By Henry Derben
On Connected Africa’s Break-Out series, we speak to innovators, change makers and founders of start-ups and projects that are exponentially making inroads and blazing trails in several sectors and industries in Africa. This week, Connected Africa’s Henry Derben interviews notable Ghanaian designer and animator, Louis Appiah – Founder of Louicage Studios and creator of popular online animation series, Tales of Nazir.
His inspiration for animation started with a request from his former boss. Today, Louis Appiah has created innumerable animation masterpieces including Tales of Nazir series and a full-length film. His elaborate artworks can be found on several Nazir merchandise ranging from clothing, mobile content, mobile phone cases and more.
Louis Appiah, 26, speaks about his adored central character Nazir, motivation, growing up, staying creative and what it takes to be an animator and designer.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Louis Appiah, I have two siblings. I grew up with art. My elder brother is an artist and growing up, I watched him draw in his sketch book. I did Graphic Design in the university and Visual Arts in high school. Today, I’m into animation.
At which point did you realize this is a career you wanted to pursue?
I wouldn’t say there was a particular point because I have always had the passion for it. I started as far back as Kindergarten when I drew a witch who had a tiger as a pet and all. I drew very well from kindergarten and if I showed it to you, you wouldn’t believe it was a kindergarten boy’s work.
Were your family very supportive from day 1?
Yes, my family has been very supportive from Adam. They knew very well that I’m a natural artist and didn’t tell me to become a doctor or lawyer or anything.
Tell us about your first job as an artist
That was back in 2009 with actress Yvonne Nelson, when she was starting YN Productions. I did some photo manipulations and posters for her. It was very exciting for me at 19 years at that time, doing stuff agencies would be doing. And who wouldn’t’ want to work with a beautiful actress like Yvonne Nelson. (laughs)
For you, is animation self-taught or you had some training?
No, I didn’t get training in animation. Everything is self-taught. I learnt everything in my room, it’s just that I’m conversant with design software so it was easy to use them. I’m now considering enrolling to learn more about animation.
How did animation start for you?
Animation started when my former boss at Western Group of Companies just walks in one day as we were trying to come up with an online portal called W2. The logo at that time was a giraffe and he says to me, “Louis, I want this giraffe to walk.” He knew I wasn’t into animation and only a graphic designer at that time. For me, I always want to prove myself and not feel like I’m short with regards to certain design skills. I told him ‘I can do this’ even though I didn’t know how. He said, “If you can’t do it, tell me because I will be taking it to Japan.” I felt as an artist I could do it if I challenge and push myself to the edge. I asked him to for three weeks to work it out and he extended it to two months so I can figure it out. As soon as he left the office, I went online to search through videos on YouTube on how to make characters move and a whole lot of sites learning all these animation theories. I left the office at 11:30pm that day and the next morning I was able to make the giraffe walk. I went to his office that morning and I said “Boss, your giraffe is walking.” (Laughs)
I decided that this is interesting and why not give animation more tries. So I started working on a character I have had in my mind since junior high school, who is a teenager, very controversial, fashionable, a ladies’ man, blunt, witty, sarcastic and influential. That is the character Nazir in Tales of Nazir.
Tell us about the process of creating Nazir, the central figure in your popular animation series
Nazir is like a comic version of me. But sorry I’m not rocking any Louis Vuitton and all the bling today like Nazir does. I think I was just animating myself. I chose the name Nazir because I felt it was a special and uncommon Arabic name, having met only two people with that name. One is a friend I had back in high school and the other is a man I met in Dubai.
How did you start Louicage?
In 2009, Louicage started as a company into basic graphics. I started very young and anytime I walked into most private companies, I was seen as a small boy. Why would they give the contract to this young boy and not an agency? People couldn’t believe this young frame was behind all those graphics, I was facing that kind of challenge but today the company is growing. I work with four other colleagues currently to produce all the works Louicage puts out.
You have been nominated and awarded for your animations. Tell us about them.
Tales of Nazir has been nominated several times and won an honour at the Accra Francophone Film Awards. I was overwhelmed because I didn’t start it as something commercial or something I wanted to be awarded for. This is something I started in my room and then I find myself at an awards ceremony been recognized for this creation so It was quite overwhelming.
When did the reality of Tales of Nazir’s impact hit you?
It was the next day after I released the first episode of Tales of Nazir titled A Call to God. I went to a shop to purchase an item. Two women at the shop were not attending to me but busily giggling and laughing as they watched what seemed like a video on a phone. I realized they were watching Tales of Nazir on the phone and here I was standing right in front of them. I froze for a while and went blank when the shop owner asked me what I was purchasing. For me that moment was very beautiful, random and I had never experienced that before.
Are all the things Nazir say your personal thoughts?
Yes most of them are. Those are my thoughts.
Including the political views and opinions of Nazir?
You know we are in Ghana and things that seem so unbelievable are the things that happen. We are in a country where pastors morph into anaconda, cobra and all that. There is news all around but it’s fortunate that most of them turn out to be political. I wouldn’t say Nazir belongs to any political party, it’s just on neutral grounds. I’m just doing comic exaggerations of socio-economic issues.
But you bash the presidency a lot?
I wouldn’t use the word, bashing. It’s just real talk. You made some promises that are not been kept so I need to put it to you in the blunt way possible. I wouldn’t say I’m bashing although I marked him ‘-3.1’ on certain issues in one of the episodes.
What is the feedback to your episodes on political themes considering how emotional these issues can be in Ghana?
Generally, people love it. At the end of the day, it is all fun. Even if your uncle is the president of Ghana, you would still love it. It’s just that seeking other contracts and certain endorsements, you tend to face the demerits because you are tagged as political and most corporate bodies wouldn’t want to liaise or affiliate with anything political. I wanted to veer away from politics a bit, that’s why I came up with the Ebola and bribery and corruption themes and left the president out a bit. But I’m coming back because that’s what Ghanaians know Nazir for.
You are very creative. How do you stay creative?
I would say it’s God-given. I see everything around as something I can be creative about. Like right now as we are all here, I have two huge foreign dogs behind my house which belong to me and I just imagined that if they came out now, your cameraman wouldn’t be standing here. Creativity is all around us.
Recently, you were named as part of the 100 most competitive start-ups in Ghana. How did you feel?
I was really excited though I don’t know what they look at to include you in such a prestigious category. It propels me a lot to work hard. Even though we go through a lot of challenges trying to uplift the character, these recognitions keep me going. The moment where I want to give up, the nominations, awards and recognition push me to keep going. The messages of support and inspiration that comes through my inbox on a daily basis are amazing. I remember I got this message from a young boy in a remote area who had to stop school for lack of funds. Just by looking at what I do and how I’m pushing arts to the limelight, it also inspired him and now he is a graphic designer and making a living out of it. Messages like this really inspire me and anytime I feel like giving up, I go through my messages. It’s just beautiful how much I’m touching people indirectly, those I don’t even know.
What are the major challenges you face today?
In this part of the world, animation is really appreciated only to the surface eye. We all know how people like and appreciate Nazir but those who are really eligible of helping and investing tend to be reluctant because they think animation is only for kids and would not want to put their money in it. Also as an animator, even though I studied Graphic Design in the university, there are people studying animation in universities who don’t get the fact that I didn’t study animation and came out of nowhere yet I’m all over the place. Unlike them, who studied it but are not heard or appreciated like that. Liaising with such artists become difficult. I sometimes reach out to these artists to collaborate but everyone wants to work in isolation and be a hero. Why should I work with Louis Appiah who is already popular when I want to also be known for this? That’s what it going on right now. Some of these animators really criticize me to others but when they meet me personally, they confess their love for my work.
Tell us about Nazir-The Movie. We were used to the animation series and then the big news about releasing a full length movie about Nazir hit us, which premiered in January.
I have a character Nazir, it’s not supposed to be only short skits on social media. We had to do the movie for this character because that is the ‘it’ factor and all part of defining a character.
It was quite massive and a heavily attended premiere.
I was so surprised though because on that day there was another movie premiere by renowned actress Yvonne Okoro. It was crazy to premiere a cartoon on the same day as a movie by Yvonne Okoro but I like taking risks. The response was really good and impressive, with people sitting on the stairs in the cinema after all the seats were all occupied. I almost cried because of the success of Nazir – The Movie.
Are you working on a new movie?
Yes I’m working on an animated movie hopefully for the 6th of March. It’s hasn’t been concluded but I want to come out with one featuring top names in the entertainment industry.
I understand animation is a time-consuming process. How true is this?
It takes a lot of time. Just animating a character walking or taking 10 steps can take about 15-20 drawings just to get it properly walking. It is very time consuming not to even talk about colouring and background arts and all that. It’s crazy.
What’s the favourite part of your job?
When we are done with a project or episode and it’s doing really well. We check our figures a lot to see how well our fan base is expanding.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
When we are supposed to meet deadlines and machines are not functioning or the president has visited us by way of power outage. (laughs)
As an animator, how do you really make money?
In the beginning it was self-funded and was draining my bank account like crazy. Then gradually we got investors and now we have managed to put Nazir on TV and we have sponsors on board.
What skills are important to the success of an animator?
Your artistic instinct need to be very good. You should know how to draw well and understand the principles of drawing and art. You need to have patience and know that it quite time consuming. You shouldn’t start looking at the figures from the beginning.
Words of wisdom to anyone who wants to be an animator
You shouldn’t give up no matter what. I have gone through a lot of challenges even though Nazir is very popular and all. Nothing should stop you and make you give up. Go really hard on it. The moment things become difficult it is a sign that you are on your way to success. Even breathing is not easy. Put it in your mind that even if anyone frowns on your work, you are the only one that loves what you are doing. Just focus on what you are doing and what you love and the whole world will come to you.
In 10 years for now, which direction do you see Louicage heading to?
In 10 years I see Louicage as the main company Marvel will like to liaise with, regards to African comic content.