ENTERPRISE: SOBOWALE: Dreaming Big In The World Of Animation

Those who know Damilola Opeyemi Sobowale, would readily tell you she is an extremely passionate, focused, intelligent, spiritual and creative entrepreneur.

With this kind of nature, it is not surprising that she ended up in the world of animation, which is one creative and dynamic industry. She has a rare love for animation and is simply fascinated by it.

This also explains why she prefers working with ‘out of the box’ thinkers, as well as creative, fun loving and team players, who are capable of spurring her to greatness. With over eight years’ experience, Damilola is no stranger to the animation industry.

She is the founder, Chief Executive Officer, as well as the Creative director of Smids Animation Studios, where she has ample opportunity to exhibit her leadership and managerial skills.

Smids is a Lagos-based design studio, which is into content production, 3D animation, motion graphics, and visual effects. Before now, she was also the First Lady of TechDivaz (now Women R.I.S.E), an initiative she started at the Co-Creation Hub, where she worked with women to play a stronger role in technology.

This inspiring young entrepreneur has found herself in the interesting world of animation in an era, when almost every animation video or advert is done in South Africa or somewhere else.

So, one cannot but wonder what could have nudged ‘Dammy,’ as she is popularly called in her circle of friends in this direction. “I have a deep, rare passion for animation, as I love cartoons,” she says. “It has always been my dream to produce cartoons. Interestingly, people don’t easily understand what we do.

Yes they know what cartoons are, but to have a business in animation is still weird to most people. So, we usually have to explain to people all the areas computer animation can be used. Cartoons are a major part, but computer animation can be used to create any visual design in practically all industries. “The animation industry is an extremely lucrative one and if we look at other emerging economies such as India and South Africa, where the animation industry has grown, I believe the Nigerian animation industry can develop as well, with increased awareness.

I recently won a Goldman Sachs scholarship to take a certificate course in entrepreneurial management at the Enterprise Development Centre, Pan-African University,” she says excitedly.

Damilola has always loved animation right from childhood. “I loved playing video games and at a point, I even thought I would end up being a game programmer.

However, I came across Pixar movies, which are computer animated movies, when I was in SS2,” she explains. Having completely fallen in love with the whole concept, she decided to go the whole hog by building a career in computer animation.

She got admission to read Computer Science at Bowen University, as that was the closest option available in Nigeria at the time. “In addition, I developed myself and started taking online courses in computer animation. And so far, the journey has been both interesting and challenging. “First of all, it is highly capital intensive.

Secondly, it’s a fairly new industry in Nigeria and not a lot of people appreciate and understand it. Upon the completion of my NYSC, I was sure I wanted to start an animation studio.

“Although, I am in an industry dominated by men, but I have never seen my gender as a reason not to achieve my goals, although I do realise this is a problem. However, when women are able to overcome the stigmatisation associated with this, they will be able to achieve whatever it is they set their minds on, irrespective of the environment they find themselves.”

So, I saved all my NYSC allowance and was able to register the company as Smids Animation Studios in 2010,” she explains. Expectedly, it wasn’t easy starting off and getting clients was quite a challenge.

For over a year, she and her young team were basically doing free jobs to attract customers. “People didn’t believe good animation jobs could be done in Nigeria.

But just when we were about to give up, we got our first paying client. That was a great source of encouragement for me and the team and it kept us going,” she recalls. Damilola is from Agbowa-Ikosi in Lagos State and is the first child of the family.

She has two sisters and is also the first grandchild on both sides, which put a lot of responsibility on her, while growing up. Presently though, she is thankful for this, as this has enabled her to desire and take up responsibilities easily.

Leading comes naturally to her. “I grew up in the Okota area of Lagos,” she recalls. “As a child, I grew up in a highly disciplined family, where hard work and honesty are some of the core values I picked up”.

Damilola holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Bowen University, as well as a certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from the Pan-Atlantic University.

Upon completion of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, she is planning to establish an animation school to get more young people into the Industry, as she believes it has the potential to employ a lot of them.

She also hopes to mentor more young ladies to encourage them embrace the technology. She is a firm believer in the capacity and abilities of Nigerian youths probably because she is one. “I’m a youth and I think as a young person, if you have a dream or something you desire to achieve, you should go all the way to accomplish it.

Yes, the system might constantly go against you, but just hold on to that dream, even when things might not be as they should be in terms of infrastructure and the likes.

I believe in people going after their dreams with everything they’ve got and make it happen. Because when you make it happen for yourself, it now becomes possible to make it happen for others around you”.

Smids Animation Studios currently partners with a sister company called Third Academy of Arts and Design. “The idea is to train young people and we usually pick these people who are trained and then have them into our team for an internship after which they can decide to join our team or start off on their own.

If I were to change something about Nigeria, it would be to supply power 24 hours and 365 days a year uninterrupted. So far, the new government has fairly stabilise power. The appeal is that it will get better just as obtains in other parts of the world,” she says.

Since every business has it’s high and low points, Smids Animation is, therefore, not immune to this. “At some point in the life of the business, we realised we were spending time and resources trying to convince clients to try the company’s capability.

And this wasn’t working. So, we decided to let go of fear and redirect our focus towards creating our own products,” she says. Presently Damilola’s organisation is working on a short film that would be out soon, as well as a TV series. She believes that doing well does not mean the absence of challenges.

So, she is simply facing the challenges, while working hard to overcome them. “Financing for the first few years was mainly from my personal savings, with all of it sourced even from family and friends. Recently, however, we got a grant that will help take us to the next level,” she says.

She is a big dreamer, who would rather not think gender, but prefers believing that it is the desire to succeed and achieve goals that propels the individual. Little wonder that her dream is to be first name in animation in Africa.

And though the journey seems like a thousand miles but with determination, hard work and resilience, Damilola appears ready to take on the world. “Our dream is that one day, we’ll even win an Oscar award. We want to be an academy award winning animation studio,” she says.

Her dream about Nigeria is one, where human life is valued by all and where the system works. “My dream for my country is to see it become a place, where people put the collective good and progress above personal selfish gains, and where anybody from any walk of life with a burning desire can have the necessary equipment to achieve that dream”.

She is particularly proud of the Nigerian woman, whom she says is strong, talented, beautiful, versatile and truly multi tasked. “I believe the Nigerian woman can do whatever she sets her mind on.

I am aware that in certain ways, women are being marginalised, but I never grew up in such an environment, as I come from a family of all girls. Also, the people I have interacted with over the years have never made my gender an issue,” she says.

She does not consider herself as being disadvantaged in any sense. “Although, I am in an industry dominated by men, but I have never seen my gender as a reason not to achieve my goals, although I do realise this is a problem. However, when women are able to overcome the stigmatisation associated with this, they will be able to achieve whatever it is they set their minds on, irrespective of the environment they find themselves.”

She grew up in a small, closely knit family and attended great schools, with great experiences many of which she believes shaped her into the kind of person she is today. “School was great, although in primary and secondary schools, I struggled academically, but I was able to pick up in the university.

I guess a better understanding of myself had to do with that,” she says. Quite a number of people have left indelible footprints in her life. These people have inspired her over the years in different ways. First on this list is her mom, who is a strong and disciplined woman.

There is also Ezekiel Solesi, who inspired her in the area of personal development and business. Others are Her mentor, Abimbola Wright and Ibukun Awosika, Oprah whiney and John Lasseter (CCO, Pixar), from whom she has borrowed a lesson or two.

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