In this interview, we talk to Dedy Bilamba and Eric M’Boua of AfroVFX and learn about their mission to bring VFX education to their home continent of Africa.
At ActionVFX, our community around the world is why we exist. From the very beginning, it was the support from that community that gave us our start and it’s the continued support that drives us to want to be the common driving force behind the careers of all VFX Artists.
It’s through this mission that we met Dedy Bilamba and Eric M'Boua of AfroVFX. These two gentlemen formed the VFX Cohort/Bootcamp on the Ivory Coast of Africa with the goal to make learning VFX more accessible to the Mother Continent.
AfroVFX’s Origin Story
AfroVFX is an initiative from EM&MB, located in Montréal (Canada) and co-founded by two Africans living in the diaspora, Dédy Bilamba (Scriptwriter) and Eric M’Boua (TV producer). The first cohort started in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, with the support of the Orange Digital center (Abidjan) and the Canadian Embassy in Côte d’Ivoire.
With zoom training sessions (of Maya, Houdini, and Nuke) led by artists from major international studios and masterclasses, AfroVFX’s ambition is to develop a local talent base, able to answer both local and international demands. The training program is followed by a 6-month internship in local animation studios in Abidjan and/or international 3Danimation or VFX studios remotely.
Here’s the interview:
Q: Tell us a little about the two of you; what originally got you into doing VFX?
A: Well, both of us have no technical background in terms of VFX. Two years ago, I thought “Maya” was a bee from my childhood and “Houdini” was a DJ from New York (haha).
However, we both have been very involved in the entertainment industry and Media companies both in Canada and Côte d’Ivoire. What brought us to this point is our dedication to promoting and contributing to the rise of the African Francophone film industry.
What we perceived was that more often than not, the African cinema scene sometimes portrays an image of the continent that is somewhat outdated. We believe that showcasing the continent’s rich cultural heritage and beauty would be better suited to elevate the scene.
So as we were discussing some of the possible pathways of what that could look like, we realized that VFX additions to the African storytelling techniques would be a spectacular way to advance and with the help of some of our close friends in the VFX industry, the program was set in motion. Our mission is to make an impact that can truly elevate the storytelling techniques that some African Directors and storytellers already possess.
Q: What was the inspiration for starting AfroVFX?
A: At first, we wanted to create a VFX studio in Abidjan but quickly realized the talent was the missing piece. Most youth who had the chance to elevate their skills opted to move away from the country to find better opportunities outside, which resulted in a big lack of manpower.
However, every time we would both be in Abidjan, we would always come across passionate, dedicated, and creative young minds who, for lack of a better word, simply did not have the tools or resources to elevate their skills. Access to training resources (training, equipment, employment, opportunities) was lacking.
Being from Montréal, one of the major world Hubs for Visual Effects, we rolled our sleeves up and established some connections that allowed us to feel empowered enough to then take the resources gained through different networks back to Abidjan. A critical understanding that we learned that allowed us to continue in the manner that we did was that instead of bringing talent to Cote D'Ivoire, we should focus on bringing professional visual effects education to students in Cote D’ivoire and concentrate on growing a stable ecosystem of world-class African VFX talent.
Q: What inspires you? Has/how has this changed over the years?
A: Our biggest inspiration is the MOTHERLAND. Africa, our native continent. Its diverse cultures and people. This is something we also wanted to be very evident in everything we do, thus even in our name: AfroVFX.
We are equally inspired by the brilliant young minds looking to develop their skills. One thing we quickly understood was that those young people waited for no one.
They dared to dream, self-taught through the tools they had to learn some techniques and software. They kept their passion and were already hard workers. We were simply the kickstarter to the path they had already chosen. This was our biggest realization from the first AfroVFX cohort.
During the recruitment process, we received about 500 candidates for only 20 spots. At first, we were thrilled and proud that we were going to provide for free this much-needed opportunity for 20 young aspiring digital artists; but now we realize that we have the responsibility to make AfroVFX a success for the 480 who didn’t make it in the first round.
Q: Tell us more about AfroVFX and what does the future hold for you all?
A: One of our biggest accomplishments was to start with a group of 20 trainees, among them 8 young women. Given the shortage of diversity in the VFX industry across the world, we were keen on making sure that African women are also included in this initiative, to give the same equal chances for the growth of their career path within this industry. We have a particular focus on encouraging young women to appropriate this field and take up their rightful space.
In regards to our future plans, now that the inaugural program in Abidjan has been finalized with success, AfroVFX will eventually establish more hubs in other African countries (primarily Francophone) such as Senegal, Cameroon, DRC, and more to come. Our aim will remain to contribute to the development of an African VFX ecosystem. We strive to collaborate with authors, Directors/Producers, Production studios, and Networks, to promote the use of 3D and Visual Effects in the African film industry.
Q: What can students expect when signing up for the cohort?
A: Students can first expect to learn the basics of Maya, Houdini, and Nuke inside the very well-equipped Orange Digital Center, through zoom classes led by artists working in major studios like Cinesite, MPC, Rodeo FX, Framestore, Scanline, and others. Second, they will be able to tap into a global network that connects them with mentors around the world for 1 on 1 conversations, attend group masterclasses, and locally be part of a growing industry. Third, but certainly not least, they will also be part of the AfroVFX family that they can reach out to for opportunities or references from any member of our team whenever needed.
Q: In your opinion, what are the next steps for VFX on the continent of Africa?
A: Haha, that is the million-dollar question, my friend. In all seriousness, that is a great question because the answer is simply that the potential is limitless.
We think that the next step is to involve National governments; education boards and authorities, media houses, and TV networks to invest in the ecosystem (studios, schools, scholarships or paid internships, work opportunities, etc.) and help elevate the storytelling of African creatives through enhancing the visuals attached to their stories. Africa has incredible scenery and landscapes that can be emulated to provide an eccentric viewer experience in addition to the excellent storytelling and filmmaking of our creatives.
VFX additions allow for easy incorporation and reimagining of how our incredible cultures, legends, and traditions could be if there were no limitations to our imagination. We believe that this ability will do wonders to African films (and storytelling) and will for sure make its impact globally.
Q: How did ActionVFX help AfroVFX’s cause?
A: After a very quick chat with Rodolphe Pierre-Louis, the Founder, and CEO of ActionVFX, he agreed to partner with us. This was long before we even started the training program. Being a partner from the beginning of the AfroVFX adventure is truly a testament to Rodolphe’s visionary character alongside the rest of the ActionVFX team.
Given that most of our students were still at the junior level of their technical skill building, having an established starting point like ActionVFX’s visual effects assets was very much needed. We have to remember that some of these students were discovering/seeing Maya, Houdini, and Nuke for the first time and they only had 3 months to learn and feel empowered in their skill building.
Since this was a pretty intense and compressed experience, ActionVFX’s assets helped our students have a large playground in choosing what type of stories they wanted to tell and practice/build on. In their spare time, they had fun experimenting with the assets and this allowed them to express their personalities and even be curious about understanding what type of artists they wanted to become, eg. Some leaned more toward the structural assets while others leaned towards the particles and some facial/human builds, etc.
Q: How were ActionVFX elements utilized amongst the students?
A: They blew things up, haha! We are thankful to have had such a wide range of access to the ActionVFX library, especially the Weather, Debris, and Explosion collections. Assets like Rain and Lighting were used as references for the particle simulation work on Houdini.
In general, after the modeling and texturing of the “African” city on Maya, students had the option of choosing any ActionVFX asset to materialize their story.
To learn more about our relationship with AfroVFX, check out their interview with Rodolphe here:
Q: Thanks for your time! What can we look forward to from AfroVFX?
A: AfroVFX is a human adventure, with the promise to bring opportunities to those who work hard. We are very proud to announce that one of our students, Regis, will have a short internship at Rodeo FX, within the CFX department. In addition, Awa, one of our female trainees, received her student permit Approval to study 3D and VFX in Canada.
All in all, the journey continues, and thank you to ActionVFX for having been an essential part of our kick-off.
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