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Africa is the future of animation — M.I Thomas

Matui Isaac Thomas (MI Thomas) is a scriptwriter in animation. He sits as the Head of Story at Magic Carpet Studios, a division he helped…

Matui Isaac Thomas (MI Thomas) is a scriptwriter in animation. He sits as the Head of Story at Magic Carpet Studios, a division he helped set up as part of the founding team. Currently one of the few studios with an in-house story team. He co-founded Magic Scroll, the studio’s division dedicated to developing and acquiring IPs.

Over the years Thomas has supervised the development of all major scripts of the studio from “The Passport of Mallam Ilia” to “Meet the Igwes” he continues to deliver the best.

How would you best describe yourself

I’m a storyteller. As far as I know, that’s about the simplest way to describe me. I’ve been writing for stage, radio and doing prose for quite some time, publishing a crime thriller ‘Secrets’ in 2018. Writing for the screen was something I took up less than seven years ago, but here we are.

How did you begin your journey into animation?

I started my screenwriting journey with live action and didn’t make the transition fully to writing for animation until 2019. Of course, whilst working on the screenplay for The Passport of Mallam Ilia, from 2018, I had to pay attention to specific techniques key to writing for the medium of Animation. Afterwards, I decided, “Hey, I’m going to master this and be a specialist for animation storytelling,”. That’s it. So I went on to take diploma courses, attend dozens of Masterclasses online and offline, sign up for One-on-One mentorship programs with some of the best in the craft and just put myself to work.  The results are clear with the work we are doing on Meet the Igwe’s, for instance, amongst other projects.

How would you describe the state of the animation industry in Africa?

It’s a pretty emerging industry with a lot of strides to cover but you have to give credit to the pillars that have held it all together. Africa as a whole, and Nigeria in particular, is a tough place to do animation due to so many odds stacked against it- funding and reception. A lot of people still don’t understand the medium in itself and so pouring in the needed resources to keep it going is difficult.

Despite it all, I can tell you that this here- Africa- is the future of animation from writing to acting to animating. We have got it all here albeit in raw forms.

What is distinct and unique about African art and storytelling?

I would say the rawness of it all. From Moonlight stories told in front of a burning fire and under the trees, to the stories told by Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, Camara Laye and hundreds of others, what you see is authentic and simply captivating. The events, characters involved in those events, their motives, journeys and their ends are told with so much emotion and lesson laden in ways different from stories told elsewhere. Simply sublime and rich.

You led the story team for The Passport of Mallam Ilia, how challenging was it for you and the team to adapt it into a script?

It was a thorough process that ran for about 11 months. We went to Kano and spent about a month doing research and it expanded the story for us. There are so many areas that the book did not touch, but you will find that in the movie. There is a documentary on youtube that came out of the research.

What is the story behind the series ‘Meet the Igwe’s”

It started with the Art Director of Magic Carpet Studios, Chekwube Okonkwo. He wanted to make a sitcom originally titled ‘My Little Big City’. We had this series of long informal talks and endless nights of tinkering with ideas. Coincidentally, each of us has been influenced by certain shows growing up. One day he approached me and said, ‘look, you’re going to make me this show’. Simple as that and we began developing it into a full-fledged TV show that tells the story of a dysfunctional middle-class family of five and their daily wacky adventures. It’s very much of a satire and parody of life and the human condition. Judah Danjuma, a socially conscious cartoonist came in to direct the first season bringing a fresh perspective.

When are we expecting the first season?

The first full season is in production; I dare say in an advanced level of work. But in all honesty, only Danjuma can give you a date. I may have a date in mind but I would be in trouble if the show creator and the directors have a different date in mind.

What has your experience been like being part of a founding team of Magic Carpet Studio and building a team of writers specialised in animation?

Beautiful. I mean that’s about the size of it. It’s an honour to get the opportunity to come into the full expression of myself as a storyteller doing what I know how best to do surrounded by such marvellous talents every day and every step of the way.

However, as it is with nearly everything foundational, I know, it’s tough. This has been tough. Partly because the requirements of working with me in the story department are demanding and stiff, so much that a lot of people just aren’t prepared for that level of commitment.

Second, it’s one thing to find writers, it’s yet another thing to find storytellers and a completely different ball game to find those who are both. In all honesty, I’m still searching for proper storytellers. In my opinion, all that is in this space is with me already and it’s not enough for our needs.

Still, it’s been one rewarding journey that I would take over and over again. Simply beautiful.

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