STEPHEN SHIMA IOSUN: ENGINEER AND ANIMATOR
Stephen Shima Iosun was born in Jos, Plateau state but hails from Makurdi in Benue State. Though a graduate of mechanical engineering from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, he also dreamt of becoming an animator. When he tried to pursue a second degree in Animation overseas, he was turned down on the basis that his drawings were not good enough. With shattered hopes, he decided to research into and learn animation on his own. He has since directed several animation projects short, Pop a nomination in the Best Animation category at the 2016 African International Film Festival (AFRIFF). A producer, director, storyboard artist and animator, Losun presently teaches animation at the Nigerian Film Institute (NFI) in Jos.
You studied mechanical engineering and now you are filmmaker and animator. What inspired this new direction?
I would say I always wanted to be an engineer, the desire to become an animator came afterwards, at which point I realized I was happier being one. In 2006, I contacted an animator in the United States through the Internet, who suggested I try my hands on the open source software called Blender 3D. At that point in time, I did not have a personal computer. After checking the site, I found an online manual which comprised of hundreds of web pages. As I was determined to learn the software, I started by saving the entire manual page-by-page on the Internet café computer. This took some days and cost quite an amount of money. While most people spent hours on social media sites, I saved web pages for offline use and eventually burnt all of them into a CD. At the time, I was working at a private engineering firm which owed me salaries for 6 months. Fortune favoured me when I received all my arrears at once because I used the money to buy my first computer. I began my journey into learning animation with it in 2007 and here I am today.
Is anyone in your family artistically inclined?
Yes, my older brother is an architect.
Do you own an animation studio?
Yes, I run Sallmyne Animations Studio where I work as an animator and director, concept and storyboard artist. Over the years, I worked on a number of projects ranging from short films, music videos, TV product commercials to architectural and virtual tours to virtual machine simulations. My most notable work is the MIMI animated short, I wrote and directed and which Watershed Entertainment, produced.
Do you still work as an engineer?
I’m fully an animator, but still consult in engineering. There is animation for engineering.
What inspired your animated short Pop and why did you chose 3-D?
Some experiences a friend of mine and I had in the early days of the Internet café inspired Pop. We wanted a story that was both funny and relatable. It has also been my intention to encourage this generation to return to reading books and patronizing libraries. I chose 3-D because I find the medium more flexible and less limiting, giving me more control of any world I create.
How long did the project take from script to screen and what was your budget?
I cannot account for how long the script process lasted; however, the entire production took about 6 weeks though I had to cut corners to speed things up. The budget was low as most of the required hardware was already available and the crew worked pro-bono.
Can you tell us how you developed the 3 characters and the reasons for their features?
I did all the design, modeling and animation I wanted the characters to reflect their personalities, though I cannot say I fully achieved an African look. I intend to address this in future projects.
How long did it take to create a character?
On an average, I spend between 1 and 2 days on a character, depending on the complexity and the amount of research needed to design the characters appearance. The design of a character’s appearance is important to defining his or her personality.
Why is it a silent short? Was it to save costs by not using voice talents?
I felt having dialogue would kill the humour and preferred gestures and expressions to do the talking since because it was already an issue people identified. What inspired me to work on a silent film style was the animated short film Paperman made by Disney. Frankly speaking, working with voice talents can be to chore, so I resort to it when absolutely necessary.
How long did it take you to work on the exterior and interior of the building?
It took 3 days to do the basic design and layout, but about a week to get the look and lighting right. This involved several tweaks. For instance, it is possible to create a good looking set, but the moment you bring in your characters, they hardly ever fit the way you imagine, thus you have to keep editing and playing with lights. After designing the café, bringing the characters in and having them seated, I realized that they did not have enough elbow room, so I had to start adjusting. Sometimes several objects may occlude the cameras so their positions have to be altered.
Were you hopeful when you submitted it to AFRIFF and how you did feel after it was selected?
Yes I was hopeful when I made the submission. It felt exciting to be selected. Unfortunately I didn’t win, but was a great experience.
Seeing your work on Silver Screen is different from viewing on your computer. How was your cinema experience for your film?
It was really exciting, but disappointing because it did not get the level of viewership I had hoped for.
You also wrote and directed MIMI animated short. Can you tell us about it?
It was about a little girl coping with the aftermath of a motor accident she experienced in which she lost her mother or so she thought.
How did you get involved in the production and what inspired the story?
I wanted to work on a short animation without humor and with a sad ending that I could dedicate to my late younger brother and several others I had lost in life. I pitched the idea to the producer and he liked it and financed the project. However, the recording studio did a terrible job on the voicing.
Why did you choose a narration style?
It was the only way I felt I could capture the tone and mood as it was more of a monologue and there was no sense in having the characters speak.
MIMI animated short
How long did the production take and did you do all the animation, modelling and character animation?
It took more than 6 months because I had a lot of research to do, and it required more scenes and characters than Pop. What is more, I was using an older slower computer than what I am currently using and I did everything regarding character modelling, and animation though I used some already created assets which I did not have time to model like the hospital ward equipment.
You also teach animation at the National Film Institute Jos. How did you get the job?
I found out they offered the course but had no one knowledgeable enough to handle it, and I got accepted to teach it as an external resource person when I applied. With time I got absorbed as a full time lecturer.
Are you working on any project and are you going to produce a full-length animation feature?
Yes I am currently working on the pilot of a family themed animated series That’s My Family but I’m considering making it into a feature length, if I can get the sponsorship I hope for.
What advice do you have for people who want to work in the field of animation in Nigeria?
Well, I would say take it slowly, don’t try to rush. It’s a gradual process, and can get a bit frustrating if it is not panning out the way you hope. Lastly, what I always tell people is that you should not go into animation for the money, but because you love it.
Stephen Shima Iosun
Image credits: Stephen Shima Iosun
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