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Indie Animator reaches Global Network Heights with iClone & Character Creator Real-time Software

Benjamin Sokomba Dazhi (Benny Dee) – Founder of Just Art Animation Studios

Benjamin Sokomba Dazhi

Benjamin Sokomba Dazhi (Benny Dee) is a renowned Nigerian animator, film producer and director. He hails from the north-central Nigeria, Niger state. Benjamin started his artistic craft as a rapper back in the Federal University of Technology, Minna as part of a hip-hop duo called “Hot Mics”.

Following his love for video production, Benjamin gradually ventured into the production of music videos for artists. In 2014 during a year long academic staff strike, Benjamin decided to improve his skills in 3D cartoon animation. He found his breakthrough in animation by establishing his own Nigerian animation company, then called Night Light 3D Works and now renamed Just Art Animation Studios that specializes in character modeling, character animation, music video producing and special effects.

In late 2020, Benny was approached by the team at Turner Media to help create a series of dance animation challenges – CN Dance Challenge, for Cartoon Network Africa where Benny used iClone 8, Character Creator 4 and Rokoko SmartSuit PRO motion capture suits. Benjamin was recently announced as the African Head Animator of a Cartoon Network dance instructional series, “Dance Challenge”. This deal according to Cartoon Network is to reiterate Cartoon Network’s commitment to creating contents that will make its African audience feel at home.

“Reallusion’s iClone and Character Creator are breakthrough solutions for the animation industry, as they have brought convenience for network studios and small companies to bring their ideas to life in the most professional way. Reallusion simplifies professional tools for even novice users trying to pursue a career in animation. “

Benjamin Sokomba Dazhi (Benny Dee) | Founder of Just Art Animation Studios

Q: Welcome back Benny! The work you have done with Cartoon Network is amazing. Please tell us what is the Cartoon Network Dance Challenge, what you had to do in this project, and how did you get approached by Cartoon Network?

Hello, its great to be back. Thank you for inviting me! The #CN DanceChallenge is a TV show in Cartoon Network that showcases African dance moves from all over the continent, following popular and trendy African music style. The initiative is to teach children and teenagers, African dance moves using African music made with African instruments. This helps the younger generations get familiar with African dance steps like Shoki, Cat Dance and other popular steps through animations.

I was approached on Instagram by Cartoon Network’s Director – Nicolas Rostan. They contacted me because they saw a lot of the cartoon animation video work that I have been doing with iClone, my main real-time animation software.

“Producing an ambitious animated dance show remotely in Nigeria during a pandemic only has been possible thanks to the power of iClone and the talent of Benny. With the help of Reallusion, working real-time with talented artists empowered by innovative tech allowed us to focus on creatives, capturing the unique vibe of African dances and giving life to unforgettable characters kids will love and relate to. “

Nicolas Rostan | Head of Creative – General Entertainment & Young Adults – EMEA

The reason why I used iClone for such an important project with Cartoon Network was because of my experience with the 3D animation software. iClone is a very user-friendly animation software, as its very flexible and robust. It really helped me understand the principals of cartoon animation early on.

This project had a limited time so I needed a 3D animation software that could give me real-time output and help me reach deadlines. So with iClone I was able to do corrections, and iterations while keeping track of timeframes and milestones. Often when I encountered challenges in the animation, iClone would help me overcome it because of the nature of how the software is designed. Being an indie artist, iClone makes it easy for one person to do all the work.

“I have been using Reallusion software, mainly iClone, since 2013. And I’ve always wanted to do animation but when I tried other software they were very hard, or rigid and the learning curve was very steep. iClone seem like the fastest and easiest application that I saw. I needed something that I could learn very quickly. And iClone was the right software for me. I was able to learn it in a very short time. It has helped me throughout the years to come out with amazing projects.”

Benjamin Sokomba Dazhi (Benny Dee) | Founder of Just Art Animation Studios

Q: As a solo indie creator, you must have been over the moon to get a contract with such a reputable global network like Turner Media. What would you say was the most challenging part of this project, and what was your most rewarding moment?

Initially when I heard this was for a big corporation like Turner Media, I was like ‘WHOAH’! It was overwhelming at first.

But as I got into it, the only challenging part was that I had to do these custom dance animations and motion capture in a limited time. But thanks to Rokoko’s suits easy compatibility with iClone, this was less of a burden. The most challenging part was the animation dance itself. I had to hire a dancer, plan all the motions, and start the motion capture to meet the time frames. In the end, we just found a way to make everything work.

The most rewarding part of this work was that with iClone I was able to correct mistakes in a short period of time, and then send these corrections to the network for fast reviewing. The workflow with iClone was very smooth, and I really enjoyed the process which will lead me to continue using this setup for future projects.

Q: You created the characters Anwuli and Kingsley using Character Creator (CC) software. What are the advantages of using CC? Please share with us your creation process.

I like the fact that Character Creator (CC) is like an extension of iClone. This tool is one of the best character animation and creation software in the industry right now. Its very flexible, its very dynamic, its very versatile and easy to use. I’ve been using Character Creator ever since it came out some years back.

“Character Creator is one of the best character creation software in the industry right now. Its very flexible, its very dynamic, its very versatile and easy to use. I’ve been using Character Creator ever since it came out some years back.”

Benjamin Sokomba Dazhi (Benny Dee) | Founder of Just Art Animation Studios

The process starts with reference images as a concept art. When I first saw their reference images, I was so happy that I was going to work with Character Creator as it is great for this because it lets you generate an avatar in real-time allowing you to make changes on the fly. The advantage of using Character Creator is also that you do not have to rig, nor do you have to skin your characters, as the software does it all for you.

I really love the fact that I am able to see the characters being created and modified in a short period of time. I highly recommend Character Creator for professional studios and indies everywhere.

Q: For the animation you used a combination of both iClone 8, and Rokoko motion capture body suits. Kindly tell us what iClone features you used in this process, and when you used motion capture and when you decided to use keyframe animation?

I’m happy how iClone made animation easy for me. The new iClone 8 has powerful new tools that made it all even easier. Although I used Rokoko Smart Suit for most of the dance animations, some parts of the presentation and welcoming motions where keyframed using the iClone 8 tools. Tools like the Facial Puppet, Body Puppet, Motion Correction and several of the keyframe modifying tools. I even used the iPhone mocap LIVE FACE plugin for iClone to tie everything up professionally.

Benny Dee working with iClone animation tools

Q: You are a monumental example to so many indie creators for reaching the global media stage. What advice would you give to other indies who are dreaming to get on that professional level? What is the best way to get noticed by multi-national networks? 

Definitely the best way to get noticed is to put your work out there. Make sure you have your social media handles (Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), make sure you are consistent with the quality of your work and that you always keep practicing to improve. If you make your presence known on these platforms with quality content, then you will definitely get noticed because there are always people looking around. Also, remember that for you to stand out you do need to create unique creations.

Most importantly, ALWAYS remember to properly hashtag your projects with the animation software you are using, tagging the official accounts of the companies that create these software, and anything relevant just as long as you do not make it spammy.

Thank you all for your wonderful support. It really means a lot to me to be able to share my passion with the community. All the best.

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