A Young Animator Just Created Africa's Answer to Mickey Mouse

A Young Animator Just Created Africa's Answer to Mickey Mouse

A young, self-taught animator in Uganda has been working for the past two years on what he hopes will be an iconic cartoon character for the continent—Africa’s version of Mickey Mouse, if you will—and the world is starting to take notice. 

Since premiering online last year, short clips of Katoto regularly receive 25,000 to 30,000 views on YouTube, and the BBC recently aired a feature on the cartoon.

“I think its getting popular now because of its appeal and sincerity,” says 24-year old creator Richard Musinguzi, who developed the goofy, cheerful, and round-bellied character after graduating from architecture school in 2013. “We try to keep the beauty of the language and the behaviors of a true African Mukiga man.”

The Mukiga people belong to the Bakiga tribe—one of many tribes in Uganda—from the countrys southwest region in a district called Kabale. Hailing from a hilly and mountainous region, theyre known for being hardworking and resilient, according to Musinguzi.

The cartoon series features the comical escapades of a Mukiga man named Katoto who, along with his son, his cow, and his wife, navigates the problems of modern life in Uganda. Katoto speaks in a rare Mukiga dialect that is foreign to even some Ugandans, but his comedy is largely physical and easy to follow. In one clip, Kototo takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and in another, he makes a funny and failed attempt to take a selfie. The idea, says Musinguzi, is to preserve the beauty of the local language and customs while trying to appeal to a wider, global audience.

“We recently received a message from a Katoto fan telling us how she enjoys showing the clips to her grandmother back home in the village because hes dancing and speaking in a language that she was familiar with,” he says. “People love these clips because they help them connect with their roots.”

As a young boy, Musinguzi dreamed of studying animation at Georgias Savannah College of Art and Design, but the program was too expensive. Instead, he studied architecture at Uganda Martyrs University, where he began to teach himself how to animate by following YouTube tutorials. By graduation, he had created more than 25 different 2-D and 3-D commercials for various production companies. After graduation, he began to study Disney animation classics. “Ever since then, Ive been improving fast,” he says.

His biggest inspiration has been Ward Kimball, the Disney animator who created Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio. Other early Disney animators were also a major influence, especially Milt Kahl, who created Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, and Frank Thomas, who created the stepmother in Cinderella and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland.

“I always analyze their work frame by frame to see how they managed to breathe so much life and vitality into their characters,” says Musinguzi. “I also enjoy reading their biographies and things about their personal lives. Reading animation history is my biggest asset. This is what gives me fuel.”

Musinguzi says he had a “burning desire” to animate a cartoon character that truly behaved like a Ugandan after reading comical folk stories from a Ugandan legend called Ishe-Katabazi. In one story, a man gets into a fight with a pregnant woman, and, after she wins the fight, “his excuse was that he couldnt fight two people at the same time,” Musinguzi explains.

From there, he began to design his character with a similar penchant for humor, and searched for audio recordings that matched his personality. “I animated only six seconds of it and uploaded it on my Facebook page. Within a day, it had gone viral on [Ugandan] social media,” he says. 

Musinguzi says he wants to create a legacy of African-style animation with Katoto and hopes the show can present interesting stories, cultures, and places that will help Africans connect and appreciate their own roots more.

Given Musinguzis limited resources to date, Katoto is currently only available on YouTube and Facebook, but he hopes to produce a DVD special soon. He has also begun training other artists in the Katoto style of animation in order to increase the length and quality of future clips. 

“Katoto is more than just a character,” he says. “We are also going to grow it as a brand, comprising not just animation, but games, merchandise, and storybooks.”

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Original article from TakePart