Self-Taught Kenyan Entrepreneur Talks Animation In Africa

Self-Taught Kenyan Entrepreneur Talks Animation In Africa

Africa’s nascent animation industry holds numerous opportunities as more corporate brands shift to animated commercials, says FatBoy Animations founder, 26-year-old Michael Muthiga.

Nairobi-based FatBoy has produced animated commercials for companies such as Barclays Bank, Safaricom, Telkom Orange, and Jamii Telecommunications, according to an interview in HowWeMadeItInAfrica.

Muthiga’s best-known work is a popular advertisement promoting JTL’s terrestrial fiber optic offering — known locally as “faiba.” The success of the promotion prompted JTL to commission a series of ads. Muthiga’s animated productions are popular among Kenyan social media users and TV audiences.

What his clients are after, Muthiga told HowWeMadeItInAfrica, is the creativity and unique stories behind the animations.

“(Corporations) are just realizing that animation can work for them,” Muthiga said. “There are still many areas such as the medical field, education sector and architecture and construction. All these guys are realizing that animation can work for them. There is so much to be done.”

FatBoy takes on four to six projects a month and Muthiga charges at least 2 million Kenyan shillings (US$22,800) for a 30-second commercial.

“The market has really opened up,” he said. “Clients that are calling now are not just from Kenya but from across East Africa and as far as the U.S., Canada, India and even China. It is the stories that captivate clients. This is an industry worth watching.”

When Muthiga graduated from high school, he said he couldn’t afford to attend one of the few colleges that offered animation courses.

Instead he took free online classes and later went to work for Tinga Tinga Tales, a children’s cartoon series based on African folk tales. There he honed his skills.

“That is where I learned how to handle workload; I worked late into the night,” he said. When Tinga Tinga Tales production ended three years ago, Muthiga started his own business –FatBoy Animations. He was 23. He said he saw something missing in the advertising industry.

“I wanted to change the way advertisements and commercials are made,” he said.

He uploaded some of his work on YouTube and caught the eye of some ad agencies and corporations.

A Kenyan telecommunications company asked him to produce an animated ad.

“I did not have to pitch and convince anyone,” he said. “I worked really hard on my first animation… it got a lot of viewership and went viral. Then clients started calling.”

Since then, Fat Boy has entered into long-term contracts with clients.

It’s not just the animation that’s attracting them, he said. “It’s more about the story. There will always be new stories, things that happen around us. There will always be something new.”

FatBoy has three employees in Nairobi and outsources services such as character creation, rendering, modelling to agencies in the U.S. and India. Finding local talent is difficult, Muthiga said. Labor is not available locally. “There are a lot of guys who can do animation, but there are standards which we have to maintain.”

Other challenges include constant power blackouts.

Muthiga hopes to break into feature films and animated series.“I don’t want to only compete in Africa with Nigerian movies. I want to compete with U.S., Indian and U.K. animated series and feature films. I want to go worldwide.”

His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Invest in the field you have a passion for. Get on-the-job skills, knowledge and experience before starting out on your own.

“Everyone has a talent and a gift which they are really good at. That is the thing that should fuel their entrepreneurial drive,” he told HowWeMadeItInAfrica. “If you work to solve a problem and not to make money then you will succeed and the money will follow…The passion needs to be developed. That eight to five job is very necessary.”

While working on Tinga Tinga Tales, Muthiga said he arrived at the office at 6 a.m. and left at 9 p.m. He did that for a year, even though he was only required to work eight hours a day. Working long hours taught him how to handle huge workloads and deliver on time.

“I wasn’t the highest-paid person in the company but I was learning something and I really loved it,” he said.