2: ‘Tupa Tupa’, DRCongo

‘Tupa Tupa’ animatic overview

‘Tupa Tupa’ (the drunkard) is based on photos from role plays on gender issues in the households by women and men coffee farmers in a Fair Trade cooperative in DRCongo. Women and men did separate plays on what happens to the money from coffee. – women do most of the work. Men ‘own’ the money and spend on alcohol and women in town. Money also goes to corrupt lawyers and the police because of men’s lack of responsibility.

I chose to work with these images because the role play narratives were very powerful and highlighted different things about women and men’s perceptions. These stories and effects of men’s control of coffee money, alcoholism and adultery and corruption of officials are common across all the coffee sector in East Africa, including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. So these role play stories have wider implications as advocacy in the coffee sector – Fair Trade as well as private sector companies. Woman on woman violence is also a common issue because of women’s vulnerability. Divisions and arguments between married and unmarried (ie girlfriends) women are often at least as significant at participatory workshops as between women and men. Acording to hospital admissions, leading to extreme violence and even murder – including murder of a friend of mine by her husband’s girlfriend.

Apart from its importance in advocacy, I selected this photograph series because it gives an example of dramatic community narratives. Also one of my best photo resources for dramatic sketching beyond stereotypes and collage. This was also the only clear set of visuals I have of farmers’ complete stories, as opposed to vignettes from drawings that I then interpret from interviews and other contextual information. The photos are of variable technical quality as they were taken in difficult bright lighting while I was focusing on facilitation and documenting the narrative. But many are very expressive and dynamic when edited as the basis for sketching and further development for animation. Importantly the photos provided a basis for developing my ability to draw local expressions and body language so that animations could abstract and clarify without resorting to stereotypes and potentially racist tropes. They also highlighted both the ways in which women and men perceive their own and the opposite gender – both seriously and as comedy.

Creative translation assessment of animatic draft

This animation is still very much an animatic, manipulating photographs in Procreate on my iPad with final compositing in Adobe Premiere. I am aiming for theatricality and exaggerated movements that combine comedy with poignancy, rather than consistently smooth animation. Something with dramatic impact of Tartakovsky with comedy of Terry Gilliam.

Technical quality: Procreate was a good initial RSI-friendly software to start to develop the ideas, making cutting out the characters and draft backgrounds easy. But it is not the best software for refining professional cut out puppet animation. All the clips still need much more fluidity and better dramatic timing of the line animations to work with the music, incorporating squash and stretch, camera and viewpoint var. Squash and Stretch. I should have identified an audio source much earlier in the process.

Fidelity to community voices and context? The narrative structure combines, but is faithful to, the original women and men’s role plays. The original role plays combined humour with anger and sense of inevitability of men’s failings. The main issues were:

  • sequencing and narrative format for dramatic effect 
  • how to process and clarify the photographs to enhance the drama
  • how to simplify consistent characters based on those in two merged role plays
  • I needed a linking narrative thread but had no audio. I selected a Swahili song by women from another similar workshop in another coffee cooperative in Tanzania. So this could also be understood in DRCongo.

Visual magic and creativity? I find the general puppet Stop Motion style dramatic and engaging – if I can do it well.

But there were also many other narrative and stylistic option I could have chosen – see Creative Translation questions below.

 In taking it further in response to audience feedback, I would consider a bigger range of narrative options and ways of intensifying dramatic impact. I would do this using puppet animation in Adobe After Effects and/or TVPaint for artistic scene, with final compositing in Adobe Premiere.

Creative Translation Overview Padlet

Made with Padlet
‘Tupa Tupa’ Creative Translation questions

In terms of creative translation a challenge was to combine women and men’s stories into one narrative. The role plays themselves combined humour as well as serious commentary, but also based on community gender stereotyping for comic effect. I have to make decisions about how far to exaggerate this further for greater dramatic effect, and how far to have something more gender neutral.

The following were some interlinked parallel underlying questions relating to creative translation options – pointing to other potential animation interpretations for future experiments following post-COVID crisis feedback from colleagues and communities in East Africa.


  • Different possibilities of linear and/or non-linear narrative sequence eg starting with the women’s fight – explanation of woman on woman violence or picture of Tupa Tupa all alone, rejected by his family.
  • Alternative sequencing and contextualising of narrative? Currently different scene ‘nuggets’ are linked through changing visual dynamics as in ‘Primal’? There could be other linking formats eg scenes are pushed, or represented by page turns? or linked with characters moving between frames as in ‘Merlot’? Looped cycles to present repetitions eg visiting girlfriend, fight scene that would then emphasise final story elements of corruption or women fighting.
  • Narrative balance between comedy and tragedy to counter ‘not all that feminist whingeing again!’ reaction and attract attention from different audiences ‘outside the already converted’? Importance of dramatic timing?
  • A key issue is the need to clarify the characters – this is currently confused because the photographs come from different role plays.

General style/message medium

  • Should the whole animation be in collaged Stop Motion of photographs? Or a more mixed approach with more drawn animation?  
  • Vary use of colour and line in the drawn elements and colour in the photographs to show different characters and mood. Use of colour and line

Illusion of Life: realism/magic balance

  • More dramatic application of ‘grammar of the shot’ framing and viewpoint to simplify/clarify composition to enhance the narrative, exaggerating Tartakovsky’s techniques and facial expressions. eg directing the gaze eg girlfriend feeling man’s pocket to see how much money he has, lawyer putting money from police chief in his pocket.
  • How relevant are the Illusion of Life animation principles to eg squash and stretch of collage, varying posture, increasing drama of fight scene?
  • Which global visual conventions are necessary for clarity across audiences? How can clarity, drama and ‘magic’ be enhanced by selective use of colour? camera moves and lighting?

Evolution of Animation Experiments

The account below gives my notes and more details of my initial animation skills development till March 2021)

Women’s role play:
Photos edited and clarified in Lightroom

  • Muungano women's theatre Lightroom edited photos
  • Muungano women's theatre Lightroom edited photos
  • Muungano women's theatre Lightroom edited photos
  • Muungano women's theatre Lightroom edited photos
  • Muungano women's theatre Lightroom edited photos
Women’s role play story
  1. Wives and daughters in the family are working in the fields while the man sits back
  2. The women carry the coffee to market. The man accompanies them and keeps the money.
  3. The man persuades them to go home, promising to come soon. The women go back.
  4. The man goes to the bar and his girlfriend.
  5. His girlfriend persuades him to buy her not only drinks, but also fancy clothes in the market.
  6. The daughter goes to the market to find the father and see him with the girlfriend. Then goes back to tell her mother.
  7. The women then all go and attack – not the husband – but the girlfriend (a point of much discussion).

Men’s role play:
Photos edited and clarified in Lightroom

  • Muungano men's theatre Lightroom edited photos
  • Muungano men's theatre Lightroom edited photos
  • Muungano men's theatre Lightroom edited photos
  • Muungano men's theatre Lightroom edited photos
Men’s role play story

‘Tupa Tupa’ means ‘drink, drink’ – the man’s nickname.

  • men take all the money to gamble, drink and buy presents for his ‘girlfriend’ in town
  • the man gets put in jail because of a fight
  • the lawyer and police chief work together to extort bribes from the family to secure his release
  • the family is left without money
  • the only winners from the whole coffee production are the corrupt officials
  • ….till they use the GALS participatory visioning methodology


Inspiration: Genndy Tartakovsky

The key source of inspiration for these animations is the dramatic and simplified visual style of Genndy Tartakovsky.

Inspiration: puppet/collage animation

But maintaining the link to ‘reality’ through clear style link to the photographs – either through digital montage in Procreate on my iPad. Or photo collage of photos edited and cropped then animated in Stop Motion or After Effects.

Emma Calder, Everyone is waiting for Something to Happen (2016). Half way in this uses very interesting cut-out collage animation overlaid as motion graphics to create narrative.

Storyboarding process and ‘narrative kernels

Identifying and sketching ‘narrative scene kernels’ and keyframes for animation

I think this narrative has a lot of dramatic potential, although the work required to fully develop it is probably outside the scope of this research and may need to be left until a later stage after my degree. The aim here has been to develop something that I could propose as work in progress for advocacy, and to get feedback on style etc if I were to work on it further.

As the farmer stories were very clear, I need a very clear simplified story to which can be added comic touches and very selective cut out or drawn animation.

Some of the most interesting images in terms of story were not always of the highest technical quality. My first task was therefore to edit them in Lightroom to get more consistent colour and tone. And to make a selection for a narrative.

In terms of visuals there were a number of ways that the photos could be used:

  1. cropped photos – what colour/saturation/tone? simplified? edit in Photoshop filters? put together in Premiere.
  2. shape cutout collage on plain/simple background as cut out animation in Stop Motion
  3. simplified composites animated in Procreate/TVPaint

I then use these photos as the basis for exploring issues in visual narrative, using framing, editing and camera movement to tell the story rather than animating movement itself. Using pencil, ink and crayon sketches, refined in Procreate 5 on my iPad for the sketches and Adobe Premiere.

Stage 1: Scene kernels
first keyframe drafts

I printed out and edited the Lightroom images, dividing these into separate narrative elements and pasting them into my Sketchlog. I then drew and painted over these, and did freehand sketches to get a better idea of the dynamic potential of each scene.

Scenes 1-3 Women do the Work and man gets the money
Scene 4 man goes to bar to see girlfriend and is seen
Scene 5 Tupa Tupa Gambles and fights and is taken to jail
Scene 6 Lawyer and Police take the money and man released from jail
Scene 7 Women Fight the girlfriend not the husband.

Do a more complete animatic with:

  • timings for each scene
  • more in-betweens from the photos – either just cropped photos or collage cut-outs
  • sound effects and music