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Like Fintech, can animation produce the next Unicorn in Africa? CEO of Magic Carpet Studios thinks it is time

July 27, 2021 · 9 min read
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The 21st century is referred to as the century of storytelling. Africa has a huge deposit of stories that remain largely unexplored. The global appetite for stories is increasingly shifting to Africa, and this growing demand for African-themed stories has created a huge opportunity for the African animation industry.

One of the studios primed for this boom is Magic Carpet Studios; a 21st-century award-winning innovation storytelling company focused on putting Africa stories on the map of global entertainment. The Studio kicked off operations officially in 2016 as a 2D animation studio but has since expanded into 3D animation and gaming, fast positioning as an industrial animation hub for outsourcing.  Magic Carpet has been recognized locally and internationally for its numerous projects by different established award institutions and festivals. The studio is currently in production for Africa’s first 2D/3D feature film, “The Passport of Mallam Ilia”, currently in production.

Often referred to as “Disney of Africa” by industry experts and enthusiasts, the studio celebrates its 5th year anniversary this month and its emergence on the continent as one of the flagship studios in the African animation industry.

In the last five years, the Founder/CEO, Ferdy ‘Ladi Adimefe, and the founding team of Magic Carpet have built the capacity to compete globally with other big studios and hope to churn out African themed blockbusters in the coming years. Ferdy shares insights on the possibilities and challenges within the animation industry and the studio’s commitment to growing the continent’s capacity to deliver world-class content, and how they intend to build an African unicorn in the entertainment industry.

Congratulations on the 5th year anniversary of Magic Carpet Studios. What are some of your achievements that make this celebration highly significant?

I think we should celebrate growth in every way. We have grown an authentic world-class storytelling and filmmaking team across 2D and 3D, with a solid commitment to delivering African-themed blockbusters. Our very first feature is currently in production.

We celebrate the resilience of our very dynamic and ever-expanding studio which allows the expression and growth of its members of the entire team. We say teamwork makes the magic work. The journey hasn’t been the easiest, but it has been one of the most rewarding. Today, we have what it takes to help a story reach its full potential. Any film you watch from Magic Carpet will deliver on its promise. We are growing a sizable portfolio of IPs. Currently, we have about five projects lined up in production for the next five years; two feature films, two series, and a documentary series. We are also positioning as an outsourcing firm that can partner and work with international entertainment companies.

Behind the scenes are the best people making things happen. Toju Olufeyimi heads our investor relations, Chekwube Okonkwo, our co-founder and art director, has done a phenomenal job in traditional 2D and is directing his first feature film. Duru Azubuike joined us in 2018 to head the game division and became instrumental in the creation of the 3D department. Today, he has shaped the 3D team and just completed our second 3d short film ‘Sip”, a really great work. Danjuma Judah heads the 2D cut-out department and is leading a vibrant team directing our first sitcom, whose short film just dropped .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5_AChAu8X4&t=174s

Mezie Nwagbo is driving the training division, the Magic Lab project. M.I Thomas is our iconic head of story. We are probably one of the few studios on the continent with a story department. The seven months of research leading up to the project was captured in a documentary

We are living through disruptive times and we embody that disruptive point of view. We have been thoroughly transformed as a result of our penchant to take risks, embrace new talents, new stories, new skills, new tools, and new ways of storytelling, not just animated games and films, but also in the near future considering venturing to AR to VR, afro or retrofuturism, 3d-hyper-realistic to hyper surrealism, from sci-fi aesthetics to CGI imagery and a whole of experimental stuff to expand capacity to tell our stories. These amongst other things are some of our significant achievements over the last five years.

The 21st century is referred to as the century of storytelling and Africa has a huge deposit largely unexplored. Your anniversary is themed “The Century of Africa, and you speak often of the age of African storytelling and the need to rewrite the narrative. Can you shed more light on this?

Storytelling is a deeply conscious work for those who create it and can also transform the consciousness of those who watch.
Animation is compelling. We want to tell a great African story in a format which the current generation understands. it is not about representing Africa heroes and legends on the pantheons of heroes on screen, our children will not only be thrilled by them but find some connection. It is a route for the entire world to experience Africa.

On a much deeper level, as storytellers, we perceive our role as that of prophets painting tapestries of an Africa that has not yet been heard or seen. We may be interpreting events of the past or coming from the future but it is about transforming the imagination of humans; our job is to help shape the image of the content. It is to enlighten the African mind for the 21st century, by driving consciousness through elevating and expanding conversations around difficult themes, cherished assumptions and accepted but outdated practices and believes. It is stimulating the mind and imagination of our people to see beyond potential into new realities and possibilities around them, pushing boundaries, upturning stereotypes, and bringing baskets of wealth to the door of the common man. It is such a powerful role, to be a custodian of the vision, values, and agenda for an entire generation.

How do we tell our untold stories about African culture, history, and mythology? Creating a new African narrative is an important call and it is our duty as new generation storytellers and creators to rewrite this narrative so that the entire world can experience Africa for what it truly is. It is about offering unique stories. Our work is shaped by the sacred sense of stewarding not just our stories, but our continent and her people the calling. We are born to tell stories and make magic and beauty. We are called to shape minds and imagination and awake the soul. We are here to birth a new Africa. To unveil an identity and culture. We are here to gift every child the awe and wonder of a place unseen, of a story yet untold.

Our stories are born out of imagination, shaped by our authentic African experiences, and crafted by passionate artists and animators into a film. We built our philosophy as a studio on the premise.

The studio is positioned as a Pan-African studio and not just Nigeria, why it is important to embrace that Pan-Africanism?

The world’s impression of Africa is hopelessly outdated. The slant of imperialism of the entertainment industry for many decades have done a number on the African mind; it controlled our perception, our sense of history and shaped our identity and not in a wholesome and empowering way.

I am unapologetically Pan African in my ideology and Magic Carpet is rooted in that thinking. Most of the team leads and art directors in the studio are deeply rooted in Pan Africanism, which they express through the stories we tell. This is what gives us our unique identity, we embody an ideology that powers all that we do. We are in the business of storytelling, and we are in business to tell stories, but the very core is to show what Africa was, is and can be. It is only through originality and authenticity that we can put our continent on the global map of entertainment.

We have created a lovable company and a great place to work. This is not a job; it is an adventure. When people say we are the Disney of Africa, I will correct that and say “We are Magic Carpet of Africa”. Like anime to Asia, Magic Carpet is pioneering new animation techniques and processes that are authentically African an example is a distinct genre called “Chifo” reflected by the peculiar nature of African artistry, texture, colour, and style. It is a word in one of African’s languages that means “Day Break “it speaks of the dawn of the Africa continent and the zeitgeist of storytellers.

With the scale of investment involved, how can African studios truly participate in the Global Animation Industry?

I think the question is who will tell it and how will this be told? To produce a quality animated film is in millions of dollars and local investors consider this a huge investment. The production cost per animation movie ranges anywhere between US$ 20 to US$ 300 million. Studios are all grappling with funding challenges; nobody is willing to de-risk their capital for the industry to thrive. The potential can only be unlocked with the right capital. You have to be creative to manage the risk. On a level, this question speaks more to the type of investors we have in Nigeria than about the animation industry. Animation requires patient talent and patient capital.

For many years we approach our work as art, but there is also the business of the art. We are seeing a tribe of investors who are willing to embark on this journey with us. With the right investors, policies, and capacity, we will register supreme share in the near future.

One thing is certain, I think the global demand for African-themed stories is on the rise and it’s a good time and a huge opportunity to explore the African animation industry. Interestingly, the trends favour Africa as there has been a shift in the appetite for stories. The total value of the global animation industry is predicted to be around US$ 642.5bn by 2030. The Global animation industry is offering enormous growth opportunities for emerging economies worldwide.

Streaming videos are the fastest-growing distribution channel for animation and are witnessing double-digit growth and the same is expected to continue. This growth is attributed to the exponential growth in the number of online video viewers throughout the world on different digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Twitch, but also on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. With the growing Internet penetration and access to multimedia devices in Africa, the future of the market is definitely here.

There is an upside potential market for a world of Africans in Diaspora whose roots run deep here in Africa, but there are not enough historical-based storytellers in film, music, or theatre helping them make that connection to home. They don’t have to wait for “The Year of Return” to experience Africa, we can become a constant stream of African consciousness, reminding them of their ancestry, affirming our cultural identity. There is the kid’s demography they do need a modern interpretation of our classics, from creating modern mythology to creating contemporary heroes. The questions might be the same, but the answers have changed.

In terms of scale, why hasn’t the Animation Industry scaled the way Fin-tech has?

I think it is a case of the stage of evolution of the industry. The future is in the margins, animation is still in the margins. Fintech is pretty matured now and the Animation industry is still in its early stage. We as pioneers are carving out the initial barriers in the industry.

Quite frankly, it takes a certain type of investor to back an animation studio in Africa, one that is long-term in their orientation and big on development. Animation takes longer, but it delivers more. It is by far more exportable than life action. Animation is one area of tech that we are seeing growth and an increase in demand for talent. I am really big on developing the African youth who love to tell stories. The revenue potential is huge, it is an export and it has a long run.

Let’s talk about capacity building, how are you dealing with that?

We don’t just want to attract the best talent, because they are not that many, the goal will be to discover and groom the best, talented animators, illustrators, storytellers, and game developers.

We have always trained and will continue. It is expensive and challenging with a high rate of attrition.  This, we have done over the years and we will continue to do because we strongly believe that to build a nation or continent, we have to build its people. There is a huge opportunity not just to nurture cultural content, and ensure cultural preservation, but to create jobs. In the next five years, our goal is to contribute at least 1,000 animators to the industry.

The Global animation industry is offering enormous growth opportunities for emerging economies worldwide, Nigeria and Africa can leverage this opportunity. We are building the African economy.
The total value of the global animation industry is projected to reach $270m. Animation Market Size to Hit Around US$ 642.5bn by 2030. We are will be launching our animation fellowship. Our studio has capacity for the different types of animation. The future is certainly promising. More so, we are expanding our premises and setting up a new facility to take on more people and launch our Magic Lab fellowship.

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