Blessing Amidu, a geologist working in the oil and gas sector tells Vanessa Obioha how a family joke is becoming a historic feat in the film industry
There are mainly two kinds of people you find in the arts and entertainment field: those who are art-inclined but studied a different course, and those who are talented and pursued a course in arts. Blessing Amidu falls in the first category.
As a young girl, she evinced an interest in arts but was stuck with the idea of studying medicine.
“I was an A student in my art subjects: literature, government, etc,” she explains. “But everyone in my family studied Law. From my siblings to my cousins, everyone is a lawyer in my family. I wanted to do something different so I stuck with sciences.”
She, however, settled for Geology when she didn’t meet the requirements to study medicine. In retrospect, it wasn’t a bad choice, she points out. With the fate of doctors in the country right now, Amidu is glad she didn’t pursue her medical dream.
But there is one dream that she has harboured since childhood and is finally coming to pass: making animation.
“I loved watching cartoons. Back in my younger days, I watched ‘Voltron: The Defender of the Universe’, ‘Deadman’. My favourite cartoon back then was ‘Bigfoot and Wildboy’, that was in the 70s. Bigfoot was a giant character that fights off crime and aliens from invading his forest home,” she recalls nostalgically, wondering how she ended up studying geology.
“It’s a wonder you know,” she adds, “that part of me has always been there. Sometimes, I ask myself what am I doing in the oil and gas. I should be in the entertainment industry. I think it was just a matter of time for that side of me to come out.”
Indeed, it was only a matter of time before Providence led Amidu to her true calling. After writing scripts and producing works for churches, Amidu will finally have the spotlight on her. For the first time in Nigeria, a feature-length 3D animated film, ‘Ladybuckit and the Motley Mopsters’ (LBMM) will premiere in cinemas within and outside the country. The production is the handiwork of Amidu and her production outfit, Hot Ticket Productions.
The film was inspired by her children, who inherited their mother’s love for the animated world. It all began as a joke.
“I have two girls and twin boys. They are always fond of mimicking cartoon characters and one of the boys is always in his underpants. So one night, while we were watching cartoons, he strolled into the room in his underpants. Immediately, it struck me that why don’t I make an animation. I mean, looking at them, the way I have to chase them around the house to brush their teeth or take the bath, it just began to unfold. I told them about it and we all laughed it off but when my first girl who was 13 at the time and have a penchant for sketching made sketches of characters, I thought to myself that this thing could really work,” she narrates.
What Amidu didn’t realise then was that it was easier said than executed. It would take her almost three years to finally achieve this dream. Her first attempt failed. She didn’t give up. She dusted her hands and resumed work. Again, the production proved futile. Not a few advised her to throw in the towel but being a woman who doesn’t see failures as stumbling blocks but steps to greatness, she rolled up her sleeves one more time. They say the third time is a charm and it worked for Amidu.
At last, everything fell into place.
“If I didn’t have the kind of passion I had,” she notes, “I would have abandoned this project,” she confesses.
The result of her late nights, scouting talents, carrying out research on a film format that is still a niche in the country, and her resilience is a picture-perfect 3D animation that focuses on a young girl who finds herself amid strange characters that eventually changed the course of her destiny.
Amidu applied her geology knowledge by adding a historical fact in the creation. She takes viewers to Oloibiri, a community in Bayelsa State where crude oil was commercially discovered in 1956.
“The prominent story from Oloibiri has been that of violence. We are able to tell Oloibiri from another light. We are showing the good sides of Oloibiri and what possibly it could be. It’s a different narrative that no one has ever seen.”
Animation which is valued at $270 billion globally is still a budding industry in Nigeria. Quite distinct in form and production, it is confronted by myriads of challenges that range from funding to casting. In Amidu’s case, getting the right skillsets was a major problem.
After much consultations — including hiring the services of Bisi Adetayo, who reportedly worked with HBO on ‘Game of Thrones’ and serves as the director and lead animator of LBMM — Nollywood stars like Kalu Ikeagwu, Patrick Doyle, Bimbo Akintola, Bola Edwards, are featured. There are also fresh voices of 11- and 13-year-old Jessica and David Edwards. Popular music producer and songwriter, Clement ‘DJ Klem’ Kponu and, versatile film composer, Ava Momoh, are the brains behind LBMM’s original 14-tracker album.
Amidu who has worked in the oil and gas sector for 15 years reveals that the animation gulped $1 million.
Despite the limitations, there is a growing emergence of animators. Take, for instance, Kanso Ogbolu, who entertained fans during the lockdown period with his ‘FreaktheFxxkout (FTFO)’ series. There is also Ridwan Moshood, winner of Cartoon Network Africa’s Creative Lab competition. He recently opened an animation production company Pure Garbage, to produce a series of his award-winning original property, ‘Garbage Boy & Trashcan’.
Amidu is also thinking in that direction. She hinted at the possibility of having other animated series from her production outfit.
With the dwindling fortunes of oil and gas in Nigeria, the Lagos State indigene (by marriage) believes that the creative economy is the way to go. She opines that while animation is still a niche in the country, it has the potential of expanding with an enabling environment.
“The challenge has always been if we had an enabling environment to bring out that level of creativity that will match international productions. Creativity is also stifled because of finance. It is a shame that this is coming 60 years after independence. The creative economy should have started over 10 years ago.
“The oil industry as it stands now, I don’t know how long it can sustain the economy. We should be able to diversify to areas such as tourism and entertainment. The time is ripe to invest in creativity and diversify instead of over-reliance on oil and gas.”
She adds that there is an overwhelming reception to animation in the country.
“The kind of fulfilment Amidu has over the completion of this project is almost indescribable.
“I just feel on top of the world,” she gushes. “It’s not been a smooth ride and there are times I asked myself who sent me on this mission. But I’m glad we surmounted these challenges. My first satisfaction is bringing my dream to fruition. I want this animation to cause an earthquake in the industry where many like-minded people will begin to do amazing work in that field. But I’m happy, my kids are happy, and each time I go online and see reactions anticipating the premiere, I feel good and have no regrets whatsoever.”