INTERVIEW: The Amazing World of Gumball creator speaks on finding animation talents in Africa and more

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Ben Bocquelet 2

Cartoon Network recently announced the launch of the Imagination Studios Awards competition in Nigeria. It is an initiative that encourages primary school students in the country to explore their artistic talents while also having lots of fun!

This year’s theme being humour and comedy, children from Nigeria and the rest of the continent will be asked to create the next CN prankster in order to make their favourite characters laugh! Participants can consult the platform during the competition to receive tips and guidance into making their own character, animate and tell stories. The channel’s own artists and creators, such as Ben Bocquelet, creator of The Amazing World of Gumball and many more will accompany them on their journey through the site which offers a wide range of activities including drawing, colouring, storyboarding, music, special effects, voiceover, movement and animation, leaving children well-equipped to begin working on their very own character creations.

I joined some journalists from around Africa in a Q&A with Ben Bocquelet, where  I wanted to find out Cartoon Network’s plans for discovering and developing animators or animations from Africa, since Ghanaian-American Hollywood teen star, Kwesi Boakye is the voice of Darwin on ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the Cartoon Network Imagination Studios initiative? 

A: Imagination Studios is actually inspired by an African campaign called Animation Generation which ran for 10 years in South Africa and ended in 2015. The exciting, nationwide initiative aimed to harness the passion for creativity of all Cartoon Network enthusiasts in schools across South Africa and was the company’s way of giving something back to the local communities in which Cartoon Network operates.

Q: What exactly do you intend to achieve with the campaign, especially for the African market?

A: What’s new and exciting about Imaginations Studios is that it’s dedicated website and competition is for all of English speaking Africa, not just South Africa.

Imagination Studios comes in the form of a specially-created online destination which provide a sneak-peek behind the scenes of the “real” Cartoon Network Studios, giving kids a unique insight into the making of their favourite cartoons and encouraging them to let their imaginations run wild. Just like Animation Generation Imagination Studios promotes kids exploring their artistic talents while also having lots of fun!

The local touch will come not from the website but from the kids’ submissions. This year, the theme for the competition is “Invent the Next CN Prankster and Make Your Favourite Heroes Laugh!” This theme is specific to the African territory and we are very curious to see how this will turn out when processed through a kid’s mind. Last year for instance with Animation Generation, one of the winner created “Captain Africa”, a super hero with laser eyes and the ability to control thunder. The winners’ artwork will be animated and broadcast on Cartoon Network for the whole continent to see!

Q: Talk us through the Imagination Studios online platform and its benefit for the audience.

A: Cartoon Network’s own artists and creators, myself included as well as Rebecca Sugar (Creator of Steven Universe) and many more, will accompany kids on their journey through the site, with tips and guidance on how to create their own characters, animate and tell stories. Kids will then be able to enjoy a wide range of activities featured on the site, including drawing, colouring, storyboarding, music, special effects, voiceover, movement and animation – leaving them best-equipped to begin working on their very own creations.

The content is refreshed and there are always new surprises to discover. And of course through this website, they can enter the competition.

Q: Imagination Studios is a project that hopes to inspire young kids and ignite the “animators” in them. Is there any advice you would like to give those that would like to take part in this initiative? Especially in the life and times of technology that we live in?

A: A lot of people ask me how they can get a show made and really the answer is you just have to do it. What’s most important is to have something finished, so you just have to get on and do it. Do as many things as possible, finish them and take the time to look at what you’ve achieved – and then grow from there. Also have fun. The process is hard so you have to invest in ideas that you really believe in.

Kids entering Imagination Studios should remember there are three categories in which to participate: drawing, stories and films. So there are a wide range of possibilities for kids to express themselves!

Q: Why is it important for children to learn to tell their own stories and get a feel for ‘design’ from an early age?

A: I’m sure kids are being exposed to lots of different mediums, as I was when I was a kid. It’s not just about looking at cartoons but all sorts of stuff, listening to music you’ve never heard and so on. You should for inspiration in places you wouldn’t normally find it. It’s important because that’s the soil that will nurture your inspiration. It’s all the food that your brain needs.

Q: What inspired the creation of The Amazing World of Gumball?

A: It was a mish-mash of influences. I’ve basically been stealing everything I like – it’s important to steal not copy! Because then you digest it and do it in your own style.

The idea for the characters came from the time when I was working in advertising – very unsuccessfully – and I ended up with a whole bunch of characters from pitches that had been rejected by clients. They all ended up in my drawer. They are also inspired by my family. My dad is called Richard, my mum Nicole, my sister Anais… so I definitely used my experiences of my family to develop the Wattersons too.

Q: What has been your audience’s perception / reaction generally about the creation of Gumball?

A: I find it quite beautiful that it’s connected with people in such a way that I’m now able to talk to African journalists about it. It went way further than my expectations and I’m very happy about that. 

Q: Do you see any opportunities for new animated content in Africa? How do you think this can be easily tapped into?

A: It’s through the internet for sure. The first thing you want is to get noticed – find a place to exist on the internet. That’s where people should put their content. If I were starting out I’d be putting everything on YouTube. As a creator driven channel, Cartoon Network also attends a lot of the animation festivals, such as Annecy, Kid Screen, Cartoon Forum and so on, to find new talent.

Q: Since Cartoon Network is in many homes in Africa, is there the chance of you or the network developing African characters and stories that reflect this audience?

A: That’s interesting – I’ll think about it!

Q: What can fans of Ben Bocquelet expect soon? Hint? Any timelines? 

A: We have more Gumball coming – we’re currently working on season five. In Africa, new episodes will be launching in June, Monday to Friday at 14:35 CET. I’ve also often said I’d like to work on a video game. Videogames is such an interesting medium in terms of storytelling and visuals. I think everyone should be thinking about this too.

Q: What have you done to ensure the show is unique and different from other cartoons and what is the secret of the huge success you have attained so far?

A: I’m not entirely sure why it’s successful to be frank! All I can say is, in every episode, every story we – and it’s a collective effort not just me – put a little bit of heart into and this is what rings true and connects with people. We use things that most people would be ashamed of or wouldn’t want to admit. The fact that it’s tarnished that way rings true and is part of the reason people like it. It’s not a lie, you know.

Q: If you got chance to come to Kenya (that is if you have not been here yet?) –what would like to explore and why? If you have been to Kenya, what are some of your fond memories?

A: I’ve never had the chance but I have always wanted to! It’s definitely on my list of places to go. Mostly I would love to see the people, the land and the animals – it sounds amazing. It would also help me to lose some weight to be chased by a lion for a bit!

About Ameyaw Debrah

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