The Life of an Animator

Script meeting and discussion with Tales of Shaa writers
Photograph provided by Rodney Masanga

They aren’t just cartoons!

By Rodney Masanga

Animation to me is a way of giving something life, character and excitement.  It can be a picture, a drawing or pretty much anything in your backyard. I grew up watching a lot of cartoons such as Voltron, Robotech, Tin Tin, Rupert and Dexter’s Lab, so making the shift from normal, boring, digital marketer Rod, to doing something fun that I love was just a matter of time. 

I took the plunge into full time animation almost a year ago, however, I had been animating part time for a little over three years. Animation is a taxing career choice. It demands of you long hours in front of the screen meticulously building characters, constantly looking at the world around you from different perspectives for inspiration, repeatedly explaining that it’s not just about cartoons  and having some rather deep pockets.  

With the animation process, after I have gathered some inspiration and conceptualised a basic idea of what I want, I grab my good old faithful pencil and paper to sketch out what’s in my head. Once I have sketched out on paper all the different views of my character, they are uploaded onto my computer where I then draw them out. Simultaneously, I will be adding and playing around with different colour palettes until the character represents the envisaged personality. 

After that, it’s on to rigging, which has to do with adding bones to the character and then voila, the character is ready to be animated. Animating is where it really gets fun. It involves being very scrupulous with the timing and spacing of the characters’ movements otherwise they will look floaty or like a robot. The key is to mimic life movements then exaggerate it all. Animation has not been an easy road to travel, but I am constantly rewarded by the sheer looks of excitement when a client sees their finished product. 

In Zimbabwe, there is currently a small but growing animation community. Currently, Comexposed is the most prominent group of talented and dedicated young Zimbabweans spearheading the comic and animation movement within the country and on the international stage. Right now it’s pretty much a boy’s club with a few upcoming girls; we need more girls!

Not wanting to completely leave behind my academic training as a psychologist, I ventured into giving my childhood memories and the rich cultural heritage of Zimbabwe a different and interactive face. This set me on the journey of creating The Tales of Shaa. This encapsulates the journey of two siblings who accidentally get transported to a world of African fantasy where all the characters from African Folktales live. Together, they must try to find a way back home by overcoming their differences and facing their weaknesses. With the series, I entered the Digital Lab African Pitch Competition. Out of the 700 entries from across Africa, I made it to the last six finalists. This afforded me the opportunity to spend invaluable time speaking to and being mentored by the inspirational Stuart Forrest, creator of the popular Adventures in Zambezia and Khumba animated movies.

My newest project has been the developing the Ndeipi characters Noku and Peter. Noku was initially conceptualised a little after Winnie Mandela passed away. My thoughts were, what would a young Winnie Mandela born in our age be like? Bold, graceful and not afraid to speak out and do the right thing whilst probably having a lot of fun. The result was Noku.

Peter’s inspiration comes from Prince Harry. He insists on his right to make up his own mind, demands freedom of thought and action, and does not let anything or anyone stand in his way once he is committed to his goal. Together, this dynamic duo are intended to have powerful and positive influence on children as go through their fun adventures across Zimbabwe.

Originally published in the 100th issue of Ndeipi Magazine

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