When foreigners talk about Trinidad and Tobago, certain distinct cultural experiences come to mind; chief among them would be the beaches, the oil and gas industry and Carnival.
While TT is not well known on the global stage for its potential in information and communications technology (ICT) graphic design, and animation, there are young artists who are trying to change that.
“The potential for (animation) just from an outsourcing standpoint is great,” said 26-year-old animator, illustrator, graphic designer, and self-proclaimed storyteller Daniel Blaize.
“Major countries outsource all the time. They outsource to Russia, China, Latin America and that industry alone generates a lot of income for those respective countries.
Blaize, who identifies with the pronouns they/them, said TT is slowly building toward better recognition in animation, but worries that there is not enough communication and camaraderie among local artists.
“The opportunities are there. Things are happening locally (but) everybody is in their own little corner and we’re not liaising enough.”
They said the industry is also hard for artists as there is not enough public support for animation as a legitimate career path.
Blaize said they began taking animation seriously in 2016 after completing the diploma programme at the University of TT (UTT) where they were also awarded a scholarship to Sheridan College in Canada for a semester to learn animation.
Through the company – named Daniel de Creator – Blaize has done work for many local performing artistes such as Kees Dieffenthaller, Nailah Blackman, and mas band Caesar’s Army.
“Branching off into a creative business like this is kind of difficult in that no one really treats it like a legitimate thing. “It’s like, ‘oh you can draw,’ but they don’t really see it as a job.”
Blaize began making appearances at the Alias Entertainment Expo in 2016, where comics from TT and around the region were on display.
“I would see people selling prints, but I thought they were just printing from google. So I figured I could do my own posters and artwork and sell that and draw portraits while I’m there.
“From there, I continued doing as many expos as I could. It was two-fold for me: I wanted people to know my business, but I also wanted to improve. People are very unforgiving when you don’t draw their faces properly. It was a trial by fire kind of thing, and it made me improve much faster.”
Blaize also takes on commission work for illustrations and began working on individual projects in 2016, giving birth to Spiritbound, a comic set in TT and inspired by local folklore.
“The comic itself deals with very heavy topics. It’s not something I’d give to a seven-year-old.”
Blaize said the comic was inspired by local classics like Michael Anthony’s A Year In San Fernando but written to apply to modern day TT. Blaize described the comic as “an investment in our history.”
“When you strip away the cultural stuff, however, the story is about my character learning how to connect with people and make friends. That is what I try to do in all of my story telling.”
They said the comic is also meant to represent people of colour in the Caribbean. Although inspired by many foreign comics, Blaize wanted Caribbean stories properly represented.
“Comics was another driving force for me going into animation. I saw the stories we were accustomed to (and) there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not enough in terms of representation and I thought instead of waiting for somebody to write my story, I would just write it myself.”
The comic is available online on spiritbound.thecomicseries.com.
Despite the company’s success in recent years, Blaize said they still struggle with getting people to respect their trade and their business. “It happens a lot with illustration. Whenever I give someone a price above $300, they’re like, ‘It’s just a drawing,’ and I’m like, ‘Well ok, draw it yourself,’” Blaize joked.
“Recently I rebranded and that gave me a bit more legitimacy and that has made people think twice before asking me for something for $20.
"Even at expos, if I went above a $100 asking price, I would not really see much people for the day. Instead of fighting up with those people, I look for clients who understand the value of what I’m giving them.”
Blaize said having a team and support system is crucial and having someone to focus on the administrative part of the business allows them to focus on the creative process.
“Not everything could be a one-man show. You have to find people who you can trust.”
Blaize said animation in TT can easily have a place on the world stage if enough resources are put into developing the industry.
“In five to ten years, I want TT to be an animation hub where companies can outsource to. This oil thing, we cannot ride for much longer and animation and 3D design can become a major part of our gross domestic profit (GDP) if we get the support and things are standardised.”
Blaize said standardisation of salaries for positions in graphic design and animation will give legitimacy to the field. “There are standardised prices in the United States, but that is not applicable here.”
Blaze said in TT, many artists play a game of “who you know”.
“You cannot underestimate the power of a link. There’s no pulling yourself up from the bootstraps in this industry. You have to know somebody.
“Having that privilege of knowing someone to give you that foot in the door is invaluable. You still have to prove your worth, but not having that link has been the career death for so many people. I have to be very grateful for that and I try to give people that foot in the door as well.”
In July, Blaize was asked to speak to young girls participating in the Digicel Foundation's Girls Power tech competition, meant to inspire and empower young women between the ages of 13 and 18 to pursue careers in ICT.
“It feels like a very important part of my career to be able to say to young girls that if you want to do this, you can. It’s not a ‘boys’ thing. There is nothing biological preventing you from doing what the boys are doing and doing it better in some cases.
“We have this thing where we discourage girls from going into certain fields and then telling them women are not good in that field, but how are we supposed to know if they are good or not if we discourage them from going into it?
“I want to be able to mentor people and bring them into my company as sub-contractors and continue to do better work so people could see that you can be from TT and do good work.
“Yes, my work passes a threshold where people don’t think it’s local anymore, but it’s sad that we have come to accept mediocrity.”
Blaize said they would like to see more work from TT emerging and, eventually, become internationally recognised.
“I want to see TT be taken more seriously in terms of people seeing animation being done really well."