Computer animation is changing the landscape of Kenya’s television advertising, with big brands gravitating toward using three dimensional (3D) animations for their commercials.
This comes as conventional advertising —which uses live images — continues to lose its appeal among the general public.
Young and highly talented Kenyan animators are using 3D technology to create curious computer-generated characters that tell stories for big brands in a way that leaves viewers yearning for more episodes.
This is a departure from the norm where audiences flip through their TV channels to skip commercials.
Although 3D animation ads have been around for a while in the United States, India, China and other developed countries, the concept is still in its formative stages in Kenya.
It started last year when Michael Muthiga, the director of Fatboy Animations, created the popular “faiba” commercial for Jamii Telecommunications. The ad featured a supervisor waiting for his slow Internet to download a file only to be stunned by his junior who was enjoying fast Internet from the advertiser.
A week after being aired on TV, the commercial went viral on YouTube, a video sharing site, and viewers started demanding more episodes of “faiba”. This prompted Mr Muthiga to convert it into a series, which earned him millions of shillings and fame.
Several companies have since joined the animated commercial craze in the hope of drawing more customers to their products and services. These include mobile service provider Safaricom and oil marketer OiLibya, whose animation commercials continue to give Kenyans a harvest of laughter.
“I had a feeling this (animations commercial) would be big, but I never expected it to be this big,” Mr Muthiga said during an interview with Larry Madowo on NTV.
The self-taught animator says that it is easier to make a 3D animation commercial than to shoot a similar scene in live action.
“Animation offers endless possibilities. What can be achieved with this technology is limited only to an animator’s creativity,” Mr Muthiga said.
By creating unusual characters who behave like humans but live in abstract environments, animators are able to engage audiences who are ordinarily distrustful about advertising. This gives animation ads an edge over live image commercials.
According to Eddie Khisa, a founding member of EMX Africa (a group of freelance animators), the “faiba” commercial has managed to raise the profile of the local animation industry.
“There is a lot more animation on TV and it’s good for us. The industry is accepting that animation can be used to expose brands and tell brand stories and it is good for us,” Khisa said.
But 3D animation comes with a huge price tag: “At the moment, 30 seconds of animations cost Sh2 million and a minute will cost double that amount,” Mr Muthiga said alluding to the high cost of production.
But animation ads are cheaper to produce compared to live action commercials that may require the hiring of popular artistes and models, securing locations and renting equipment, among other costs.
This is because the production of animated adverts is quite simplified – requiring only the animator and a voice artist to produce a commercial.
The cost of producing an animation ad is also pre-determined, which enables both the client and the animator to create a commercial in any location or universe without worrying about unexpected errors or expenses.
Besides costs, animated TV commercials involve the creation of timeless characters that are not vulnerable to popularity disorders and scandals that can hurt a brand’s image.
“Most animated TV ads present information using curious characters that people can relate to, which is why they grab the attention of many viewers, says Brenda Kerubo a graduate student at the University of Nairobi.
While some people may see 3D animation as a passing fad, at least locally, Mr Muthiga is confident that the emerging industry has a bright future.
“The future of this industry is big. India and China generate billions of dollars from animations and I believe we can do the same here in Kenya,” he said.
The global 3D animation industry is reportedly worth at least $35 billion, with the United States, Canada, France, Germany and Japan being the major animation markets.