Monday, September 12, 2011

The 3 pillars of the independent Kenyan stop-motion animator/filmmaker/hustler


Stop-motion animation is done by taking still photographs of objects, each photograph representing a frame. The object(s) is/are moved very slightly in each frame and when the frames are put together and played in a sequence, the illusion of movement is created. It is a simple concept, and can be executed easily- but not without a great amount of patience and care for detail. Continuity is key in stop-motion animation, as each frame should match the next in terms of lighting, camera position and the positions of objects (other than the subjects of animation) in the frame. If there is a tree on the set, it should stay in its position in each frame- unless your animation is about a dancing tree.

Stop-motion animation cannot be done without an impressive amount of patience, fortitude, staying-power, endurance, tolerance, persistence and serenity. (I just synonym-searched ‘Patience’ on MS Word)

In my journey with stop-motion animation, I have come to accept that there are three abilities/special gifts that God granted humanity with the independent Kenyan stop-motion animator/filmmaker/hustler in mind.

1.  The ability to make mistakes. Ghastly ones

Mistakes: My first indie movie was done on a Sony camcorder in my university campus. The entire cast and crew was made of 5 people- me and 4 of my friends- none of whom had any particular interest in filmmaking. We shot the film in an off-campus hostel where the electricity was cut off during the day and only connected from 7pm to midnight. We had class during the day and an 11pm curfew at night, so we could only shoot in the evenings once the electricity was connected. With one power-saving light bulb as the only source of light and neighbors that listened to their music loud, we ended up with pale-looking green-colored grainy picture, and ‘Niambie’ by Prof playing louder than the actors’ voices through half the film. That was a ghastly mistake.

Lessons: After making mistakes, we realize that filmmaking is not as easy as they make it seem on Hollywood Highlights and Greatest Directors. The lessons we learn from mistakes are more profound that those we learn in class. After making the pale grainy Niambie film, I started looking for a cheap way to make films of good quality with what I had (no lighting equipment, no sound equipment, no money- nothing), and I stumbled into animation.

2. The aptitude to incessantly ask questions and seek clarification. Incessantly.

Questions: Some people (Tonny) find it irritating when I ask questions over and over and try to find out details that they don’t think are important. Or when I ask the meaning of a Sheng’ word that everyone else in the room is familiar with.  Dumb blonde? Noooo- try independent Kenyan filmmaker/stop-motion animator/filmmaker/hustler!

Lessons: In Kenya, the only good film schools are waaaaaay to expensive for the regular folk like all of us. In many cases, we are forced to teach ourselves about a lot of aspects of filmmaking and animation. Even in Communication/Broadcast courses, the syllabi are not sufficient education for a serious aspiring filmmaker. When I read somewhere about stop-motion animation, I totally assaulted Google and the library (for real, imagine!) and I kept researching until I knew exactly what it is, how it is done, who does it etc.

3. The capacity to borrow and scrounge from… everybody…

Borrowing: Just as I had borrowed a camcorder for my first disastrous short film, I borrowed a camera for stop-motion. I also borrowed thimbles, ink cartridges, key-holders, tube-caps, colored cloths, paper-weights……. A lot of things to create the miniature sets that I use for my stop-motion animation (the dolls are mine though :)

Lesson: Independent filmmaking is characteristically low-busget/no-budget. Without any studio/financier support, a lot of the budget for filmmaking comes from the filmmaker’s pocket. It is strenuous to accommodate everything in the budget without the goodwill of friends and family, so every independent filmmaker knows – you have to borrow. No borrowing, no movies. It’s just the indie way!

 DISCLAIMER: Each filmmaker will require a different set of skills dependent on geographical location, physical aptitude, mental profundity, emotional appeal, creative flexibility and several other 2-word factors. 

Check out a music video that I made- the first music video from East Africa to be done entirely in stop-motion animation! Share the link, and give me feedback :)


        Tuesday, September 6, 2011

        The first music video in East Africa to be done entirely in stop-motion animation!

        Check out a musc video that I made for an amazing song (Link: Rain On My Lips by Pepe Haze & Steph McKee). This is the first music video from East Africa to be done entirely in stop-mo, and I had an amazing time doing it. Watch and share the video, and tell me what you think of it! :)

        Saturday, September 3, 2011

        This week’s post is a little late, but there is good reason for it. You see, I became a zombie.

        A few years ago, the Kenyan music industry was revolutionized by pioneer local artists like Nameless and E-Sir. Urban Kenyan youth finally began to listen to locally made music as much as they did foreign music, and everybody was pleased. Back then, all you needed to make a Kenyan music video was a camera and some friends- maybe a creative director. Very few artists invested ample time and money into their videos, and there wasn’t much cause for it anyway. Mizizi and The Beat played the music videos, and helped to push the Kenyan music industry forward. We loved seeing those videos, and didn’t mind that they were considered inadequate by international standards.

        Today, however, the bar has been raised. It has been raised way up high, and artists need to put more thought, effort and money into their videos to get them played on TV. When I began to work on my first music video, I had no idea that I would eventually turn into a zombie. I learned, however, that this was inevitable after staying up all night last night working on the final touches of the video and trying to incorporate the advice that I got from pre-screenings. I was working for 15 straight hours, and by 7am I felt like a mass of rubbery meat with globs of sponge for eyes (DISCLAIMER: This is a common side effect of working on stop motion videos on a mini laptop 1GB RAM while eating liver and drinking lime juice)

        Nonetheless, it was worth it. After sleepless nights, many prayers and a world of growth, Pepe Haze & Steph McKee finally have a music video for their amazing song, Rain On My Lips- and I hereby claim bragging rights for the first fully puppet-animated stop motion music video in the Kenyan urban music scene! I have well acknowledged that Just A Band stole a bit of my thunder by releasing their amazing animated music videos before mine, but that’s all OK ;) Just A Band came with a 2D animated video (Iwinyo Piny) and a sock-puppet video (Hey!) and an amazing 2D animation of stick-figures (Highway), but I’m coming with a full traditional stop-motion puppet animation piece (Rain On My Lips), and that's a first! (If it's not then someone please tell me which other such music videos exist- so that I can seek out the video producers, zap them with my carbon-destabilizer secret weapon and send them into 2037 where they will spend their days mentoring futuristic afro-techno musicians on the forgotten art of melodic bottle-blowing)

        I get a lot of questions about what exactly stop-motion animation is, so I will publish an account of the production process of the video soon. For now- special thanks to Pepe Haze and Steph McKee for making an amazing song, and for having me make the music video for it. 

        Official release date for the music video is tomorrow, 4th September 2011 (Happy Birthday Pepe!)- it will be on YouTube and Vimeo at midnight tonight, so come through and check out this fully stop-mo local music video! This is the lyrics video; listen to the song as you wait for the official music video...