Ferdinand Adimefe: Building a creative tech empire for African storytelling
Visionary creative entrepreneur, Ferdinand Adimefe is the Group CEO of Imaginarium Creative, founded in 2015, a content factory at the intersection of media, entertainment and technology. With a love for storytelling and technology, a subsidiary company was created called Magic Carpet Studios, an Innovation storytelling company focused on transforming African content through the medium of animation and games.
Ferdinand, who believes as Africans, we have to tell our untold African stories with every creative medium necessary, is joining forces with his team of creatives to do what has never been done in Africa, create the first 2D full length feature film with a legendary story from Northern Nigeria, “The Passport of Mallam Ilia”.
In this interview, Ferdinand shares his passion for Africa storytelling, creative industrialization, engaging the youth demography in nation-building, and the need for the government to make the creative industry a priority.
Let’s start from the beginning, how did you start storytelling through animation and why?
I started my career as a writer and eventually became a copywriter working for an advertising agency. I am fascinated by that tiny opening at the intersection between storytelling and technology and the possibility of building a throne on the rich troves of great African stories. Through storytelling, companies like Disney and Pixar have become cultural icons and have captured the imagination of generations across the globe.
Now, why animation? Animation is not a genre or a subset of the film industry. Animation is not just an art form, but an industry on its own. I am particularly drawn to this medium of storytelling because of the visual artistry and creativity required for production. Though challenging, it’s immensely rewarding.
From a cultural standpoint, history reveals that Africa has always been a continent of storytellers. From carving art on cave walls, to tales under the moonlight, and the resilient Nollywood, we’ve been groomed by storytelling. The question for us as a studio is, how do we tap into this reservoir of untold stories? How do we adapt our legends and literature into a great screenplay?
Fortunately, the 21st century is the century of African storytelling. African stories have never been more attractive and profitable for filmmakers seeking to tell captivating stories. To be clear, Africa is not a country like a lot of people from the West refer to it as. And, the African market extends to Africans in the Diaspora, seeking a historical tie to Africa. A feat only film, music and theatre can pull to create a constant stream of consciousness, reminding all Africans of their ancestry.
My concern is, we seem to be unaware of these trends of events. First the successful outing of Marvel’s Black Panther in 2018. Then, Netflix acquisition of Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart also in 2018 as its first Nigerian original movie and Mama K’s Team 4 produced by Triggerfish. We can all see that the stage is set for Africa to showcase her rich, diverse untold stories to the global audience.
How has Magic Carpet evolved with time?
At first, Magic Carpet Studios was defined as a 2d animation studio. Then, we expanded into other forms of animation like 3d animation, cut out and game development. Now, we simply describe Magic Carpet as an innovative storytelling company focused on creating narratives that capture modern African experiences in its originality and narrating her truth in a voice that spurs intense nostalgia.
We built our studio to use technology as a tool to capture the imagination of the world. We do not think of ourselves as animators or writers, but as storytellers. The medium will always change, but stories will remain the currency of human interaction.
As storytellers, we play the role of prophets painting tapestries of an Africa that has not yet been heard or seen.
Our job is to help reshape the image of the continent and enlighten the African mind to new realities and possibilities around them, pushing boundaries, upturning stereotypes and bringing baskets of wealth to the door of the common man.
Creating and operating a creative company like yours, how do you handle the challenge of sourcing and growing talent?
As a creative and technology hub, you have to be able to identify the diamonds in the rough. We took a chance on a number of guys and today we have success stories to tell.
However, finding talent is one of our biggest challenges. Creative industries in Nigeria are not properly mapped or structured, so you have to work with what you have. Most talents do not always feel safe working for an agency. Economic and social realities can interfere with their growth. Most of them bail out of the growth program and end up freelancing to make money short term but, they become unable to scale and develop professional talent in the long run.
To help solve this challenge, we have developed an internship development program called Magic Lab where we recruit young visual and digital artists, train them and empowers them with useful skills required to excel in the global market. Over the past two years, the studio has adopted over 20 young animators mostly from the creative and fine arts department, trained them and adopted them into real-time projects in the studio. Our goal is to train at least 1000 participants by 2025. We are expanding our lab into a hub called Collaboratory next year, where we can create a space for other animators and artists to work from and co-create with us.
You spoke from an artistic and cultural point of view, what about the economic side of this equation considering that we seem to think of animation as a medium that appeals more to children?
The idea that animation can appeal to children is a misconception. There is a kids’ demography in need of modern interpretation of our myths to create contemporary heroes. However, African animation is largely untouched and very transgenerational. As a matter of fact, we are one of the first studios currently working on the first feature film from Africa.
In terms of conversion rates, animation films are about the highest-grossing films on the continent. The only two produced in South Africa, which is “The Adventures of Zambezi” and Khumba made $35 million and $26 million respectively. They by far toppled live-action films, when you sum up all the box office revenue of all successful film in Nigeria in the last five years they didn’t have the number of one of these films. Yes, it takes a longer time than live-action, so it requires patience and consistency, but it will be more rewarding than any live-action film and even more impactful and that is what we are trying to show people in a practical form with the project we’re working on, Mallam Illa.
Tell us about this project “The passport of Mallam Ilia” Why this story?
The Passport of Mallam Ilia is a feature-length 2D animated film based on a book written by the prolific Cyprian Ekwensi. The 19th-century story comes alive in the ancient city of Kano in Northern Nigerian, unwrapping an enchanting tale of love, conquest, betrayal and one man’s unyielding resolve for revenge. We acquired the rights to the book “Passport of Mallam Ilia” from HEBN Publishers Plc. in February 2018.
We chose to make an adaption of this book because of its significance in the Africa Literary space and to finally breathe life into the long-loved characters of the novel in the minds of the 90s and early 2000s audience who at some point turned through the pages of “The Passport of Mallam Ilia”.
In addition to producing a 2D feature-length adaptation of “The Passport of Mallam Ilia” novel, Magic Carpet studio is currently working to develop a 2D combat game inspired by the “Sanchi Fight,” one of its most enthralling scenes.
Like the animation industry, the gaming industry is currently experiencing its own ‘Africa rising’ moment. In 2018, the global video games market reached a huge milestone, raking in $43.8 billion; an 18 per cent upward increase from the previous years. The good news is, Nigeria has more than enough consumers to triple the projected $177million expected in 2019. Our well-positioned market is built on the backs of a vibrant millennial generation, fully equipped with affordable smartphones, internet access and a hunger for thrills. It’s no mistake that industry giants like Gameloft have opened shop in Nigeria.
As a creative industrialist, what does the future look like for Creatives in Nigeria and in practical terms, can the creative industry help the economic growth of Nigeria? How?
Sad to say but, Nigeria is a creative wasteland. A country with a high density of vibrant, creative young people should not be hitting an unemployment rate of 23.1%. Something has to be done and it has to be done fast. I would suggest investing in creative industries to alleviate poverty. Creative industries can rival earnings of foreign exchange, and contribute to the nation’s GDP.
According to UNESCO, Nollywood is worth N522 billion. In 2016, Vanguard stated that Nigeria’s creative industry accounted for 2.3 per cent, approximately N239 billion of the nation’s GDP and is projected to contribute at least $1 billion by the end of 2020.
We do need policies to help drive the industrialization of the creative sector, using the British government model as a blueprint. The UK made the creative industry a major plank in its economic agenda, beginning in 2008 after the recession. The result, the UK’s creative industry is now worth a record of £84.1 billion. The UK’s Creative Industries grew by 8.9 per cent in 2014 alone – almost double the UK economy as a whole! Today, UK’s Creative Industries generate nearly £9.6million per hour.
I believe if our government and the private sector can use this model, we can do amazing work to scale this. We also need to protect our IPs and ensure they’re developed and fully exploited. Think of creativity like the new oil.
While Animation is a growing field in Nigeria, the few creatives in this field are mostly men. How is Magic Carpet ensuring that women also get a place in this growing space?
The representation of women in the industry is unnoticeable. On our part, we organize workshops, scholarships and training programs for women. We are currently working on a project called Rosa’s diary. This project will be done by an all-female team, from scripting to animation and we are excited to embark on the project and looking forward to not just the outcome for the story, but the positive impact it’ll have on women.
You ran for House of Representatives, Eti-Osa, under the platform of Alliance for New Nigeria, what was that experience like? Why will a creative businessman who knows little about politics get involved?
I ran for a policy office because I understand policies. Everything rises and falls on our bills. If we want to drive creative industrialization, create a national innovation agenda that cascades into government, education and industries, we need solid policies.
To get this country to work, we need nationalists at the helm of affairs. Those who would propose policies that can produce verifiable impacts on the economy, society and the environment at large. We need policy-makers who would fight to modify our existing policies and create new ones that can create and expand a new middle class. In an era where globalization and economic nationalism define diplomatic relationships, we must vote for policy-makers who understand the dynamic nature of foreign relations.
If we continue to remain silent, how do we use technology to curb corruption, improve access to public services, and support indigenous economic development?
These problems are peculiar to Nigeria and cannot be tackled using outdated policies and ideas that emerged during the oil boom of the 80s.
What did the experience of the campaign reveal to you about yourself, about others and Nigerian politics?
Running for an election was the toughest event I ever attempt. I knew it was a distant possibility, but I felt since Eti -Osa a high IQ density area the conversation would be more elevated and many people cannot be bought. The build-up to the campaign as we moved from one community to another, I discovered a new level of resilience even in the face of impossibilities. I knew I was pretty much a fighter, I just didn’t know how far I could go. It was quite a revealing experience on many levels. What it also taught me is that it takes years to win an election and it is not without educating the people. I understand that this is a money game. The people have been conditioned by years of deprivation not to expect genuine change.
Do you intend to run again for any political position?
I am still thinking about this! Whether running or supporting someone in whom I believe, my goal as a patriotic citizen, committed husband and dutiful father is to ensure I play my part in building our country and making a positive contribution. The government cannot build society only, but they need to create an enabling environment for people to even help. What we need more than anything else, isn’t just a change of political party, but more an injecting of fresh ideas into the political bloodstream. We can bridge the widening gap between the rich and the poor, by pushing policies to solve real problems. We must bring our country into the 21st century both in the private and public sectors.
What we seek can only be achieved through a collaboration of like minds. Those who still believe that our best years are ahead of us and not behind. The passionate individuals who believe that the underwhelming theme behind the Nigerian narrative can be changed. Those who feel shortchanged by the preexisting socio-political conditions and are willing to change the status quo.
Who are the three people that inspire you in and out of your industry and how?
Martin Luther King – a man of deep consciousness and conviction – was never afraid of dying. Nelson Mandela, men couldn’t break him, the prison walls caked him to be stronger, but never weaker. Dale Carnegie, a man of empathy who, amid contradiction, did not lose hope in humanity.
What are those three things Ferdinand cannot do without?
Hmmm, that’ll be my phone, laptop and a great book.
What’s the greatest advice you’ve received since starting Imaginarium?
The greatest advice I’ve received is; Bigger is not always better. Faster is not always arrive. Pace right, grow deep and not just wide.
What’s your advice to young people looking to start a career in the creative space?
Focus on your growth and the value you create and the person you become will be your greatest reward. Your work is your portrait and will get you farther, even to places you fear to tread. Pay attention to money, not as a measure of your worth and your work, but as a means.
By Linda Orajekwe.