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Monday, December 7, 2009

Computer-animated films enter Uganda’s nascent film industry

At the recent Amakula Fest, the screening of three short animated films by Ugandan animator David Masanso added uniqueness to the experience, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

The 2009 edition of the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival that ended on November 14th at the National Theatre evoked nostalgia with films and stories that captured the socio-political past and authenticated the event’s theme, Visionary Histories.

It was the first time computer-animated films were showing at the six-year event. To watch squirrels with long tails drumming away and wiggling their little waists drew excitement from the audience. The film titled Drums (2009) was inspired by Baganda traditional drums, Bakisimba.

Next was Imitation (2005) which Masanso says was the first Ugandan and African computer animation film to screen at Swansea Metropolitan University in the UK, where he attained his first degree in Computer Animation. The film is based on a Luganda short story about a hawker of hats who gets tired and falls asleep under a mango tree. Two monkeys steal his hats except the one he’s wearing. When he gets up he realises the monkeys keep imitating him; wearing the hats and adjusting them, so he tosses his hat on the ground, and the monkeys do the same, and that’s how he gets his hats back.

To complete the package was The Nest (2007), based on African weaverbirds. A smitten male weaver bird seduces his beautiful counterpart by building a romantic nest. Although these were short films (the longest was two minutes 20 seconds) it was a good precedence and a great inspiration for Uganda’s budding animated film makers. And for the likes of Masanso, the challenge now is to go for full length animated films and series as is the case in Hollywood. Computer animation is a new thing in Uganda and the few Ugandan film makers, spurred on by the vibrant Nigerian film industry and other local initiatives like Maisha Film Lab have gone for live film footage. But Masanso believes computer animation can find acceptance in Uganda.

“I was living in the UK but returned home because we are the ones who should build this industry and animate the rich African story; we can’t wait for the white man to tell our story through his own eyes,” he says, “Many of us grew watching cartoons and still love to because computer animated films are not only hilarious to watch but also animation is the best art form to use for education and sensitisation.”

Masanso believes animated films have long been associated with children because the first ones produced by Walt Disney (1901-1966), the famous American cartoon artiste and founder of the Walt Disney Company, were made for children. “But animation can be used for grownups’ films and projects. Through animation, a storyline imagination can be achieved that camera filming cannot. That’s why animation is used in television commercials, web graphics, interactive DVDs and movies.”

Masanso, who has worked in the animation industry for three years in Wales and has a strong background in computer graphics, says his love for animation was consummated the moment he watched Toy Story (1995) from the Walt Disney Company, an animated motion picture about mischievous toys who played about the place when their owner was not around.

“Seeing toys coming to life, talking and interacting was exciting,” says Masanso. That was many years ago and at that age, he was had no idea whatsoever that in 2009 his own short creations would be the first animated films by a Ugandan to be viewed by fellow Ugandans.

--Sunday Monitor, November 29, 2009