Not too long ago we discovered the work of Nigerian, Kenneth Shofela Coker who is based in Memphis, Tennessee we immediately fell in love with his multi-faceted portfolio and we just had to find out more.
We want to get to know you. Introduce yourself. Where are you from? What is your area of expertise and how did you get started in the field?
Hi, my name’s Kenneth Shofela Coker, most people call me Shof. I’m a 22 year old illustrator/animator from Lagos, Nigeria. I moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2005 to start college at the Memphis College of Art. I graduated at the top of my class in May 2009 as an illustration major and right now I’m trying to begin a career in the animation industry.
Animation has always been a love of mine, with early memories of old 80s action team cartoons (Thundercats, etc), Tom and Jerry and movies like the Jungle Book and Dumbo. Going into college, I wasn’t too thrilled by the standard visuals of 3d animated movies, so I thought it would be best to attain a solid foundation in traditional illustration. I believed that understanding illustration might inform more unique visuals to go along with the quality of whatever story was told. It was even more important to me because I knew I’d be telling African stories, which I felt and still feel need to visually stand out from the animated fair that flood the screens across the globe.
What are your design and artistic influences? Are there specific artists, movements, books, or online resources that have been pivotal in your development and daily work?
I like to believe I have quite a few that span many disciplines. I respect and admire many contemporary artists work like Sam Weber, James Jean, and Emmanuel Malin to name a few. Artists that blend the digital and traditional processes successfully tend to intrigue me most. I love old time illustrators like Edmund Dulac, Heinrich Kley, Ludwig Holwein, Eyvind Earle, etc and comic artists like Sergio Toppi whose work is breathtaking.
I also think its really important to be inspired by work outside your profession. For instance, I receive a lot of inspiration from architecture, and if I wasn’t an illustrator/ animator I’d probably be an architect. I enjoy the challenge of creating spaces and structures that tell stories with mood like Luis Barragan’s architectural masterpieces in Mexico. I visit websites such as Drawn.ca, Notcot.org and Abduzeedo occasionally, and I certainly scour the web for animated shorts that look interesting e.g shorts from Supinfocom and Gobelins schools in France. Everytime I see work like that, I feel revitalized in my opinion on the importance of unique visuals in cg animation. Finally, I like to read books on mythology, history, fantasy and Wole Soyinka novels for literal inspiration.
How has Africa influenced your work?
Well first and foremost I like to think that growing up in Lagos with my family instilled a sense of what is valuable in life. Intermittent power cuts and water shortages in a bustling hectic city of over 15 million people will do that to you I guess. Lagos probably made me a more ambitious person and the strife and political/ economic contention the country endured in my youth tinged my perspective of the world and gave me some interesting subjects to utilize later in life. The food, music, humor, and sensibilities of African people are undeniably unique, as well as its mythology, of which I am an enthusiastic study of, particularly Yoruba cosmogony. Also my father is an art professor in Lagos so I grew up around him and his friends and colleagues like Olu Amoda whose work I occasionally got to see, as well as work from one of his teachers, Bruce Onobrakpeya
Could you tell us about Visual Essay no. 1: Niger Pipeline Timeline? What is it? How did it get started? How has it evolved and where do you see it going?
In my final illustration class, we were asked to gather research on a topic of our choosing and create a series of illustrations exploring the issue. I thought it was high time I tried to interpret the crisis in the Niger Delta. So I narrowed down the subject matter to a vocabulary of a few graphic, iconic images that would demonstrate the escalation and cyclical nature of MEND’s recent history (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), a militia group supposedly fighting for the rights of the downtrodden inhabitants of the Delta area. I used the Ijaw (local ethnic group of the Delta region) and Yoruba god of chaos and unpredictability to embody the spirit of MEND, whose actions and reputation have quickly become exceedingly violent, corrupt and exploitative. It is definitely a series I am going to return to fully explore and execute without the pressures and constraints of a college deadline. Hopefully by then I’ll be able to get it in to a gallery… somewhere.
You have a multimedia portfolio including character modeling, can you please walk us through the creation of a character, what is your process in developing each character?
Research is probably where I have the most fun surprisingly. Like I said, most of my characters and stories are African or related to Yoruba Mythology so gathering information on the subject matter is usually challenging, which is something about African culture that pains me. For instance, most African history is decently documented in the colonial era but is quite sketchy before that period, especially in terms of imagery. However, I sometimes believe it can be a boon, because I get to venture outside the strict realm of historical fact. My process usually starts off with a story for the character that aids the sketch with charcoal, ink or graphite, then scanned in to Photoshop to tweak and add color and certian details. I build a rough model in 3ds Max, unwrap the UVs and export to Zbrush. I usually add the majority of finessing and detail in Zbrush, then take the normal maps and textures back in to 3ds Max and to prep for animation.
What is your favorite tool/application and why?
I’m not sure. I can’t do my work without all my tools, but I guess specifically, for digital sculpting Z brush is the most fun and intuitve, and for ideation I can’t do without a trusty charcoal pencil or my Wacom tablet for that matter.
Your characters are interesting and unique ever thought of doing an African inspired comic book?
Thank you, I’m flattered. Actually, I have several in the works. Its just going to take time and effort to see them completed, seeing as how I plan to have a studio job while I work on them. Right now I’m working on a comic that features the life of the legendary Malian king, Sundiata.
What sort of advice would you give to anyone who would like to go in to your line of work?
Study the history of the medium of animation/ illustration and learn that ‘learning astutely’ is your best asset, you can always pick up the physical skills if you’re determined enough. Both my parents are teachers so I guess it figures that I’d say something like that.
What are some of your goals/aspirations? Do you have any particular projects that you are excited about?
I’m trying to get a position working in an animation/ video game studio at the moment. Seeing the way a studio works will hopefully give me enough insight for when I open my own studio some day. I’ve also got a lot projects in the works with my older brother who is also an artist. A particular project we’re working on now is the reason Eniola was created, the little girl I recently sculpted, who’s obsessed with Bruce Lee. I’m trying to keep the project mum at the moment, but there are little tell tale clues on my site about the project. Anyway, with projects like this, combining my own unique illustrative visual style (at least I like to think so) with digital animation is an approach I employ to embellish my story telling methods. I suppose anticipating the response people will have to this style of animation is what gets me excited… and quite nervous sometimes…haha.
Do you have anything else to say to all those digital Africans out there?
Well, hopefully without sounding pretentious or elitist, let’s all strive to enrich society’s perception of an over stereotyped continent.