Human beings encounter a vast range of emotions and experiences every day, and these real life accounts often make the most relatable narratives. We all enjoy stories in through different mediums, be that through talking, film, pictures, comics or books. One of the most direct mediums of expressing a story is through a video; believes Gwamaka Mwabuka saying that “animation is one of the most powerful ways of telling a story, and inspiring emotions”.
Gwamaka is a passionate film producer working in a tiny Animation studio located in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. At the Tai Studio they believe visual animations allow an easy connection with the characters, especially for kids and adolescents. The beauty of animation also arises from the perfect balance of ambiguity of the characters as well as the attributes they possess which make them identifiable and relatable. They’re accessible to everyone, and their cartoon-like nature means that everyone can identify with the characters.
Animation is one of the fastest growing industries in film, especially in Africa- as the availability of television, cinema and internet made the increase in demand for animated films. Until now most of the big animation production studios are located in United States, Europe or Southern Asia. In contrast, there are very few in Africa, which is increasingly problematic as the vibrant and variable African Cultures are rarely represented- meaning that people are much less able to connect with the content they are watching. This hole in the market is however, slowly being plugged by Tai Studios, and other animation studios such as Triggerfish and Ubongo Kids. Tai Studio is therefore being incredibly ambitious to be the leading 3D animation production studio in Africa.
Animation is especially important as it can be used for education and bring about social change because once an animation has been produced, there is a huge market, and the content is easily distributed through schools or religious groups such as churches. Once produced, only a Television, laptop, phone or projector is required to spread the messages embedded in these animations.
One of the best examples of this is the use of talking animals and school aged children by Ubongo Kids Production. Ubongo Kids’ educational material is highly entertaining for children, as well as engaging for young adults which in turn means that they are more likely to participate and learn.
Tai studios is a big upcoming production initiative that creates animations for social change. The connection between film and social change facilitated by animation is vital to spark conversation among those who watch the animations. This is the biggest driving force for the creators behind Tai Studio as they see social change, especially among youth, as the most important outcome. The scripts used in the animations are carefully crafted to facilitate discussion and engagement with the audience. To encourage further research and influence policy change, Tai Studio decided on menstrual hygiene and the way it’s viewed in Tanzania for their current project; Harikati Za Lucy.
The animations aren’t meant to tell people what to do, or how to handle these topics. Instead, their aim is to inspire debate in the community about how girls can be better supported by everyone around them, and be afforded the same opportunities as their male peers.
Tai Studio started as an initiative to bring together the opportunities provided by animation in Tanzania, and the need for social change. However, Tai studios started with the most basic equipment around, resigning them to working incredibly slowly. “I worked 70 hours in one week,” says Robert Haule, Tai’s self-taught 3D animation technical lead;. What he doesn’t say is that he did this week in, week out, for 6 months; without pay. The end goal? To produce a 3-minute animation video called Harakati za Lucy (Lucy’s Activism) aimed at facilitating conversations about male involvement in menstrual hygiene in their local communities.
The success of producing the first episode of Harakati za Lucy led to SEED funding from UNFPA (United Nations Populations Fund) secured as part AMUA Acceleration program facilitated by Sahara Ventures, a foundation supporting start-ups and post revenue organisations in Tanzania.
This SEED fund allowed Harakati za Lucy to prove its viability and now it will be turned into a 12 episodes series, covering everything from male involvement in menstrual hygiene to other sensitive issues affecting Tanzanian adolescents, such as gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy.
The topics which this series covers are all inspired by real-life stories and accounts from girls and young women collected by Tai Tanzania through the Jali Project. This is incredibly important to Tai Studios, as not only does it give a voice to those who may otherwise not be heard, it makes the animations and storylines true to life. Audiences connect with Lucy- either they identify themselves within her or they see a sister, a classmate, a daughter or a friend.
Aside from having poor equipment, the biggest struggle for Tai Studios at the moment is how to distribute the content they are creating. Whilst they aim to encourage dialogue as widely as possible, it is also necessary for them to work sustainably so that they can continue to produce content and expand their mission. Because of this, they are exploring potential ways to work in collaboration with other organizations such as Femina HIP, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and other international NGOs such as PLAN International to help distribute the episodes and animations, and build up resources to continue the work that Tai Studios are doing.
Animation was chosen as a medium by Tai Studios because it can be both educational and entertaining. It does require a large number of professional actors, however Mwabuka and Haule are both very passionate about producing and creating the content teaching themselves as they go along. Having both shown interest in film and animation, their involvement in Tai Tanzania allows them to create the content they wanted and simultaneously ensure that the Tanzanian youth of today will be able to do so in the future as well through opportunity given by Tai Studio. However, to really lift off, Tai Studios there is a need for interns, experts and people willing to learn, teach and collaborate from all over the world.