Kennedy Kyalo’s work exudes excellence. It is so good that he got to work with a famous Kenyan musician called Juacali because his followers could simply not help but recommend him as one of the best animators in the country. I got a chance to chat with him on his journey as a Kenyan 3D Generalist and I’d like to invite you to join me in learning more about him.
GIA: Tell us a little about yourself, who you are and what your best pastime is.
Kennedy Kyalo: My name is Kennedy Kyalo. I’m an Illustrator and a 3D Generalist. That means in the 3D production pipeline, I can do everything from modelling to rigging, all the way to rendering. My favourite pastime? Do I even have a pastime thing? I like to play video games. I watch movies a lot. I’d say my favourite thing to do is to play video games and watch movies.
GIA: Ah, all right. And how did you get into game development? What led you into this industry?
Kennedy Kyalo: I’ve always loved playing video games as I said, and I’ve always been an artist. So even from the time I was a small boy, I was always drawing. And, you know, for the longest time, I used to feel like video games, came from outside. We didn’t create them even though I’ve always wanted to. So, I slowly started researching and then Unreal Engine came and it sort of democratised everything. So that’s how I got into video games.
GIA: Ah, nice. So were you playing video games way before you even got into the industry or did you start recently?
Kennedy Kyalo: I’ve been playing even from way before.
GIA: Which are your all-time favourites? Name at least five you can think of at the top of your mind.
Kennedy Kyalo: Do they have to come from different franchises or they can be from the same?
GIA: I think whichever goes as long as they’re your favourite? It doesn’t matter.
Kennedy Kyalo: Let me think. Favourite of all time. Number one is Far Cry 2 and then Call of Duty: Modern Warfare the original one. Number three is Red Dead Redemption 2. Number four would be Far Cry 5 and number five would be Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
GIA: Nice. So which games are you currently developing?
Kennedy Kyalo: Currently, I’m working on Usoni with Jiwe Studios and there is another one that I’m not yet allowed to talk about. Yeah, those two are the main things that I’m working on alongside a bunch of personal projects.
Wendi Ndaki: Are you in a position to share a bit about your personal projects?
Kennedy Kyalo: Yeah, I can share a bit. Sometime back I did an animated film called Rebel. So now I’m working on the second instalment of the film, Rebel 2 and I’m doing it in Unreal. And then there’ll be a game around that. That’s the one thing that’s taking most of my free time currently.
GIA: Awesome! I’ve watched the animations, and they look amazing. So I can’t wait to see how the game would play, that’s exciting to hear about. Which tools do you like using when you’re creating the animations? And why?
Kennedy Kyalo: Yeah, sure, definitely. Unreal Engine is there. Then for the 3D modelling, animation, and texturing, all of that I use Blender. And then I also have a subscription with SpeedTree, which is a package for creating foliage, trees, grass, and things like that. So I also use Substance Painter for texturing. But by far my favourite tool to work with is Unreal Engine.
GIA: All right, what can you say is the story behind your journey as an animator?
Kennedy Kyalo: As I said earlier, I have always been an artist from the time I was very young, I was drawing. It so happened that when I was in the university I took interior design. In the process of learning that, I got introduced to ArchiCAD, which is like that 3D modelling and layout tool for architectural stuff. That’s where I was introduced to 3D. But after some time, ArchiCAD became very limited you could only do basic stuff with it. So in my quest to find a better tool, I came across Autodesk Maya, Blender, and Cinema 4D. I just started learning from there searching for stuff on YouTube and growing. So with time Blender just became the main thing because it’s free. And there’s a huge community of people who use Blender so you can never get stuck, there’s always someone to help you. So, yeah, I’ve just been learning on my own until today.
GIA: And how long has this taken? How many years?
Kennedy Kyalo: I think from the time I opened ArchiCAD that was, 10 years ago. So 10 years ago, I got introduced to ArchiCAD. And then I just got so passionate about 3D, and just continued learning from then on.
GIA: Do you have any creative influences around you? Like growing up did you have a circle of friends who used to do 3D animation or draw a lot, or a family member who was also creative and would encourage you to continue? Because this is a rare field. And at times when you tell people you’re doing cartoon stuff, or game stuff, you might sound like you’re joking. So did you have people who were around you encouraging you when things got tough every once in a while?
Kennedy Kyalo: No, I’ve always been on my own. On this journey, I come from a family of teachers. My grandfather was a teacher. My grandma was a teacher. And a lot of other aunts are teachers. So art was kind of, frowned upon. But my family was sort of progressive enough not to be too serious about telling me not to draw. So as much as, there were no artists in the family. They were okay with me being an artist. Even from the time when I was a child.
GIA: Then you’re lucky your family was supportive, regardless of the fact that they were not creative types. So what are some of the animations that you’ve worked on, that you really love and you’d like the world to know about?
Kennedy Kyalo: The Juacali song is my all-time favourite project. I had so much fun working on that. Also, it was the first time I was paid to do 3D animation. So it sort of has a special thing to it. Apart from that, I did another project with the National Museums of Kenya. It’s called Turkana boy. It’s about the Homo Erectus fossil that was found in Turkana. He was like the first guy to discover fire. There are a lot of firsts associated with that guy. It’s something we are very proud of as Kenyans. So they wanted me to create a few films around that. So those are like two of my favourite projects that I have worked on.
GIA: Awesome, the Turkana boy one I have not gotten a chance to see yet is it out there in public?
Kennedy Kyalo: Yeah, it’s on YouTube and on the Kenya house platform.
GIA: The Juacali one I have watched a couple of times because it’s so amazing. And to think that it was your first project is just mind-blowing. How long ago did you do this?
Kennedy Kyalo: The video is a year old now. It was awesome working with the guy because the first time I started feeling that it was possible for us to do animation here in Kenya was actually after watching one of his old songs. It’s called Miaka. It was animated back then. So before seeing that song, I used to feel like you know, animations come from out there in the wild or not Kenya. Yeah, then when I saw that song, I was like, This song has been made here in Kenya. So maybe we can also do it. It was a huge thing for me. So it was awesome working with Juacali.
GIA: How did you get to work with him? Like, how did you even meet Juacali because I know famous people can be a bit unreachable? Yeah, how did you get to do the project?
Kennedy Kyalo: He tweeted that he’d made a song that he would like to be animated. And he asked people to recommend good animators. I had previously done the Rebel animation and people really loved it on Twitter. So even before I could go and comment on his tweet and say, Yay, I’m an animator! I found already five people had mentioned me. So that was awesome. And then I replied to his tweet. And I think he saw that there were so many replies so he sort of reached out. There was another guy called Bernard. We actually met on Twitter. He was the one who was on top of the communication, but it came from Twitter. So we spoke a bit on Twitter, and then we organised a physical meeting. We went to his office. He gave me a pair of headphones. And he was like, so now here’s the song. You listen to it and tell me if you feel it’s something you can work on. I listened to the song. I liked the song. And I was like, yeah, sure, we can do something with it. And then he was like, so now I’m not going to give you a brief. You go with the song and just make an awesome animation. Which was really awesome because most clients really like to sort of tell you what to do. There was a lot of freedom with this project. Because he was like, you’re the animator, I’m not going to tell you what to make. Just listen to the song and figure out something nice. That’s how, the animation was born.
GIA: That’s a really nice story. What are the challenges you’ve had as a 3D animator so far?
Kennedy Kyalo: The thing about 3D animation is that it takes so much time. So you find that for someone like me, who is a solo developer for you to be able to produce something substantial in a month’s time. You’ll find that you don’t have a life outside animation. When you wake up you animate. And the day is over, you go to sleep, tomorrow, the day after that, the whole week you are doing the same thing. So the fact that the industry hasn’t really grown so much, especially here in Kenya, there are not enough people to collaborate with. So you find that most of the time you have to do everything on your own. Yeah. And it takes so much time. You end up having no life. No friends. So that’s a huge challenge. I would be happy if in the country we had several good animators that we can collaborate with. That will be awesome. Because we’d be able to do more, as a team we’d be able to do even more impressive stuff than I can do on my own. That’s the biggest challenge.
GIA: I totally understand I once worked for an animator her name is Ng’endo Mukii. And I saw the amount of work that goes into it. Yeah, so I totally understand the balance can be tricky. Yeah. And what are your future plans as an animator?
Kennedy Kyalo: I want to set up my own animation studio. A bunch of friends and I are actively working towards that. We want to make our own stories known out there. There’s a lack of representation. And you know, complaining can only do so much. So we want to do it ourselves. And the best way to do that is to set up a studio and have a bunch of like-minded people working around.
GIA: That sounds amazing. And I wish you all the best.
Kennedy Kyalo: Thank you!
GIA: I have one final question. Just a fun thing. If you were to have a superpower, which one would it be?
Kennedy Kyalo: It would be an infinite number of clones. Because I feel like there’s so much that we need to do. So much that I need to do like, game ideas that I have, story ideas that I have, even educational content stuff that we want to make. And it feels like there’s not enough time. So yeah, if I had the ability to just make 20 copies of myself 20 copies of the guys that we’re working with. That will be awesome.
GIA: That’s a clever superpower to have, especially with the challenge you mentioned you have.Awesome. Thanks a lot, Ken. I know you’re a busy guy and you spared some time to, have this chat. I appreciate it a lot. And I look forward to seeing your studio get started. I look forward to writing about it and I also look forward to the Rebel game, that will be amazing.
Kennedy Kyalo: Thank you too for this platform. It’s great to have people like you looking out for guys like us. Because if it was up to us to, you know, get the word out there. We probably wouldn’t be able to, but because of people like you you’re sort of out there championing for us and that’s really awesome.
This was such a pleasant chat and I am so happy that you got to join in on it. We need to keep on seeing the excellence that exists on the continent so that we can continue to foster it. It is amazing to learn from Kennedy what a determined person can do on their own once they put their mind to it. Now imagine what many determined and focused people can do together.