Nqobizitha Mlilo and the birth of 3D animation in Zimbabwe

3D & Animation | By Nqobizitha Mlilo, Animator | 06 April 2013
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

POVO: Thanks for your time, can you give us a brief background about yourself

NQO: I have been an animator and digital artist for the past 7-8 years now. At once, I also lectured at the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA) for 5 years specializing in 3D module for the visual effects class. Starting off in web design at 17, I worked my way into design using Photoshop, but I always had a passion for comics and animation. In 2002 I got my first copy of 3D package called Blender and that’s what got me into the game.

POVO: How is it going now with video, have you started integrating your 3D in music videos? 

NQO: The music video thing started when I was getting into animation, starting with Bulawayo based Mabongile’s song I Spy. We animated a 3 minutes long 2D clip to, which came out on ZBC news and was classified as the first ever fully animated music video. Whilst in my last year in college, I worked on rapper Lady Bug’s two videos Ndipe Rufaro and Fatherless in 2007 which quickly became popular. From that point on more requests came in and to date I have done 25 videos integrated into 3D with live action. Other work was on Nesto's My Chocolate, which was animated with minor cartoon effects, and then we graduated to more complex stuff.

POVO: What was it like working with artists and what is your role in the creative process?
NQO: Because I started off with friends on their videos, I had creative leeway in everything. At that time I wasn't too familiar with camera men so I shot videos with a colleague - Arthur Mataruse who was studying film in Cape Town. My strength still remains in post-production, but I am involved in all aspects of production.
Most artists are very easy to work with and you find that Nesto and Lady Bug have become repeat customers so, the relationships are pretty good. Some are difficult to work especially the more popular artists with some ego issues that you have to deal with. So long as we establish the relationship that we are both artists. You have come to me and you want your job done with mutual respect, it’s easier to work. 

POVO: Any commercial work that you are doing? 

NQO: My commercial work has been restricted to color grading and editing live action commercials but most of the time because of what I do, I am confined to doing graphic adverts, which require animation. That kind of work is not as creatively exciting or challenging as the music videos although it gets the bills paid. Half the time clients do not want a lot of stuff and come with their own ideas with tight deadlines. Whereas, with music videos I can take three weeks to a month to produce.

POVO: What’s your opinion on the appreciation for 3D and animation in Zimbabwe?
NQO: I think people are still very ignorant of their abilities so the industry itself does not demand as much from the animators and 3D artists as they should. There is an endless possibility regarding creative ideas. I guess people are still stuck in that old way of thinking where they don't challenge the animator to push the envelope of creativity. Its difficult to influence with commercials because half the time they will come from advertising agencies so you find that creative direction has already been signed off by the time it gets to you. All you are doing is producing what they want to liven up their story boards. You can't influence the core concept.

POVO: What is the current status of the the animation industry in Zimbabwe and future prospects?
NQO: The animation industry is represented through the Joint African Animation Group (JAAG), the first official Zimbabwean animation association, which I founded with Solomon Maramba and Malvern Danda. We set up a Facebook group that is now 80 members strong. other structures we support are the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) through workshops, production focus and awareness campaigns and presentations at HIFA. We have done a few baby steps, but the baby steps which we have done have been very organized and they have inspired a lot of interest in the industry now, in such a way that people see it as a possible career option. As JAAG we are working on an animation festival in July in partnership with Alliance Francais as well as American Pixel Corps founder Alex Lindsay.

POVO: Any workshops in schools?
NQO: We haven't approached the schools yet but students have come to our workshops at ZIFF. Its something that we definitely have an interest in and one of the main projects that I am spearheading is what we call the open movie. It will be a short film where all the JAAG members are going to come in and help in pitching in terms of ideas, work and man hours. What we are doing is that we are opening up the story, there is no story yet but we will go to the schools and ask them to submit ideas which they think will be cool for an African animated comedy short film. The creator of a winning idea will be involved in the script creation process and we will finally create the short film which should be ready by 2011.

POVO: How is the Graphic Novel coming along?
NQO: I am working on a trilogy series of one of the few graphic novels in Africa, the first of which is called Ibutho. The names of the other two have not been finalized yet. A graphic novel, is a slightly thicker comic, like a novel whose story begins and ends but is not serialized like comic books which. A graphic novel may come up maybe once a year. It allows the artist to really sit down and do more in-depth artwork, where you know its only once off and not deadline driven. Two chapters of the first novel will be downloadable for free on www.handuworld.com. There will be other successive chapters that will be downloaded for free. Hopefully the graphic novel will be out by December, the follow up three months after that.

POVO: say I have just come from high school and I want to do 3D?
NQO: My suggestion would be to join the JAAG group on Facebook, for discussions online with other animators who have had a bit of experience. We can also inform people about what kind of workshops are instore and we have got a whole lot of introductory workshops. As Encore Media studio I want to get a mentorship program where I introduce animation and visual effects, possibly in partnership with the Pixel Corp from the USA who are interested in doing a lot of training in Africa.

POVO: Do they have time frames for that?
NQO: Not yet buts it’s something that’s definitely coming, definitely on the pipeline.