Let me tell you a story… four guys met and they created magic. End of story.
But it is never that easy, is it?
A lot has been said about creatives in Nigeria. The argument however isn’t about how capable or talented they are, but how much the society they operate in acknowledge or appreciate their value.
Even more so, very little is known about the motion graphics and animating crowd amongst this large pool of creatives. This might be because they work in silos, in the absence of a real community– choosing to attach themselves with the graphic artiste/UIUX/Illustrator scene rather than carving an ecosystem for themselves as motion graphics designers and animators. This might also be due to the pricey nature of the animation business since a lot of work, time and energy goes into creating every single project they render.
However, a lot of stories still need to be told and animators– who hold the unique power to simplify ideas for audiences, feeding them vital information in consumable bits are as necessary to our learning process as the message they look to pass.
One studio that has a passion for stories is Quadron Studios.
Started by Tayo and Uche in September, 2015. They both were among the team that worked on the ‘Ovie and Wale’ skit. At that time, getting realistic animations with characters that looked like us, spoke like us and even danced like us was very novel. The skit was well received, and it went viral within a short time.
Tayo and Uche kept in touch after the viral project and within years, Quadron was born. They operate with a small team of four: Tayo, Uche, Dayo and Lukman. They consider themselves generalists, which is a creative’s language for broad skill across different expertise in animation. The Quadron-Four did not forget the secret ingredient that made the ‘Ovie and Wale’ skit go viral– every day, they still strive to tell the Nigerian story using characters that we can identify with.
Most of these stories are told through digital content and advertising and Quadron has quite the portfolio. Having worked with firms like GUO, MTN, Wema Bank, VisionScape and the Nigerian Breweries out of many others. This need to convey something that transcends the mediocre determines their process.
According to Tayo, once a new client comes onboard— the first thing they ask is “What is the story you want to tell?” From there, they work their way up into developing characters that can be resonated with, and fleshing out worlds that mirror our reality as Africans.
This has resulted in iconic characters like JohnBosco, a young Nigerian who tried ‘escaping’ work to book a bus trip; Okoro International, a typical Igbo chief entangled with modern technology and the unique experiences that come with it and Skelebe, a rat that has the ability to communicate with, and berate his host out of many others.
Although they are animators, they prefer to involve themselves fully in the creative process. From conception to script-writing to voice acting and finally, the animation itself. Considering the small size of the team, it takes them about 6 weeks to work on a project and all their products are built from scratch with some help from freelancers.
Early 2016, they resolved to tell stories through experiential learning, a new dimension only technology could offer them. They developed a unique safety V.R solution field engineers and contractors can train with. The V.R ecosystem in Nigeria is still quite young and that solution brought them to the first place we met— NGHub, Facebook’s Innovation Showcase, Yaba, Lagos Nigeria.
A week after our meeting in Yaba, we sat down with Tayo and Dayo in the chilly TechGist Africa Board room. Our conversation was multilayered, they displayed a certain awareness of self, community, skill and potential that speaks volumes. Our time with them transcended Quadron as a studio and even their new V.R Solution. It was a peek into the minds of individuals prepared to build capacity for the purpose of making impact.
TechGist Africa: Tell us about the V.R Enterprise solution and how you plan to augment office safety. The tech behind it and the framework.
Tayo: Primarily, what we are operating is an experiential learning platform. And why experiential learning? Normally when we teach people stuff, what happens in the industry right now is that we bring in a trainee from anywhere in the world and that guy sets up a slide, trains people and then afterwards, there is field practical session. One person does the stuff, plenty people watch. What we are bringing is the opportunity for people to learn by experiencing rather than by just being taught. When you are interacting with dangerous machinery and the stakes of mistakes are so high, you need mastery in order to be efficient. Mastery cannot be taught in a classroom.
The V.R safety solution is built both to scale and international standards. It looks like a new Nitendo title and controls as such, however, it is much more deliberate in its purpose and operation. When you use it, although it is simply a training tool, the stakes are much higher than a mere video game.
Quadron hopes to build field experience into muscle memory so that practitioners can actually perform these tasks in their sleep. When further prodded, Tayo gave an interesting anecdote about Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne, a secret agent who has had his memory wiped off was presented with a gun. Without a breath of hesitation, he puts apart the gun in record time and fixes it again with no conscious effort. Muscle memory.
A technology like this, although very impressive must have drained a lot of resources because it demands vast wealth of knowledge. You cannot sell mastery without gaining mastery yourself. . . how did you conceptualize the process?
Well, for the first iteration, we took about 30 days (4 weeks). We came in with a few assumptions, very hot and hungry. Then we had to go back and actually do our research course when we came in, we assumed that everybody will love this now, of course, It’s virtual reality, it’s fun now, come on…
And then we realized that we needed to go back. So, we went back and we had to speak with a lot of HSE directors and that was when we could pinpoint the training needs of the people that we were actually targeting. And that took about 3 weeks to a month. We wanted to go back and let them know that we understand your needs and we are coming in with this knowledge and not just coming in to sell something that we don’t even know or understand.
There is also a theory familiar to people in film: Method Acting. This is when an Actor dips into personal emotion and experience to properly convey a character. Method Acting is an effective tool for mastery and it seems this tactic was employed by Quadron for a successful VR project.
Tayo: By the time we had finished, we had packed certificates o. We literally became certified safety professionals in certain areas.
Dayo: Safety professionals started inviting us on LinkedIn, like seriously, we talked to so many.
For this particular training project, how has the reception been? Pitching to companies and all that?
Tayo: The reception has been mixed because we are showing people a new way of learning and with new things generally, there’s always a bit of resistance. So, people who have never experienced virtual reality before usually have the most resistance because they cannot see how you can communicate motor skills using software. But what we’ve also discovered that as soon as, I mean within a minute of something on that headset and getting into that experience, all of their doubts melts away. That has been our experience.
Dayo: One thing we found is that when that happens, we just stop trying to convince them. We say: “just come and try it “. And when they try it, it always works.
You tailor your solutions to the particular companies that require you or do you have a specific template that companies can actually take and use for an annual subscription?
Dayo: Safety in particular is so standard. Working in confined spaces is the same thing everywhere. These things are built according to international standards and govern the practice of construction laws, manufacturing and all those verticals across the world. What we have done is to create in accordance with those standards. There are companies who do not require us to customize the building to their particular building. People were just like, “You know what, I like this software. Yes, let’s go.”
Your service, the VRE solution, how affordable is it or is it like really really good business? (laughs)
Tayo: Personally, I don’t think those two can be mutually exclusive. I think it can be a very good business for us as well as affordable. Let’s say you have a staff strength of 500 people. Now, if you were going to train those 500 people, you’ll send them to training school and pay for each head. But now, you have this hardware in your facility and you can train all of those 500 people at no extra cost. You can even have those guys run through the training as many times as they need to gain mastery so there is nothing like: “Ah your meter has finished, time for you guys to go home; Yes, ok take certificate, at least you have learnt enough to take the certificate.”
Overtime, the marginal cost of training an individual begins to tend towards zero even when you are using a software-based system.
Well, that was a beautiful answer. However, I want to know the actual aim. Is it to disrupt the security and safety market or to augment or to make profit; what inspired you?
Tayo: Now, we don’t stop at just training, our software also evaluates and also recommends further training. So, for instance, if this guy is in the V.R environment, we track all of his movements and we can say ok, this person’s weakness is in this place. This person needs more training in this particular area in order to measure up with the requirement of this job. And so that training is not limited to V.R. training. It can also be an instructor-led training, it could be a practical field training. So, the software is more about adding value to the entire training industry. I won’t call what we are trying to do disruption, I would call it ‘adding value’.
The long-term plan, where do you see Quadron in 10 years, 15 years?
Tayo: Illumination entertainment. See, where Illumination entertainment is right now. Those were the guys that made this movie, ‘Despicable Me’. They have been able to create a position within an industry that people thought was grounded. They have been able to come in as underdogs and win. Let’s face it man, anybody coming from Africa is an underdog. Our vision is getting down there obviously, and winning in 10 years. This is one vertical, entertainment but technology too. We think that we would get there faster with technology.
Dayo: At the end of the day, we are still telling stories in all these, whether it’s through safety training, or Skelebe. We want to be the top leading story tellers in Africa and recognizable global like he said.
Tayo: It’s a funny thing that we have so few heroes in this our continent. Look at the horizon, where really are our heroes? If you took out Aliko Dangote, where are the champions that are adding value that you can say this person became so outsized. It is affecting the man on the street. So, we hope to be those kinds of people who have traceable success impact in addition to success.
Have you ever thought about doing a full movie like a full feature?
Dayo: We have a group of concepts for a visual effect-driven movie, that’s a character that is animated but is in the real world like Peter Rabbit, Paddington, called Skelebe. It was inspired by MTN rat. It is about this Ajegunle rat that comes to visit his cousin in the country. They come together and we’ve been working on it for a while now.
Tayo: What we set out to do was to create the next level for Nollywood. It’s really never been done before. If you put what we are creating side by side with the big screen, with Paddington, it will hold up. We actually ran the test. We showed the footage to children and children have been like, “How did you get this rat?”
We understand that we have surmounted the technical hurdles to creating that kind of content. So, we are at the position where we can roll it out over 80 minutes. The script is not yet ready because we’ve been pretty busy. We’ve given a lot of attention to V.R right now which was necessary because, V.R is really a high growth industry and the opportunity is clear present.
So– are you guys like, idealists in your artistry?
I won’t call us idealists. The truth is that these things are common knowledge elsewhere. Zukerberg will tell you that he’s trying to connect people. And he is really serious about it, and he’d walk away from a billion dollars because of it. And he did. Microsoft offered that fellow a billion dollar. I mean, come on, how many people get offered a billion dollar in their life time? And the guy walked away.
So, when he walked out of the boardroom, it was not “Guys should we take this?”, It was “Guys you know that we are obviously not taking this.” And that’s the kind of vision that drives people to build companies that puts more than just money in the pocket but actually makes impact on the community. And look at how much impact that fellow has made. Ultimately, it’s those who have capacity that end up making the impact.