field & how much does it cost to produce a ‘decent’ animation in Nigeria that is of international quality?
Ovuorho: Animation is very lucrative especially if you develop your skills enough and have a good demo-reel to showcase to clients. There are great potentials in getting clients not just within your locality but across the world.
PT: It seems as though the animation industry is a male-dominated field over in Nigeria.
Ovuorho: Animation in Nigeria used to be a male-dominated field but recently, there are quite a number of women that have ventured into the field. This is because more people have identified the potentials and the various areas in the industry that require qualified skills that are absent. I want to encourage more women to take up various roles in the animation production pipeline and bridge the gap.
PT: Do you think there is an apathy or dearth of female animators in Nigeria?
Ovuorho: I don’t think there is the apathy of female animators in Nigeria. I would not consider it as apathy but a lack of awareness about the opportunities that are present in the industry. There is now what I may refer to as a shift in perspective that has made a lot of Nigerians more critical to search deep for alternatives to white-collar jobs. This has given rise to different women’s associations especially in the creative fields.
PT: Why are Nigerian actors yet to embrace the idea of diversifying into voice talents?
Ovuorho: Nigerian actors are yet to embrace the idea of diversifying into voice talents because of the apparent challenges involved in voice acting. Hiring voice actors to perform in animated films is very different from hiring voice actors to create a voice over for a commercial. Voice actors can’t just recite lines in a commanding or charismatic manner. They have to bring characters to life. In animated films, the animation itself helps to create personalities for characters, the voice actors will often supply everything else. It takes an incredibly skilled actor to make that happen.
PT: Do you think Nigerian animators aren’t appreciated or adequately recognized in Nigeria? If yes, how can this be remedied?
Ovuorho: Nigerian animators are not adequately recognized because we still have some indigenous companies or organizations who prefer to take their animated projects to other parts of the world for production, for example, commercials or adverts, product visualization as well as films. This is not encouraging. Part of the solution is for the Nigerian government to encourage local content consumption on our local TV stations, by allocating special airtime for animated materials, giving grants to animation studios to improve in their capacity and accommodate more creatives. Finally, private companies and organization need to invest in the industry, create different platforms where animators from different parts of the world can converge, train, and share experiences.
PT: What are the top three skills required to be a successful animator?
Ovuorho: For me, the top three skills required to be a successful animator are number one patience, which is not a skill but a virtue. The animation is technical and time-consuming, your desire to succeed should make you extremely patient and pay attention to details. Secondly, you need creativity and imaginative power which can be enhanced through studies, research, practice, and by getting a mentor. Lastly, you need to have drawing skills and be familiar with computers and graphics software.
PT: Any advice for aspiring animators?
Ovuorho: My advice for aspiring animators and my mentees is to explore, practice, and use their creative minds all the time. Ideas are unlimited, they fly freely in the sky. If they can imagine it, they can bring it to life. The world is waiting to receive what they have conceived in their minds. Never stop thinking and pushing for excellence.
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