vited in mid-June to participate in the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Ayodele ELEGBA arrived in the city of Haute-Savoie (France) with pockets full of images. And for good reason : the boss of the Nigerian animation studio Spoof, fondly nicknamed the "Dreammaker” by his compatriots, came to present his various productions, including the web series Area Daddy; a new milestone in a singular career.
"I'm a self-taught animator," says Spoof's CEO, who recalls that he started out "as a comic illustrator, before venturing into storytelling and animation". His structure, launched five years ago, is now a recognized animation studio that "helps studios, independents and filmmakers realize their dreams" in a rapidly developing industry, both in Nigeria and on the rest of the African continent.
Among the noteworthy trends underway, the rise of co-productions with other studios is obvious. That approach allows to mutualize costs but also and above all, to strengthen the visibility of the works produced. This is a crucial point for Ayodele ELEGBA as it is for other African participants, who often struggle to export their works due to a lack of resources and partnerships. In fact, this is the main asset of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival: with its International Animation Film Market (MIFA), the festival is the world reference for animation films for professionals looking for clients and funding. "We are looking for a way to promote the Spoof brand, to a more global audience, more international clients and probably to get some good deals, whether it is a Netflix original, a Hulu contract or an Amazon deal. Anything is possible!", the Nigerian artist-entrepreneur says enthusiastically.
And indeed, there was no shortage of opportunities to make useful contacts during this 60th edition of the Festival. The cultural event, held from June 14 to 19, on the shores of Lake Annecy, was placed under the patronage of the Ivorian writer and director Marguerite ABOUET. It put Africa at the spotlight this year, with several professionals from the continent being also members of the jury.
A selection that reflects the diversity of African production
Among the African selections that stood out were Carte blanche à l'animation du Maghreb, proposed by Mohamed BEYOUD (founder of the Meknes Animation Festival); Lady Buckit & the Motley Mopsters, a Nigerian feature film by Adebisi ADETAYO, and Aujourd'hui, l'animation africaine, a series of 11 contemporary programs from South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana and Congo.
That spotlight, besides the generalized rise of animation made in Africa, confirms the increased professionalization of local actors, driven by both a growing demand from African consumers, and a desire to develop a production more focused on the cultural values of the continent.
An animation made in Africa becoming more pronounced
To illustrate this evolution, Véronique ENCRENAZ, the head of MIFA, gives the example of Triggerfish, a South African studio that "initially stuck a little to the American model, before gradually becoming independent with locally trained talent". Some of this talent has since spread elsewhere, and in particular has led to the creation of specialized schools such as 3D Net in Tunis, a leading training center that has been training young Africans in the animation industry, among others, for more than 20 years. "These African animation professionals now want to tell their own stories and no longer work on narratives that come from Europe or elsewhere," said the director of MIFA, who notes that "this change is also observed in the world of comics. Arnaud MIQUEL, head of professional meetings and general public at the Festival notes "the rise of Afro-futurism, a trend that refers to the global success of the blockbuster Black Panthers and its very science fiction side that is a little radical sometimes [...] ".
So many recent developments in African animation that savvy observers of the sector were able to see firsthand as part of the festival's selection, or during MIFA’s "pitches"; those key moments when a partnership or funding can propel a production to the forefront. "A lot of animators in Nigeria, especially, and in Africa are doing very great stuff but they have never really had that opportunity to be at the center stage where people see them and see their work," says Ayodele ELEGBA. Consequently, being present in Annecy "[...] will draw more attention to the animation industry in Africa and improve the economic situation of most African studios, in terms of funding, sponsorship, partnership, co-productions and a lot of other things,” the Nigerian “Dreammaker” hopes.
In fact, the dream has already become a reality, as the rise of African animation is attracting the growing interest of global entertainment giants, such as Netflix - which last year acquired its first African animation, Mama K's Team 4, - and the recent partnership between the Ugandan-Nigerian studio Kugali and the US giant Disney to produce the upcoming animated science-fiction series Iwaju. The latter is a perfect example of an “Africa uniting and coming together to work as a team to have that mega studio that cando blockbuster movies,” says Ayodele ELEGBA.
It now remains to produce some results. Arnaud MIQUEL, a connoisseur of the field, believes that the success of African animation will require "more cooperation, especially within the continent, so that talent and works circulate, but also so that the know-how in terms of funding is more widely shared.