Film-maker tells real stories through animation

One of Mukii’s drawings. Photo/Courtesy
One of Mukii’s drawings. Photo/Courtesy 

Ng’endo Mukii’s award-winning documentary Yellow Fever has become the short film to talk about lately and it has seen her attend a lot of festivals.

Exploring the skin bleaching epidemic in Africa, Ms Mukii uses the medium to emulate the reality in the characters’ minds.

Yellow Fever, her project work from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in the UK, was Ms Mukii’s first successful piece of animation that is based on real interviews and memories.

“I interviewed my family asking questions about our physical appearance as African women. Even though I was only focusing on them, it’s supposed to have wider view of what is going on in Kenya.

“Using animation instead of a camera also made it a lot easier to talk to my niece because she was about six at the time and the things she ended up saying were really sensitive,” she says.


But it was while studying illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design in the US that Ms Mukii first tried out some video and animation projects.

“I was introduced to the element of time and being able to control, warp, and travel through it. That feeling was unbelievable. It opened up an entirely new dimension to work in that I had never even considered before,” she says.

Inspired by daily life, everything she creates is ultimately based on real-life. To her, great stories connect to the human experience.

Her first inspirational experience was while driving to South Africa to watch the 2010 World Cup. Her interaction with South Africans and their views on Africa intrigued her.

She decided to make a project to figure out why they would say things like, “My husband is coming back from Africa” at the airport in Durban.

With a tape recorder, she headed back for South Africa in January 2011 to conduct some interviews.

But she found it hard to create a film from her interviews.

“I felt as if I was lying because I had not recorded the interviews on camera. That project was such a huge struggle. I ended up doing an animation without using any of the interviews. It was such a loss,” she says.

A visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a documentary animation festival gave her courage to dive deeper into the field. The documentaries presented in animation did not come out as fabricated information.

“Making a documentary is so subjective. We can shoot a documentary about our conversation but it will not tell you the whole story of what is going on. This is something I came to understand about documentaries,” says Ms Mukii.

She figured out that through making documentary animation, she could still be telling her version of the truth.

Animation also allowed the interviewees to be more open because their faces were not on camera.

“I prefer to move in and out of different animation techniques, depending on the content I’m animating. I also use video when I feel it better suits the moment. Drawing directly onto film, painting and scratching on its surface is by far the most pleasurable film-making experience I have ever had,” she says.

Growing up, her father David Mereka would place plates of fruits on the table and encourage her and her siblings to draw. Ms Mukii was the only one that got hooked.

As she got older, drawing and painting became a soothing and satisfying experience. Under her high school art teacher Pat Kaey Drew, her skills improved.

Ms Mukii has been back in Kenya since last November and her plan is to continue making animations whether documentary or fiction-based.

“Animation is one of the areas that has the potential to change many lives and provide careers and sustenance to many people.

“Art is important and allows us to express ourselves as individuals and as Kenyans. Our cultural richness is invaluable, and we need to find as many outlets as possible to nourish and grow it,” says Ms Mukii.

She says she is lucky that as a teenager, she did not listen to one of her family friends who constantly tried to discourage her artistic pursuit, telling her that she should stop playing around and instead do something ‘serious’, like become a doctor or lawyer.

If she had, she would never have won the Best Animation Award at the 2012 Kenya Film Festival, the Best Short Film Award at the 2013 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards nor a Special Mention at the 2013 Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in Germany.

“Going to festivals is really good because it gives you more confidence in your work. You get to see people appreciating your work and process. The exposure to other film making practises is huge and you come to understand the potential of the medium and how you can improve your art. I’m glad that it [Yellow Fever] turned out to be a film that people appreciate,” says Ms Mukii.

Watch Yellow Fever trailer at