Image from IWAJU (Disney Animation Studios)

Cinesite is making history as the first studio to collaborate on a Walt Disney Animation Studios project outside of Disney. The six-part animation series IWAJU is set to premiere exclusively on Disney+ on February 28, 2024.

The title word of the series, IWAJU, loosely translates to “the future” in the Yoruba language (and literally, “front facing”). Set in a futuristic version of Lagos, Nigeria, the animation follows Tola, a young girl from a wealthy island, and her friend Kole, a self-taught tech expert from the mainland. Fraught with dangers and secrets, their contrasting worlds are an avenue for the animation to explore themes of inequality, class divide, innocence, and challenging the status quo.

IWAJU is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ collaboration with Pan-African entertainment company Kugali and brought to life in partnership with Cinesite’s Vancouver and Montreal facilities. The Disney Animation team was led by Producer Christina Chen and VFX Supervisor Marlon West, under the supervision of Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee. Cinesite’s production team was led by Producer Joel MacDonald and VFX Supervisor Ellen Poon.

Eamonn Butler, Cinesite’s Chief of Animation commented on the collaboration with Walt Disney Animation Studios: “There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to IWAJU. For one, it’s an entirely new, original story inventively set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria. Secondly, to work with the best in animation with Walt Disney Animation Studios and fresh, new voices with the exciting storytellers of Kugali is truly a first-of-its-kind not just for Cinesite, but for all of us. The Cinesite teams have worked hard to continually raise the quality bar, and working with Disney Animation is testament to everyone’s efforts. We’re looking forward to showcasing our crew’s innovation and creativity to Disney!”

Image from IWAJU (Disney Animation Studios)

The bustling cultural spirit and unique setting of Lagos’ mainland and islands served as both inspiration and backdrop for the coming-of-age story. Kugali’s signature comic-book style incorporates elements of Eastern, Western, and traditional African art styles. Together with exciting visual elements such as the glimmering towers of the Lagos cityscape, its lagoon, flying cars, and augmented reality glasses, the series promises a compelling aesthetic vision.

The collaboration that resulted in the animation series spans three continents and marks both a great artistic achievement, and a prime example of the power of global collaboration. To tell the story of how the series came to be, ABC News Studios and Disney Animation produced the documentary special IWAJU: A DAY AHEAD, which was filmed across all three continents, including at Cinesite’s facilities. Directed by Megan Harding and executive produced by Amy Astley and Beth Hoppe, the documentary is set to premiere alongside the series on February 28, 2024.

Images from Disney Animation Studios’ IWAJU.