by CGAfrica in Articles,

on April 2nd, 2017

Samuel Korir is Kenyan 3D Animator and VFX Artist with experience in various roles. He is skilled in the use of Autodesk Maya and credited to have made the Omatho CGI 3D animation short film. He is also credited with some other Notable animation works in Kenya.

CG Africa asked him about his works and how he has achieved his consistency in the industry over the years.


Please briefly introduce yourself, your background and how you got into the animation/VFX industry

Hello, I’m Samuel Korir from Nairobi Kenya. Since the days of super Nintendo and arcade I had a passion for video games. This coupled with my love for cartoons just forged my journey into CGI and all the processes involved in it. I studied software programming in college and it was during this period that I got introduced to 3D animation. At first I did it as a hobby but then the interest grew and would spend hours reading and experimenting with different concepts.


You mentioned that you had worked on several projects in the past. Can you tell us and walk us through making of the Kenyan Short Sci-Fi, describing the process and some of the more interesting findings you encountered while working on it?

I live away from town so my surroundings were ideal setting. I walked around looking and studying the vegetation, how they moved and responded to the natural elements (light wind, strong winds, rain), colours (grass, trunks, leaves etc.), took photographs of the scenery and ground to use as reference images. I did this daily under different lighting conditions to have that mental image when creating the scenes.

For the main character I wanted an African man (early 30’s), rough looks, well built, someone who doesn’t look geeky or even seem to know much about computers but, as the story progresses he would surprise the audience and finally, dreadlocks, because many African communities kept their hair in locks and these were traditions rooted deep within.

I sculpted and poly-painted Omatho in Brochette maps (normal-map, colour-map and displacement map) were then exported to Photoshop. Since the human skin is composed of several layers,

I created a subdermalmap and bump-map to be used alongside normal map in Maya’s miss fast skin shader. Used ZBrush to create dreadlock fibers and beard which I exported as polygon planes and did automatic mapping in Maya. Used anisotropic shader to create dark hairs with thin specular highlights to give it a more subtle realistic look.

The fibers were then skinned to the individual polygon dread and parent constrained all of the dreads to the head joint to move them as one mesh. I created an IK spline along the joint chain of each individual dread then created control clusters using the IK control curve. With 5-7 clusters it was easier to bend and manipulate each dread and using set driven keys, be able to key the dreads move forward, backwards, sideways and bob around like natural dreads would behave.

For the outside scenes I used Maya’s inbuilt paint effects system to procedurally create the trees and grass then convert them into render-able objects in mental ray. I modified the shaders to work properly with Maya’s sun and sky system. Without deleting the history, it was just a matter of enabling dynamics and tweak the settings to get the trees and grass swaying naturally. For the graveyard scene,

I had to use Maya’s render proxy system and convert my objects into mental ray objects. I then imported them back and placed them to fill the background. My system has only 8 gigabytes of ram and so proxies saved me a lot of trouble with memory errors and optimised render speed.

In the case of indoor scenes, I used portal lights for natural lighting. The burning skin morphs were all done post-process in After Effects. The most interesting part of the whole project was learning the human body, topology, muscles, skeleton, edge flow and how light behaves when it comes to contact with different materials like plants. You have to research in order to have the base understanding of the elements involved in your scenery.

Can we push the boundary a little and ask for a preview? Even one or two slides from the story board?

Most of my earlier projects were mostly entailed hard surface inanimate modelling like prominent buildings around Nairobi’s central business district(CBD). Omatho Sci-Fi was a personal project for media wanted something that:

  • captured an African setting.
  • had a lot of nature and had that upcountry feeling.
  • would be understood by everyone but had a techy geeky side.
  • be of a more mature audience.
  • had a supernatural phenomenon to it.

The idea of a story board is usually different for me since I replay the story over and over in my head when I get an idea until I get to create a mental picture of it. Graphs usually work for me since I can lay the order of sequences on either paper or just notepad. Since I had only one main character, drawing many illustrations was not necessary. For the outside scenes, I used a top orthographic view and roughly sketch where I wanted the houses to be, the trees and foot.



How important would you say formal education is in getting to where you are now in contrast to the self-teaching approach you took?

Formal education has the advantage of instant access. With a tutor or a teacher, you get a direct and specific response to questions. Being in a class has the advantages of learning from your classmates. You also benefit since the tutor who has vast experience will be able to create guidelines and curriculum suited to your experience level. Being self-taught is a trial and error way of learning.

You take longer and sometimes get side tracked on what you wanted to learn. There is also the case of you not being able to get the most suitable answers to your questions.


So Maya is your preferred software. What got you started using Maya and how does it help day to day work?

I was attracted to Maya’s complex viewport interface. Most guys complain about it but I thought it was beautiful. From there it was just a matter of reading the help pages and some video tutorials on the internet. Since I’ve gotten used to Maya’s interface and most of the tools, it’s easier to create concepts, has a ton of functionality without having to use third party plugins, and in the end I deliver to my client’s high quality work on time. It all depends on how well you know your 3D software may it be Blender,3DS Max, Maya, Modo, ZBrush, Mudbox, Houdini etc.


What project are you working on currently and what should we expect from this?

A couple of projects are underway, but I am not able to disclose the details. Hopefully after completion we will get the green light to unveil it to the public.


In Africa, Animation is lagging behind, in your opinion and taking Kenya as an example what would you say are the three leading factors hindering the development of CG in Africa?

Education: The key hindrances of animation in Kenya and Africa as a whole is the education system. Children are not exposed to computers early in life and mostly study later in life, be it in high school or in college. Very few universities and colleges get offer animation courses but not to the standard it deserves and with very few qualified teachers, this becomes a problem.

Information: Here in Kenya, companies and organisation don’t even know or have little knowledge of CGI and 3D animation. It is very hard to convince people to use animations in their campaigns or even advertisements. It becomes very hard to try and sell a commodity in a market that is so small and almost non-existent. Lack of knowledge is a key factor here as the old executives in their offices only think of old ways of doing things.

Time: Time is what Kenya and Africa as a whole need to expand. This is a problem because being such a young country as with most African countries since independence, we cannot try and compare ourselves with the western

countries. We are playing a game of catch up and with time will manage to level the playing field. I can complain about the government not doing enough but with massive corruption in most countries, this will not change anytime soon. Bad policies hinder development.


Any Advice for anyone who wants to go into the Animation/VFX field in Kenya

For anyone who wants to go into the Animation/VFX field, I would advise them to do their research. Go online and see what’s there and what different people have done.

Practice a lot, Use online tools at your disposal. YouTube is a good resource and other CG or VFX websites. Learn to use your animation and creativity tools. Remember you cannot complain. There are plenty of resources out there.

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