Nigerian animator and visual effects artist Michael Rhima caused a stir when he released his short animation film, ‘Shango’. Many people have been blown away by the details of the animation and how good it is, making Michael, an economics graduate from University of Lagos, an instant hit. In this interview with Arts and Ideas, Michael, who also has a Master’s degree in visual effects from a US university spoke about what drove him to animation and the impact it can make.
We are witnessing the emergence of promising short animations from Nigeria. What is motivating this awakening?
I can’t say there is one particular factor responsible for this awakening. It’s more of a combination of factors like exposure to the internet and the need for diversity.
We are slowly getting past the doctor, lawyer, engineer (No offence) age and millennials are starting to realize that more can be done to add value to our economy.
Why did it take so long for Nigerian creatives to get into animations?
Well, to start with, making animations is time consuming and expensive. Furthermore, there were no revenue gains from creating animations until recently. However, I feel that just like the comedy industry, which is now becoming a big deal, animation is going to slowly creep into the hearts of Nigerians and parents can comfortably tell their friends that their child is an animator.
Your short animation ‘Shango’ has generated a lot of interest since it was released. Did you anticipate this reaction?
No, I didn’t. As a matter of fact, I didn’t want to release it because I thought it wasn’t good enough to be out there, you know we creatives can be hard on ourselves sometime. Overall, I still think it could have been much better but I’m glad a lot of people responded positively to it.
How long did it take you to produce the work?
I would say it took roughly eight months to complete excluding pre-production. Also, there were a lot of times when I was off the project within those eight months.
It was your MA thesis. How well did your supervisor rate it?
To be sincere I don’t even remember. The good thing about Art school over here (in the US) is that its more about growth than grades, since art is subjective there’s really no good or bad. I know most of them were happy with how much I had grown before graduating, some of them even followed up on the progress of the project, even after I had graduated.
A lot of people thought “Shango” was amazing. Others thought it wasn’t entirely faithful to the legend or myth. What would be your response?
Yes, I am aware of that and I can understand why some people had issues with its originality. For one they should understand that every creative aspect was a conscious decision made by myself and my friend, Desmond Inwang, who served as the concept artist. The Ifa religion is practised by a lot of people around the world and in fact, Brazilians constitute the most of my fanbase since I have been into this stuff. So when making ‘Shango’ I had to make it in such a way that it satisfied several parties. The title ‘Shango’ also sparked controversies as most people preferred the word ‘Sango’ instead, I felt that ‘Sango’ without the ami ohun (Yoruba marks indicating pronunciation) means something different and should be thus spelt “Shango” in order that people who are new to this can pronounce it better. Another issue was the sound and visual aesthetics ofthe film. Like I said above, art is a very subjective thing and everyone would have their own opinion on a particular work of art. All I can say is that I strive to do my best within my own capability and leave the rest.
Is there a longer version of ‘Shango’ coming up?
No, I don’t think so. Right now it’s hard for me to do a feature length. Although I plan on making more short films featuring other Orishas of the Yoruba religion.
Computer generated animations have obviously made things easier for animators. Are you nostalgic about traditional hand-drawn animations?
No, I won’t say I’m nostalgic for the fact that I still help out in making some traditional animations. I guess both are still used today and no one method trumps the other.
What made you go into animation? Was there a particular moment or incident that set you off on the path to becoming an animator?
Wow. That is a tough one. I’ve always been interested in games and animation since I was young. One major moment though, was when my elder brother brought home a Japanese animated movie called ‘Final Fantasy: Advent Children’, before then I hadn’t seen anything like that and just seeing the visuals and movement of those characters blew my mind. I think deep down since then I told myself I was going to do something like that.
After graduating from Unilag as an economist I got the chance to work part time in several studios and my love for animation solidified, so thankfully with the help of my parents I got the chance to travel abroad and study visual effects for film.
Speaking of visual effect, in Nollywood visual effects have left a lot to be desired. How do you think you can improve this?
Good Visual effects requires a lot of time and money, something that most Nigerian movies can’t really afford at the moment. I think they should focus more on story and good cinematography before jumping into CGI movies.
So what are you working on now? What should people look forward to from you?
Well I’m taking a rest and using my time to learn some softwares that are crucial to the visual effects industry. We are also on the pre-production stage of another short film, which should come out next year, this time around we are trying to get our foundations right before jumping into production. I hope the next short we get on would be much better than the first.