Roye Okupe

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Roye Okupe, and I’m a writer & creative director at YouNeek Studios. I also founded the company in 2012.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Funny enough I still have my full time job as a Web Developer, lol. But I am very grateful for it, because that is what has funded YouNeek Studios’ projects so far. In terms of crazy jobs, I once worked in a college book story. It was “crazy” boring!What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Definitely the project I am most proud of is what I am working on right now, E.X.O. It has been almost four years in the making. I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to print the graphic novel (E.X.O. was originally supposed to be an animated feature, but I decided to delay that a bit) and the response has been very encouraging. I have even had popular blogs like Mashable and Bleeding Cool write articles about it. What makes me so proud about it is that I get to add something diverse to the superhero genre. And that’s in the form of an African superhero!The plot of E.X.O. follows the journey of an impetuous young man named Wale Williams who is tricked into returning home after a 5 year absence. Upon his return Wale finds a cryptic nanosuit that grants superhuman abilities, left behind from his now missing father Dr. Williams. After initially refusing to have anything to do with his fathers work, Wale realizes he must use the suit to investigate his fathers disappearance, as well as persistent attacks on his people by an extremist named Oniku.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. That’s my home. I moved to Washington D.C in 2002 to attend The George Washington University for both an undergraduate and masters degree in computer science. Exactly! How the heck did I find my way to animation. From the first day I laid my eyes on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons in the 80’s, I’ve been hooked on superheroes. Since then I’ve watched, played and read every single superhero related title I could lay my hands on: movies, superhero comics, manga, anime, graphic novels, superhero animated movies & series, video games etc. Then in 2008, after noticing there wasn’t a lot of diversity within the genre, I decided to tell a story about a hero from Nigeria (Africa).So I began taking animation classes, spending time online on sites like Digital tutors, I even briefly attended the Art Institute of Washington. That gave me a solid foundation in the fundamentals of animation. However, I knew I didn’t have the skills I needed to produce the type of top notch animation I wanted for my project. So I decided to be more of a writer/art director/producer. Over the years I’ve worked with tons of talented illustrators, storyboard artists, animators (2D/3D), producers and more.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Extremely busy! Because I still have a day job things are 10 times harder. Once I get home from work (typically 630PM) I “try” to exercise and then have dinner within an hour. And then I spend the next 6-7 hours either approving and signing off on storyboards, character art, comic book pages, animated takes. The ones I don’t sign of on I send notes back to the corresponding artist and/or animator. After that, I begin to work on the business aspect of things (budgeting accounting, finances etc.). Once that’s done I do some PR & Marketing work trying to get my product seen by as many people/journalists as possible. After that I try to respond and send emails. By this time I am already approaching 11PM which is when I start writing down some goals/task to take care of the next day. Once I’m done I take care of any miscellaneous items and then read and study my craft (could be a book on business, a how to book, or a comic book) for about one hour and then a fall asleep.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Interacting with artists, animators and other professionals. I love to collaborate. Don’t get me wrong it can be tough sometimes, but I believe that’s were the greatest ideas are born.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Waking up early lol. I’m not a morning person at all! I love sleep! Unfortunately I don’t get as much as I want.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I think we as the current generation are both lucky and unfortunate. Lucky because technology has evened the playing field. A single person can create an animated movie on their laptop alone if enough time and effort is put in it. Unfortunate because this has increased the competition. But ultimately I believe it’s a good thing for everyone. If you really want to get something out there you can. You just need to put in the work and be consistent and dedicated.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Lack of investment. It’s hard to get the people that matter (distributors, networks, investors) to invest in your project when you are new to the game. This is why I decided to take matters into my on hand. I decided to use the short animation I did for E.X.O. and use it to promote a book that I would fund. And so far, it was a great decision!

If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
For me personally I would believe in myself more earlier in my journey. It took me a while to gain the confidence to begin chasing my dream
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Unfortunately, no. I’m hoping that changes sometime soon
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
One of the toughest situations I had to face was a discussion I had with a credible producer. I sent him a treatment of my animated feature as well as some animated footage and art work. He told me I had done a good job so far. But because my characters were African who would behave and talk like Africans, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) “It looks good but no one would watch an animation based on Africans talking like Africans.” I felt like it was the end of the world. Here was this guy who had all the experience telling me my work would go no where. He has to be right. For about a month I gave up on everything. Until one day I woke up and said just go ahead and put your work out there, let the internet decide. So I made a decision to put out E.X.O. as a graphic novel first, build a fan base organically and then use that as impetus for an animated feature and/or series.

Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Well, now that the animation is been put on hold the focus is on the graphic novel that will be released August. Please check out my Kickstarter campaign here and support and/or spread the word if you can:
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
LOL! That’s funny. I actually I’m part of a gospel hip hop group called PCE Crew.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
No one will want it more than you do, so go out there and make your dreams a reality. Believe in yourself and never give up.

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