African Animation: On the Up and Up
There’s no better time than the present to be part of the burgeoning animation movement on the continent. Kim Crowie explores.
Africa’s animation scene is bursting with opportunity. South Africa is abuzz with the forward motion and attention that the sector has been receiving from international studios like Nickelodeon, Disney, and Turners, as well as support from government and industry bodies.
Tulips and Chimneys, who have more often worked in the short form and commercial space, is currently working on developing their own feature film, according to Producer Nina Pfeiffer.
“It’s finally growing legs and we’ve also done quite a bit of production design for upcoming series (created in partnership with other studios),” she explains. “It’s exciting to see a lot of local projects and concepts have now been green lit for production by big global studios and this is major to show the talent we have in SA. As an industry we’ve been working hard to get there and it’s exciting to see it happening.”
One of these projects is Pixcomm’s Jabu’s Jungle, which completed 52 episodes in 2018. The show is broadcast across 40 African countries and will begin production on season 5 in 2019. According to Nic Buchanan, Pixcomm also signed a co-production agreement to produce an animated feature on Nelson Mandela with Canda’s Yowza Animation last year, which is set to be followed up by an animated series in 2022. And, after becoming first runner up at the Ottawa International Animation Festival last year, their preschool property Ting Ting has been optioned. New properties they are working on include Little Big Five, a children’s show, Shandu and the Curse of the Rain Queen, an animated feature based on an ancient African kingdom, and Erratum, a teen series based in a penal colony hovering above war-ravaged earth.
Wendy Spinks of Zeropoint Studios, received an International Residency in France set for April 2019 to develop the animated hybrid documentary and VR project I am Chuma. It tells the story of a young, black, lesbian woman who found herself homeless for three year. During this time, she unexpectedly finds her calling as an artist.
Last year also saw the launch of DISCOMICS, with African Animation Network (AAN) leading the new initiative. Twenty creators, graphic artists, game developers and animators attended the event on VIP passes.
The FUPiTOONS Festival is another initiave fostering animation on the continent, also led by AAN.
Education, Education, Education
South African animation stakeholders have seen the gap in the industry in previous years and are now actively building capacity in a number of different ways. Tshimologong Precinct is one of Joburg’s newest high-tech incubators for digital entrepreneurs. Isabelle Rorke, of Enlightened Poppy Network, is also Chief Enabling Officer at the Precinct and heads up Animation SA’s Skills Development and Transformation Unit. Skip forward twelve months (and a few strategies and partnerships later), and Tshimologong has launched a Skills Pipeline – a 7 month paid team internship for 20 candidates.
“The internship aims to produce high quality concept artists and storyboarders, to help the industry improve on not just quality but productivity. Storyboarding can be critical in helping a studio with planning better for the production and ensuring time is saved without negatively affecting quality,” Isabelle explains. “Education is a critical area of focus if we are to develop this industry to be attractive to the rest of the world. There is work out there and S.A needs to position itself to attract that work. This can only be done with high numbers of high quality skills.”
She adds that all areas of the sector need work, and from the concept artists and storyboarders, they will move on to production for their next intake.
Triggerfish are also long-term capacity building. Their plan is geared towards inspiring younger generations to take an interest in animation as a potential career choice. Most recently they have sponsored three bursaries to The Animation School – just one in a number of initiatives they have launched to grow and diversify the animation industry in Africa. In addition to Story Lab, they also run the Triggerfish Academy, which offers an online introduction to animation. “It’s great to see the way the industry is coming together to create opportunities and mentor new talent,” says CEO Stuart Forrest. “Talent is universal; opportunity is not. We want to start changing that, because we need diverse teams to do justice to our continent’s diverse stories.”
CN Africa Creative Lab and Beyond
Cartoon Network has taken particular interest in South Africa, Nigeria and the wider continent of late. In 2018 they launched the CN Africa Creative Lab contest, the winner of which will work with the company on a short for Cartoon Network. “The variety of references, of genres and creative treatments received make this first edition of CN Creative Lab a rich and truly insightful experience for the Cartoon Network Africa content team,” says Ariana Suveg, Head of Programming and Acquisition at Turner Kids Africa.
There were three winning projects, with a young talent from Nigeria selected as the official winner: Ridwan Moshood with Boy and Trashcan. “Ridwaan’s style is a perfect fit for the channel and shows fantastic graphism that makes the show instantly lovable, unique and full of energy. The two runner-up projects, Intergalactic Ice Cream by Andrew John Philips and Majitu by Mark Kinuthia, were both created by very talented local artists (Andrew from South Africa and Mark from Kenya) that we are proud to bring to the channel.”
CN Africa is also placing a focus on African audiences. Their recent launch of Craig of the Creek is testament to this. Although an American series, having a person of colour as the main character has resonated well with audiences. They are currently planning the creation of an African game to connect with gaming communities, and are casting a keen eye towards Nigeria’s burgeoning comic scene.
The Skills and Talent Are Here
Priest Post Production, a company that has historically worked mostly in the post scene, has also moved into the animation arena.
Michelle Barrow, Head of VFX, explains:
“With Priest evolving from an edit house into a creative studio to include a full post finish solution, it became clear that we were in need of a CGI sweet spot. Geared with a small internal team, we often reach out to the proficient independent animators and studios for the bigger challenges. Operating this way allows us to select the relevant resource for the job and contain overheads, making it affordable and feasible for the client.” They recently worked on a Serengeti lager project with a CG soccer ball that bounces across the country, and have also done quite a bit of simulation work, says Nathan Anderson, Lead Animator at Priest. “That’s interesting for me because it’s blend of creatively art directing the timing and composition as well as having the technical know-how in order to ground it in reality.”
Michelle says that for a number of reasons, animation solutions have become more accessible to the local industry.
“The talent in this country is unbelievable… Unfortunately, literally unbelievable as seen when local projects are still been taken abroad for post finish!” she laments. “The talent and skill are here, people! There are studios in this country accomplishing ground-breaking work and yet we are still considered third world due to ’skill shortage’. Proactive support from our local industry will open doors and opportunities for the entire industry.” She adds that absence of suitable budgets and the understanding of the time required to create in animation as disadvantages – although being able to work remotely with international counterparts is a fantastic advantage. “My hopes are that we will finally be recognised as a serious contender for many ‘epic’ productions and thereby creating a sustainable hub for our local animation talent pool.”
Animation SA Movements
Animation SA is the industry body supporting and developing animators in the country. According to National Chair Nick Cloete, opportunities in the industry can be found in the AR, VR and gaming spaces, as well as in TV co-productions, explainer videos and voice overs.
“We’re working to optimise trading conditions for South African Animation and VFX professionals by engaging with government to inform policies, regulations, incentives, schemes, laws and treaties which affect our sector,” Nick adds. Animation SA will also be coordinating international export missions to key content markets, and are developing a research design to better understand the state of the industry. “We’re also undertaking skills development and transformation programs as well as supporting various outreach initiatives.”
Regionally the body will supported the Cape Town International Animation Festival in early March, and intend to have a presence at Annecy, MIPCOM/MIP Junior, and Kidscreen 2020.
This article was first featured in Callsheet Issue 2.