CENTRESTAGE: Behind the scenes of XYZ show

Saturday November 25 2017

King Muriuki, Director of the show XYZ in the

King Muriuki, Director of the show XYZ in the workshop area where the puppets are made. PHOTO| ANTHONY OMUYA 

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For a 22-minute show that airs once a week, there is an insane amount of work that goes into producing the political satire animation series XYZ. While it elicits riotous laughter and gives audiences a humorous take on current issues going on in the country and internationally, behind the scenes, are serious individuals responsible for making the wheels of the program turn.

Whereas some fans of the show look at it as just a funny animation, others view it as a serious political satire that mirrors what goes on in society, but from whichever side you look at it, the fact remains that it takes an entire staff of more than 60 people who continue to make the magic happen behind the scenes.

Some of the cast and crew’s talents have been nurtured by the show since its first season which aired in 2009.

As the show progressed their talents too grew.

According to one of the directors on the show, King Muriuki who started off as an intern, an episode of the rib cracking show takes a week to put together. It is a lot of work; from writing the scripts, the brain storming sessions, pre-production workshops, the voice recording to the actual shoot and then on to editing, dealing with the animation aspects of it and post sound work and finally delivery.


And since it’s a show based on current events, a week is a short time just in case there are further developments to what they have already worked on.

“It takes a lot of anticipation from the writers who have studied the characters and they probably know what’s going to happen,” says Muriuki, adding that they write different scenarios with different outcomes just in case new stories emerge.

“A lot of times we’ve predicted stuff and it’s very eerie, that means we are concentrating on what we are doing,” he says.

Muriuki divulges that the show on average employs about 65 people, sometimes more especially if extra voice actors are needed. An episode may have seven to 20 voices.

A lot more work goes into the main attraction of the programme, the puppets. The puppets require two puppeteers; one person who manipulates the head and the eyes while the other syncs movements with the hands.

The workshop department constitutes creative who make and maintain the puppets and the art department has people who design the sets they shoot the show in. There is also the animation department, Chroma key and green screen compositing, graphics, two directors for the show, director of photography and camera crew and a host of other staff just to keep one show going.

At any point in the week while in season, all these people occupy about three office spaces at the Go Down Arts Centre in Nairobi.

With such a huge cast and crew, it will only be obvious to assume that the show requires a huge budget.

Even though Muriuki was hesitant to say just how much, Edwin Machuka, one of the creatives behind the puppets, affirms that a lot of money goes into making the puppets. He says a single puppet can cost about Sh500,000 to make.

“We import the latex material, we have to pay for labour and all the other materials like fibre glass and creativity, which really can’t be measured,” he says.

When explaining the process of creating the almost life like puppets, Machuka makes it sound quite simple but is a time consuming task.

In a nutshell, the characters are drawn in 3D first and they have to be cartoon-like to make it interesting.

They then make a clay mould of the photos which takes about three weeks or a month.

“You might wake up in good spirits today but tomorrow may not be the same, and then you realise that probably the nose or ears are not the way they are supposed to be so you adjust,” Machuka explains why it takes so long.

“This process is done by several people and it is not until everyone is satisfied that we will go to the next process which is making the fibre glass mould that captures the image of the clay,”

The final procedure would be to sew or glue the hair, airbrush the complexion of the character and make sure the eye mechanism works perfectly.

Currently, XYZ has more than 250 puppets, and depending on whichever personality is trending, new ones are made. In season 12 they made six new characters.

The show’s staff especially the writers and voice artistes are the biggest critiques of themselves. To be on the show, you have to have very thick skin and leave your ego at the door because the critique meeting is like a war zone; ideas are bashed or killed.


The head of the voice department Edward Khaemba sits in at the writing sessions and since he has mastered nuances and tendencies of characters, he knows what Raila’s character would say, what Mugabe’s would never say, what outrageous thing Trump would probably say and where Kibaki would pause in conversation.

Over the years, the show has been broadcasted in several local stations from Citizen TV, Kiss TV, KTN and NTV. The writers are not afraid of making fun of any personality whilst telling the truth and sometimes have even targeted the broadcasters hosting them for a particular season.

“If the broadcasters make a mistake we will not spare them and it has brought issues before. Gado our head (producer) is known for a no nonsense approach to telling the truth and it has trickled down. But sometimes we restrain ourselves when we think some stuff won’t go on air,” says Muriuki.

When XYZ signs a contract with a broadcaster at the beginning of each season, they make sure they hold the rights of the content to air. “You cannot edit our content, that’s one of the main reasons during our early years we moved from one broadcaster to the next,” says Muriuki, however, since its television there’s a little leeway for some changes.

XYZ has been nominated for two Kalasha Awards, Best Animation and the character Keff Joinange is up for Best TV Host.

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