Out of the pandemic came an African creative partnership that took an enduring Nigerian myth and turned it into an historic Disney animation. George Jarrett reports.

The animated film Moremi was the third to air of 10 projects in the Disney Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire series, beautifully matching the requirement to offer a tale built on ‘new worlds of advanced technology.’

Two of the main players in this Triggerfish and Disney-linked production were Director and Illustrator Shofela Coker and Producer/Technologist Ingrid de Beer, who talked on behalf of the Cape Town facility Lucan Studio.

“It is a Nigerian myth; the story of a woman who sacrificed her son Olu to save her village,” said Coker. “It is a pass-on that has stayed with me since I was a kid, and it has always raised lots of interesting questions for me.

“The woman has always inspired me because of her courage, abilities, and her sensibilities. And when I was given the opportunity to develop the story for the Generation Fire series, the idea was to create an animated story that had African futurist sensibilities – a hopeful tale,” he added. “For some reason, it called to me as one myth that I could adapt to do something that fitted the series brief.”

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Coker has been working out of Atlanta in the US, but during the pandemic, he spent a lot of time with his parents back in Nigeria.

“I was thinking a lot about home and my relationship to the older generation of people, and Moremi came about from this feeling of wanting to return home,” he said. “It is still mother and son, but Moremi is a particle physicist in our story. In a continuation, what if she had the technology to travel to the spirit world to rescue her son from that realm? She meets the spirit boy Luo.”

Multiple light conditions

It took about a year for Coker to complete development of Moremi, and then another year working with Lucan Studios. “I had seen Lucan’s work and once Triggerfish, its parent production company, had paired me up with them, I was just over the moon,” said Coker. “I am a character designer by background and an art director (AD), so a lot of Moremi is a continuation of personal ideas, expressions and illustrations. Working with Wian van Bergen, the Lucan AD, and one of its founding partners, was transformative because he really cares about capturing lights and photography.”


Behind the Scenes: Moremi

Source: Lucan Studio

Coker saw his graphic skills married to a more filmic understanding on animation. He said: “This led to a unique look and feel for the film. I am highly inspired by South Western Nigerian sculpture practices, and those sensibilities tend to come out in my work. They are very graphic and tend to be more filmic. So how do you get those two things to sit together through 3D characters and the 2D backgrounds?

“In 2D, a lot of the textures and patterns were evolving into paintings. With the 3D characters, one way we tried to make them sit and marry well with each other was to build the patterns and the textures into the spec,” he added. “We had to make sure we tested multiple different light conditions. In the film there is intense darkness, there is twilight, and there are morning shots. And the skin tones had to hold up. All that stuff was a lot of fun.”

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Chip on the shoulder

Ingrid de Beer has been key to upgrading the pipeline at Lucan. She had worked as a technologist and a post-production manager in broadcast TV, with all the SMPTE standards listed on her desk, prior to becoming a producer, so knows plenty about standards and quality control.


Behind the Scenes: Moremi

Source: Lucan Studio

“We were functioning on the continent of Africa, specifically South Africa. As is the case with poorly represented communities, especially in media production and creation, we had a bit of a chip on our shoulder. We often questioned whether we were good enough, and being good enough related specifically to our pipeline and our technology,” she said.

“There were obvious financial barriers to that, operating in a currency that is incredibly weak against products that are generally dollar-based or Euro-linked. These are major considerations when you are, like us, a boutique production studio,” she added. “We would like to think we are a creative hub.”

Things jumped ahead with the pipeline and surrounding technology during the pandemic, as they did with so many media companies. “As African creators, we knew the opportunity at hand and what was at stake,” de Beer said.

Lucan sharpened both artistically and technically for servicing big brand global advertisements, but the boutique faced one big question.

“Could we accommodate a hybrid pipeline, where we level the playing field and where our artists in the studio are included as ‘hands-on’ as is our director (Coker) who has been based in Atlanta, and so many of our collaborators spread across the world, and specifically the continent of Africa,” said de Beer.

“Barring the fact that we had a failed attempt with our very first cloud-based service provider for our data, we quickly corrected that and we deployed a brand-new pipeline. The first day of production and animation is petrifying for any studio, but our key vision was making sure that every single artist is included,” she added. “Technically it was a blind date, the way we were placed together. We ended up sharing a film that is very near and dear to our hearts.”

Striving for a hopeful future

Coker switched to discussing the benefits of instrumentation. The film showcases the work of three composers, including the supervisor for the Generation Fire series.


Behind the Scenes: Moremi

Source: Lucan Studio

“Audio, the score, and the storytelling go hand-in-hand. We did have to figure out a way to work, but for me, the combination of traditional instrumentation plus electronic music again goes hand-in-hand with the ethos of the film – this idea of the traditional, the spiritual, and the material,” he said.

“I believe music has a place in striving for a hopeful future and working for a sense of healing. That is what the film is about,” he added. “Music has the vibrations that have the capacity to do that, and the traditional instruments are part of my history and culture.”

The Spirit Giants that Moremi encounters in the film stretch the cultural influences further with style references to Yoruba Egungun dancers.

Looking to the future, Lucan Studio has taken its contributions to Moremi as an inspiration to push on with its first full-length feature Isaura.

Shofela Coker and Ingrid De Beer were interviewed by Renard T. Jenkins, SMPTE President, as part of the inaugural SMPTE Power of Color Symposium, hosted by Clark Atlanta University on 6th February. The event hosted a series of sessions addressing key issues on colourism, representation and diversity, with in-depth looks at colour workflows and the potential of AI.