#SpotcoveryLens: Meet Andrew Kaggia, Award-Winning Kenyan 3D Animator

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Spotcovery Lens is a sit-and-talk with brilliant personalities from different walks of life all around Africa and beyond to understand their passions, struggles, and goals. 

I had the opportunity to sit-and-talk with an award-winning filmmaker, 3D animator, and game developer, Andrew Kaggia. He created Kenya’s first 3D video game Nairobi X and has his accolades sung in Business Daily’s Top 40 Under 40. 

Andrew-Kaggia

All I can say is Wowwww! You’ll know why after reading the deets of our conversation. Let’s get into it.

Speaking With Andrew Kaggia, Award-Winning Kenyan 3D Animator

What Inspired Your Filmmaking Journey?

As a young boy, I loved watching animation and cartoons on TV. Even before I knew it was animation,  I always said I wanted to make cartoons when I got older.

What sparked my interest the more was this movie I watched in the 90s, Go Jurassic Park. Someone had told me then that dinosaurs weren’t real, but they looked so real, and I could see them interacting with people – the power of animation. And I was like this, this is where I want to go, so I ended up teaching myself animation.

How Were You Able to Teach Yourself?

So I’ve been doing this since I was maybe 13 years old. I’m 34 now; I’ve been at this for 21 years. I drew a lot as a child, so when I finally got the chance to use a computer, because that was kind of it for me, I just started messing around with things.

I did want to study animation, but my parents didn’t have the finances to further my education abroad. So I just decided I’ll figure this out on my own. Before YouTube, I used to read books. So imagine reading books on animation. It’s crazy to have all these thick books like encyclopedias that only had theories about animation and film. But when I had access to a public computer, like, let’s say, an internet cafe, I tried to download some software to help my study. And that’s how I started.

Andrew-Kaggia

What is the Story Behind You Combining African and Sci-Fi Themes?

It’s not something I do all the time. I like sci-fi themes, but you’ll only find them in my work when relevant. I noticed many African stories have settings in the past, and I don’t know why that has to be. We Africans also have a progressive culture; our culture doesn’t have to remain stuck in the past.

If you look at a movie like Black Panther from Marvel, it incorporated a lot of the African culture, but in a futuristic way, it was not just always going into the past. In the typical African stories we hear about, there’s usually a guy clad in lion’s skin and facing someone with guns. That’s okay, but we can also look toward the future. So, this project I’m working on brings elements from ancient Africa into a modern context. For example, there’s an artifact used for its magical properties, but on the flip side, the same artifact is used to develop highly advanced weaponry. So I like to see it as two sides of the same coin. That’s my approach and reason for combining the past and the future.

Do You Write Your Stories Yourself?

I write a lot of them.

What Elements Contribute to Your Storyline?

I derive ideas for stories sometimes based on what’s happening on the ground, like Wageuzi. And sometimes, it’s purely fictional, like Terastorm. So this movie is essentially like an African superhero type of movie. I love African mythology and wanted to create a universe where more than African superheroes exist.

Everyone knows about Marvel, DC, Ironman, Superman, and the likes, but we lack the African heroes we can look up to at the cinema. We need heroes who look like us to make us proud of who we are. So I intended to build a universe of heroes that kids and adults alike can look up to and show what we can become, who we are, and who we can become in a positive light. So I thought I’d do that through an engaging story, which is now this film. And so yeah, that’s more or less the idea behind the film.

Andrew-Kaggia

How Do Your Characters Get Their Personalities?

For several years, a friend and I have traveled to several African countries, trying to document stories from the older generation that are almost lost. We asked people from the 90s and older generations who know a lot of mythical tales they think are authentic to narrate the stories to us because so many of our stories aren’t available in writing.

We did a lot of documentation on certain tribes in Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, and other places. So I’ve gotten a couple of ideas, you know, that served as inspiration for this. Not once it’s so it’s not one specific source. It’s more of inspiration, just from the African culture overall. But yes, I did get inspiration from a lot of the folktales.

How Long Did it Take You to Create Wageuzi?

Wageuzi took six months, and it was about 11 minutes. Although that was way back in 2011, so that’s very old, and a lot has changed since then, technology-wise.

Andrew-Kaggia

What is the Name of Your Upcoming Movie?

Terastorm.

A group of elite African heroes unite in an attempt to vanquish an ancient wizard who threatens to destroy the earth with a powerful mysterious artifact. TeraStorm features an ensemble of Black superheroes for the first time ever in a feature film.

Watch the trailer.

Will there be Voiceovers in Terastorm?

Yes. It’s an actual full movie that’s about 78 minutes long. So an hour and 18 minutes.

And it Took Over a Year?

Yes, just slightly over a year.

How Do You Spend Your Day?

After Wageuzi, I spent most of my time rendering, so I had all my computers doing their thing; I barely had anything to do. Then I realized I just can’t sit around and decided to find a hobby – martial arts.

Martial Arts? Does That Help You Create the Perfect Moves for Your Scenes?

I guess so.

Terastorm-trailer

Could Your Hobby Be Linked to Your Love for Design and Filmmaking?

Yeah, I guess I find a way to express it through the films I create. Although, of course, they can do much more than I can do in real life, like having bloody fights and such.

I do enjoy fighting sports, you know? Because I got into taekwondo and I did it for so many years. I went to 14 tournaments for the Kenya taekwondo national team, but then it became too demanding for me. So I put it aside for a while and went back and did Muay Thai for a couple of years. Muay Thai is super violent; you can use your elbows and your knees. I did that after taekwondo and I guess there was nowhere I could go with it, so I kept it as a hobby.

But when I started out with Terastorm, I barely had any time to keep up with Muay Thai because I  spent the whole year and 16 to 19 hours every day working on and perfecting it.

19 Hours? Such dedication!

Yes, I did nothing else. And it was for sure the most intense project I’ve ever done in my life. And I honestly don’t know if there was another way to do it because if I had spent the regular 8 – 10 hours a day, this project would probably take five to six years. So I pushed myself on this one.

How Do You Fund Your Movies?

So, there are two things.

One, I have another YouTube channel called Hero Smashers. It started as merely a hobby channel where I was doing fights between superhero Marvel characters; simply my animations based on that, and the channel blew up! It has over 400 million views. It did exceptionally well and is a monetized channel. Even when I’m not doing anything on the channel, the views earn me passive income. That’s one thing that kept me going.

The second thing is I was partly sponsored by a company called Epic Games. They developed the software used to make this film. 

Terastorm-Kenyan-animator

How Do You Picture Filmmaking in Africa?

I am part of a community of people who are into film and animation in Kenya. We have regular meetups and groups on social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp. We bounce ideas off of each other and see how we can collaborate.

So, yes, the community is there, and it’s growing, especially because people are beginning to see that there’s a lot that can come from Africa. And we have so many stories and so much rich and original content that is just waiting to be expressed in the cinema, even in video games and comic books. I mean, there are so many ways we can express our stories. I believe the future is bright for filmmaking in Africa.

And again, I guess it was kind of ignored for the longest time, but now, there’s this rush for Africa; everyone’s coming to Africa. They can see the potential because again, if you look at something like Black Panther, one of the highest-grossing films of all time, I don’t think Marvel Studios was expecting it to be that big. They probably thought it would gain a little bit of hype, maybe from Africans in diaspora, the Black community, but everyone watched it and loved it! If anything, it validates that the film market is open to all cultures and races, so our films can be seen.

I strongly believe the world is waiting for our films; the future is bright for Africa. I think the world is waiting to see the kind of things that we have to produce. And we’re starting to realize that we don’t have to do the same old cliché stories: if it’s Africa, it’s about poverty, disease, and all that. I think it’s only exciting times ahead for us.

What Did You Trade to be the Andrew You Are Today?

Yes, it’s where to start, because there are so many sacrifices to make, especially doing this in Africa. It’s much harder to get into these new industries in Africa than those in the United States or a similar country. It’s much, much harder here. And I mean, my house has even been broken into and I was robbed. I remember two weeks after Waguezi, on December 31st, my house was broken into, and they stole my equipment.

Was the Break-In Targeted or Random?

No, no, no, that was very targeted because they only took the computers and the hard drives, the data stuff, and left everything else. And that the 31st of December, so imagine, I started January with nothing, you know. The experience showed that it is risky to get involved in African politics; you could upset certain people.

Any More Sacrifices?

Even before the incident, I was trying to break into the industry. I had to do all sorts of jobs that had nothing to do with animation – like website building – just to pay the bills. And there’s the mentality in Africa where you have to have a degree to make it. So trying to do things without the right academic qualifications in Africa was also a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, it’s not so much a challenge now as much as it was then.

I also remember walking a great distance with my computer to meet a deadline because of a power blackout. I was doing this project for a client, and it had a close deadline. I told myself if I ruined this, then I would have completely destroyed my reputation. So I disconnected my desktop, put it in a bag, and walked to the nearest internet cafe, which was more than one kilometer away. Imagine cutting that for four-kilometer walking; it’s just crazy!

I’ve even locked myself in internet cafes. I’ve done all these crazy things to grow and improve on my skills. My sacrifices are many, quite many. But it got very hard and many people I started with don’t do this anymore; they went into other industries. It’s tough.

For me, I guess it’s just the love I have for it. If it was just about the money, I would have quit a long time ago. The passion and love I have for animation and filmmaking is what’s kept me going.

Wait, don’t leave yet! Check out this article to learn about another exceptional Black content creator, Thaddeus Coates aka Hippy Potter.

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