Interviews TV

Disney’s Iwájú’s Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim and Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku On Bringing Nigeria To Disney

Iwájú is an original animated series set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria. The exciting coming-of-age story follows Tola, a young girl from the wealthy island, and her best friend, Kole, a self-taught tech expert, as they discover the secrets and dangers hidden in their different worlds.

Kugali filmmakers—including director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, production designer Hamid Ibrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku—take viewers on a unique journey into the world of Iwájú, bursting with unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos.

Iwájú is the perfect balance of cultures, creativity and storytelling that is both at the heart of Disney and Kugali. The series is unlike you’ve ever seen before that explores the beauty, diversity and love of Lagos while also balancing its hard truths. The wealth gap, family bonds, testing friendships and love of one’s culture is explored in a series that brings understand to it characters.

In celebration of Iwájú, The Koalition spoke to director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, production designer Hamid Ibrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku to learn more about classism, including sci-fi technology, showcasing different perspectives, Lagos and more.

“The theme of inequality within the story is extremely important because first and foremost we sought to tell a story that was authentic to the Lagosian experience [which has been] our ethos from day one. At Kugali [we tell] authentic African stories and therefore there’s no way of telling a story about Lagos without examining some degree of inequality. Even in Lagos today, it is a fact the wealthier people tend to live on the island and the working class and those who are less fortunate tend to live on the mainland. So, the contemporary context of Lagos shows a world where the societal divide is actually supported by the geography. That alone is something that is evident and when you’re building a world based on this foundation, there’s no way you can avoid the theme or subject of inequality,” said Adeola.

“I actually grew up on the island and had a somewhat sheltered upbringing to very a large extent and it was only until I got older, I realized there were other Lagosian experiences as well, as I started to mix with people from other parts of Lagos. The story is also an opportunity for people to experience different points of view. We have a point of view of someone like Tola because a lot of people think negative stereotypes [when they think of Africa], but people like Tol and Tunde show there is wealth and affluence in Africa and in Nigeria. You have that perspective of an affluent person or affluent people in Nigeria, but you also have the perspective of people who have had to experience hardship like Kole and even Bude. [It’s about] build an understanding,” Adeola concluded.

Kugali is an entertainment company focused on telling stories inspired by African Culture using comic books, art and augmented reality. Our stories respect the history, embrace the present and imagine the future of Africa.

The team explored the dangerous tapestry of a neo-futuristic Lagos filled with greed and corruption alongside voice actors Femi Branch, Dayo Okeniyi, and Weruche Opia. In addition to Tola’s adventurous spirit, Kole’s ingenuity, and the many other fun and beautiful emotional threads explored in Iwájú – the futuristic elements added even more texture to the series.

MEET OTIN — “Iwájú,” an original animated series set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria—a world bursting with unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos. Among them is Otin (voice of Weruche Opia), a high-tech robotic pet lizard with powerful capabilities. Kugali filmmakers—including director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, production designer Hamid Ibrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku—take viewers on a unique journey in this six-episode event. Produced by Disney Animation’s Christina Chen, and written by Adeola and Halima Hudson, “Iwájú” streams exclusively on Disney+ Feb. 28, 2024. © 2024 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“We wanted to approach it from a fresh place because we noticed in the general sci-fi world a lot of the creativity was blending into each other and we do not want to take inspiration from outside Legos itself. Everything technology-based within this show, grew from the needs of Legos or the exaggerations of the things we found interesting in Legos. An example I’ve been given is, in Legos where the traffic is crazy, and people drive crazy. There’s bridge where there’s a need for spherical wheels that can go in all directions. [Therefore], we created that change in the future. [Additionally], if you can no longer move when you’re stuck in the traffic, if you enough money, you can just fly over the traffic. This is where the flying cars come in. Not just because the future has flying cars it’s what Legos needs, in this case cool flying cars. As a result for that, we have a lot of vendors on the street usually who chase your car. Now if they’re trying to approach the wealthiest people, they can’t stay on the ground, so they build drones to catch the cars. That’s how the general futurism of this world is built; through the needs of Legos versus the inspiration from everything that has happened before as well,” said Ibrahim.

“In real life in Lagos if you’re in the traffic people would walk up to your window and try to sell you things in the traffic. I always say the biggest mall in the world is the traffic of Lagos. You can buy food, you can buy curtains, you can buy a dog in Lagos traffic. If we then look at this in the future and the rich people are in flying cars and I want to sell to a rich person, how do I reach him when his car is flying? That’s why we created the drones that have baskets of goods that people are trying to sell in the air. In the Iwájú and also in the market scene some people carry heavy trays on their head with things stacked up. In real life people carry trays on their head and sell things like that in Lagos, so we just gave them exoskeletons in to help them carry even more weight on their head,” said Olowofoyeku.

The real Lagos is home to over twenty million people with a youth population that’s currently estimated to be over half of the population. Like all cultures and countries, their creative energy and confidence found in the clothes they wear. For the production team, they have to showcase both everyday Lagos clothes with futuristic styles for a city that’s constantly bustling.

“In real life Lagos the clothing is a mixture of western clothing and Nigerian native attire and it’s not whether someone is from the upper class or the lower class, they were both native and Western. So, we kept that in our show. [In] the lower class and the upper class, the quality of the native attire or the quality of the western clothes changes with class. We got an actual fashion designer who also is an animator to be the costume designer for this show, so the clothing is authentic. But we also took some creative liberty to come up with some clothing that doesn’t exist in real life because we said if this show is like 100 years in the future definitely some new styles would have come up. [For the] Sunday character who is the bald boxer, his clothing is not real-life Lagos clothing, that’s something Hamid designed that looks futuristic,” said Olowofoyeku.

BEST FRIENDS — In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, Walt Disney Animation Studios teams up with Pan-African entertainment company Kugali for “Iwájú”—an original animated series set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria. This exciting coming-of-age story follows Tola (voice of Simisola Gbadamosi) and her best friend Kole (voice of Siji Soetan). Kugali filmmakers Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim and Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku take viewers on a unique journey into the world of “Iwájú,” bursting with unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos. Produced by Disney Animation’s Christina Chen, and written by Adeola and Halima Hudson, “Iwájú” streams exclusively on Disney+ Feb. 28, 2024, in a six-episode event. © 2024 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“For each and every single main character, the clothes reflect who they are and where they’re going the time of the story,” added Ibrahim. I’ll use Tola, as an example. All her shapes, just in her design, are very round and then the first dress you see her in is very princessy which is where she’s coming from. Then Kole is pretty much hexagon. Tunde is a square shape, even his clothes. It’s very deliberate to make sure they’re box-like [because] he’s very boxed into the way he sees the world. [While] Kole is in between Tola and Tunde where it’s more hexagon. The clothes of Tola, if you notice when she starts rebelling against her dad, the outfit she wears gets less princessy and has a few hard edges on them [which] reflects that character’s journey. There’s meaning even the colors we picked. Tola’s colors are more yellow and pink; they’re more feminine colors. But they’re colors for when she’s naive, she has these colors and other colors for openness. Whereas when you go to somebody like Bode, who is a villain, he almost the exact opposite. We’re avoiding any round shapes. We’re keeping everything him built like a skyscraper. He wants to show himself as much as he can, and in any way, we could make him flex, we made sure he did that. Even with his size, you cannot miss him.”

“Crafting the narrative of Iwájú has been a journey of creative alchemy, blending the rich cultural tapestry of Lagos with imaginative leaps into the future. Collaborating with my Kugali co-founders and the visionary artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios has been nothing short of magical. The heartbeat of my hometown resonates through every scene, and I am thrilled for the world to experience this unique fusion of tradition and futurism,” said Adeola.

In addition to the series, also debuting February 28th on Disney+ is Iwájú: A Day Ahead, a documentary special filmed across three continents that shares the story of the founders of the Pan-African entertainment company, Kugali, who made their dream a reality creating an original animation series with Walt Disney Animation Studios. Created by the ABC News Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios team that brought you Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2, the documentary shows anything is possible when talent meets opportunity. Iwájú: A Day Ahead is directed by Megan Harding and executive produced by Amy Astley and Beth Hoppe.

To learn more about Iwájú, check out the interview above.

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