How Pingu’s death inspired artists’ animation niche

Artists Thome Mwaniki, Sheldon Mutei and Gift Kyansamire. (Courtesy)
When children’s comedy Pingu stopped airing on Kenyan television, many in the animation space forgot about its unique design. Pingu, played by a penguin character made out of plasticine clay, was a series made purely from physically creating and moving the character to create a sequence that looks like continuous motion. This gap in the animation scene sparked the interest of three young men who chose to start a career in stop motion.

In the sauna-hot shipping container set in a church compound, Gift Kyansimire, Sheldon Mutei and Thome Mwaniki do their artistic rituals meant to resurrect a dead style of art. They are founders of Ink Space, an art startup with the goal of utilising stop motion animation to impact lives and tell stories.

The work space is like Dr Frankenstein’s lab. Papers ripped apart lie dead on the drawing table, short-dying pencils scatter on their work station while fresh sketches of their current assignment await the touch of life from the three artists.

To understand stop motion, you will need to look at movies such as Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) and Early Man (2018).

It involves creating characters from things like plasticine clay or paper then changing positions of the objects as you take photos of each of those positions. Using a software, all those still images are put together and the sequence creates motion.

Ingenuity

Unlike most animations, stop motion requires a different set of ingenuity and the three creators know them well. They attribute patience, dexterity, teamwork and improvisation as the main skills to grow.

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“We are a small studio and most of the things we do are improvisation learnt on the job,” says Mutei. They make do with what they have and take it as a blessing because it makes them become more creative in the way they do their work.

“Improvisation is your best friend in this business,” says Mwaniki as he shows us how they improvised a character to appear as if it is swimming under the sea.

It has been three months since they decided to voyage on this path and all they want to do is charter a new trail to content meant to educate and entertain people. Mutei has pieced the manila paper characters together. He will need to move them a little bit as Mwaniki takes the pictures.

They will repeat this over and over again until the character makes the motion they need. For one sequence shot, at least two hours are needed. It is a tedious job but which Mutei says he loves doing. “It is hard. We come here early and leave almost at midnight but at the end of the day, it gives us immense satisfaction to know we are doing what we love,” he says.

Positive response

“Everyone is doing 3D animation and we felt we needed to do something different that can really stand out and employ our different skills,” says Kyansimire on why they choose to pursue the tedious craft lost to the contemporary Kenyan animation market.

After creating their first trial piece and posting it on social media, the team got positive response and that fuelled their desire to do more. The trio’s current assignment is a music video for a local artiste.

They have worked on a project called ‘The Tears of the Ocean’, which is a story of a little girl from Kenya who lost the ocean and the life she loves to pollution.

The video, which is the first ever completed stop motion video in East Africa, ended up being nominated in the Kenyan Animation Festival competition and qualified for the Nigeria Comicon by taking a spot in the top 10 animation pieces in the continent.

The team is confident about the future. They have plans of launching a comic book about art, environment and pollution to be circulated in schools. “We want to do something that impacts lives,” says Mwaniki.

“Opportunities in this line of art are limitless. We are excited to see how the next couple of months turn out,” says Mutei.

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