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Meet Lydia, a self-confessed coffee addict and self-taught digital artist who adores 3D animation. Together with her friend Tabitha, Lydia developed a video game called Kawia’s Adventure for The Sony Talent League by THU. Get to know Lydia and her experience developing the time travelling game set in the mysterious past of the East African Savannah.

Tell us about yourself Lydia

I’m Lydia Mugure, a digital artist, animator and game developer from Kenya. I enjoy coffee, cats, and developing and sharing stories about epic African legends using digital arts. I am a finalist in the Sony Talent League for my project Kawia’s Adventure!

How did you get involved in 3D animation?

I actually remember the exact day I did. I have always been interested in cartoons, and I remember thinking I wanted to make that someday. So when I got to Kenyatta University, on the very first night in my pyjamas, I rushed to the student centre where there Wi-Fi was strongest and spent two hours finding animation software. This turned out to be Blender! I chose it because it was exactly what a student could afford at the time (free) and I’ve been using it ever since!

What made you decide to apply for the Sony Talent League?

A good friend of mine, Douglas Ogeto, shared a post that the deadline for applications had been extended. I was on a bus at the time and thought ‘why not?’. So I just started filling out the application right there and then using one of the concepts I had saved for a later day.  I had no idea that I would be selected, so it was incredible that I was!

Why did you decide to make a game?

When you become an animator, there’s a chance that you will try out game development, that was the case for me! I decided to make Kawia a govie (a game and a movie), in order to fully immerse the user in the story of Kawia, and give them full control over how it plays out. I made the choice to develop a game to utilize one of the best storytelling mediums out there that not only tells a story but lets people live them out for themselves!

How did the idea for Kawia come about?

Well, Kawia came about one Wednesday afternoon as I was jotting down new concepts for character designs. As I was sketching out Kawia with her afro, my little sister came in and told me “I like that one, her hair looks like mine!”

I then decided to give Kawia a story using my sister’s personality as a base; and so the willful, impulsive, kindhearted, brave girl was formed. Then I took a folk tale, ‘The girl and the ogre’, and changed it to suit Kawia’s story while adding different elements as I went along.

My family loves dancing, everyone I know actually does, so the idea of using traditional African dances as a mechanism to fight the undead sprung from the need to share that. Then I added more and more dances, and decided to incorporate music as a navigation element and now here we are!

FUN FACT: When it is fully developed, this game can’t be played in low volume as you have to listen to the call of your ancestors as they literally guide you to through your adventure!

What was your biggest challenge working on Kawia’s adventure?

It would easily have to be equipment, and being open about sharing my work. Rendering takes a very long time to do and with a project that has as many animated scenes like this one, waiting for the files was nerve-wracking.

That and being open to sharing my work with Hollywood industry professionals was terrifying! But now I can confidently say I’ve gotten over my fear of criticism, and sharing one’s work is the only way to get it out there, so don’t be afraid, it’s not so bad once you get used to it!

Usually making natural hair on 3D characters is a challenge. How did you tackle that in the creation of your characters?

Oooooh! Let me tell you, it is hard at first!!! But once you take the time to figure it out, it’s the easiest thing ever! Having our characters have natural hair that felt authentic was very important to me, and I understand it’s not the easiest thing to do but in the digital world of gaming and animation, anything is possible, so why should our hair be so difficult to make (or see)? So after lots of studying, I found that understanding shapes, gravity and displacement as well as African 4C type hair is all there is to it!

I worked with a local hairdresser to understand how the afro-physics work, and using all my knowledge over the years, I developed a mini library for African hairstyles that we are making free to download on www.kawiasadventure.com, the full library will be available after voting so that anyone can make authentic African inspired characters without having to go through the hassle I did. From low poly models for games to particle systems for your animations, I’ll freely give everything away so that people can learn and just have fun. I’m editing a tutorial on this as well just in case someone wants to build their own from scratch.

What would you like to see more of in the game development scene in Africa and globally?

I’d like to see more of our stories! I know that a lot is in the works, and it will take time but someday I’d like to be able to rattle off games featuring our stories for hours. That, and making it common to have in-game character creator with our look. Give me salsa braids Final Fantasy XV, pretty please?

Is there anything else you want to tell us? A fun fact about yourself? 

Well… I’m allergic to avocados and I have inspired a ghost story because I sang Evanescence’s Lithium at 3 AM once. Not my finest moment but a fun conversation starter.

I would like to tell the artists, especially the girls out there, to keep at it. They are doing amazing even if they are just starting their journey. Also please vote for Kawia’s Adventure!

Kawia's adventure characters

Vote for Kawia’s Adventure here until the 22nd March 2021: https://www.trojan-unicorn.com/challenges/sony-talent-league

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