‘I want to create something different’

/Interview by Alika Gasimova/

Hermann Kayode is an animator from Senegal. He shared his amazing story of creating cartoons being in Africa and told about the challenges he met during his journey. He is an example of strength and of true loyalty to his artistic dream.

Caption from the ‘Lonely Girl’ by Hermann Kayode

What are you doing except animation?

I am an animator by profession. I studied animation and art in Paris. I’ve been doing freelance work since then. I do 2D animations, art, and a few comic books. For now, I mostly do 2D animations and illustrations. I do some video games. 

How did you come to animation?

The starting point was when I was very young. I really loved Japanese animations and it motivated me to work in this field. That animation seemed very unique to me. It combined science fiction, metaphysics, and philosophy. I decided to study it and bought the books. Then I decided to go to France to learn this as a job.

Captions from the ‘Lonely Girl’ by Hermann Kayode

Who supported you in your interest?

Pursuing an artistic dream in Africa is not something we would normally do. People usually choose teaching, medicine, or sports. Animation and cartoons are not very popular. The industry starts to grow but it’s not as big as in Asia, Europe or America. I don’t know about Russia but in Africa, it’s very complicated.  So, my parents were totally against this idea. Today it changed.

They wanted me to do History of Arts but not Art. My mother was a bit less hard with me. I understand my parents because when you see Africa and learn its history you see that it is hard to do arts here. People tried but it was unsuccessful. If you ask people today if they know African cartoons or TV shows the majority will answer no. It is not a job or a work field. ‘If you go there you will not be successful’ — that is what they wanted to tell me I guess. In the beginning, it was hard for them to support me. Now when parents see my success at the festivals, they get easier with that. 

Why did you choose cartoons instead of films?

Doing 2D animation is like creating a real movie. Some people start with the cartoon and then they do a real film. Before doing animations I was doing comics. When I was a kid I was making a lot of comics books with my friends. I was inspired by American comics with superheroes, Spiderman, the ‘Fantastic Four’. Later I got to know Japanese animation. It was the manga that I started to read. It was great.  I was inspired by both manga and comics. 

It was the Universe I created with the character inside. I guess it stayed that way with me. When I grew up it became natural to me to adapt some of the stories to cartoons.

I chose cartoons instead of directing because of my personality I would say. To direct a real movie that will be not for me. 

As I saw from the titles you don’t have a team and prefer working alone. Which problems does it cause?

I would not say that I prefer to be alone. The problem with 2D animations is that’s it is done frame by frame. It is tons of work to have even just on animation.  It is good to work alone because you know what you do and you can do anything you want. But when you have the team which I actually never had you can do bigger films. Of course, the producers are more interested in shows that are 20 episodes than in short films. At the end of the day, it is hard to be alone and work in the industry. 

On the left: the character from the animation ‘Malaika Princess’

What do you prefer — creating your own films or working for someone as an animator?

If it is a good opportunity I will work for another person. I will put my personal works aside and when the job is done I will go back to it.  

What would you call your biggest success as an animator and director?

I would call ‘Lightfall’ a success. It is a short animation I made in 2014. A lot of people seemed to like it. I got a lot of awards for this animation. My great achievement is the ‘Malaika princess’. It is a long animation, half an hour basically. It took a lot of time to create it back in 2008. Making animation by yourself can take years and years. It is really hard.  When people see it they get excited and watch it without a sound. They want the continuation of the story in a full movie. I am very happy about it. 

Why have you chosen the topic of the afterlife for the ‘Lonely Girl’ film?

When I did this animation there were a lot of comedies created.  People didn’t want anything heavy. I decided that I want to create something different. I wanted my film to be symbolic. I questioned myself how I can show death and the afterlife, how I can visualize it. At the same time, I wondered how people will react to it. The afterlife is not something we usually see in animations. They often target kids and younger people.  My film is about a mother who lost her children. If someone loses a child it can drive the person crazy. I hope I understood this feeling right if I can say that. The character lost both of her children. I wanted not only to show how someone jumps from a building but to show more of that. We continue thinking of this topic after the end of the film.  It was a challenge for me to show something different. I wanted to show people the topic that they don’t usually see in animation. 

I decided to make this view on the afterlife personal. In the end, I show the upside world. Many people will see the picture I show as the reincarnation. I leave that to the viewer. 

How would you describe your personal viewer?

Due to some topics, I choose I would say adults and younger people. I like the viewers who watch for the hidden messages inside the films and who watch them several times. 

Why did you choose a woman as the main character?

It could be a man, too. The choice was made this way I think because of what happens at the end of the animation. I think a woman better matches with the animal I chose at the end. Choosing a woman is less common than choosing a man as well. I think that’s why I was motivated to do it. 

What is the final goal you want to achieve as an animator?

I want to break the stereotypes and do something different if I can. I don’t think it is interesting what somebody already did. I want to do something other than only visualizing life. There is something else to discuss and to love. It is a bit pretentious because doing something different is hard. All of the topics seem to be already discussed. It is always the same topics and people, the industry needs to breathe. For example, some of my friends don’t even want to go to the theatre because it is always the same thing. The starting point was when I saw Japanese animations like ‘Akira’ and found it very unique. It is not like regular cartoons you see Saturday morning. It has nothing to do with that. I want to do something strong.  

Which struggles do you meet being an animator in Senegal?

It is hard to work in animations in Senegal and in Africa too. I can’t say about the whole country but as I see it it is hard to create something here. Firstly, you have the problem of energy. The solar system improves but is very expensive. Regular energy power companies shut down the energy throughout the day. It is hard to work in conditions like that. It destroys the device. Of course, we have protections. We work on the laptops because they have the battery. But still, it can provide only 20 min of energy after years of working on it. It is a challenge. I know an artist here in Senegal and we communicate with the Internet. Maybe, there are not many artists in Africa or I just don’t know them.

Artwork by Hermann Kayode

Favorite directors

Hideaki ANNO

Terry Gilliam 

Stanley Kubrick


Favourite music compositions

80’s music

World music 

Afrobeat hits from

WakkaQueen, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, etc