Ivory Coast Animators Sketch Out Nascent Business Initiatives

A year after the release of the country’s first 3D animated feature, toonmakers in Ivory Coast are trying to build on the gains of an industry whose potential remains largely untapped.

Lacking coin and — in most cases — formal training, the nation’s animators are still determined to bring their stories to life.

“It’s important for Ivorian children — and African children — to see the characters they know,” says Abel Kouame of Afrika Toon, which produced last year’s 3D CGI feature “Pokou, Princesse Ashanti.”

The company spent two years and roughly €200,000 ($270,000) bringing “Pokou” to life, and is working on its second feature, “Soundiata Keita, le reveil du lion.” Both films draw on historical narratives familiar to many Ivorians from an early age, part of Afrika Toon’s determination, says Kouame, to “tell our own stories.”

Yet Kouame and others know they face an uphill climb in a country where crude portraits of Disney characters adorn school walls, and even pubcaster Radiodiffusion Television Ivoirienne broadcasts foreign toons to young auds.

“In Ivory Coast, RTI doesn’t buy local programs,” says Ghislain Sindo of Sinanimation, a small production house whose three self-taught animators represent both the challenges and opportunities for the local biz.

Though the company has struggled to find local buyers for its toons, Sinanimation struck gold when it sold 60 episodes of its series “C Kema” to French web TV5Monde in 2010.

But the industry as a whole is still patchwork. Perhaps tellingly, when the graphic novel series “Aya de Yopougon,” about life in that working-class city in the 1970s, by Paris-based Ivorian creator Marguerite Abouet, was adapted for the screen in 2012, it was the French production company Autochenille Prod. which had the capacity to pull it off.

“There are no Ivorian animators working as a team,” says Clement Oubrerie, who animated the “Aya” series and co-founded Autochenille.

Part of the problem, according to Afrika Toon’s Kouame, is the lack of specialized training at formal schools.

Moreover, the amount of local work is limited. While commercials provide a steady revenue stream for animators in more developed industries, like South Africa’s, Kouame says little of those opportunities have trickled into Afrika Toon so far.

“It’s a new market,” says Kouame, noting that the country as a whole is only beginning to recover from a decade-long period of war and unrest. “Pokou,” he says, was like a business card that showed off what Ivorian animators can do.

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