Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Transforming the South African Landscape through Animation

Words by: Nick Wilson ( and Wendy Spinks (

Just over 4 years ago, before the World Cup in 2010, a foreigner asked for their impression of South Africa would have mentioned the teeming wildlife, safaris, apartheid, crime and of course, Nelson Mandela. 
Not many, however, would have been as aware of the groundswell in the film and animation industry taking place at the same time. The World Cup was a fantastic opportunity for South Africa to re-brand itself and the country has taken the opportunity to reinforce this positive perception in many new areas.

South Africa is known as one of the world's top 5 film destinations and has taken home an Oscar for the film adaptation of Athol Fugard’s “Tsotsi”. Many high quality international and home-grown TV shows and films, including the international sci-fi hit “District 9”, have been produced locally and have set the stage for growth in an expanding industry with a great reputation for delivery. 

Our music industry continues to boom. South African DJ/producers like Black Coffee and Goldfish headline major music festivals nationally and internationally. The country's cultural diversity is also reflected in the music industry, which has brought the conceptual geniuses “Die Antwoord” to the world.  Furthermore, SA boasts Ultra Music Festival South Africa, now the largest music festival in Africa.

Allied to this abundant creativity, Cape Town has been named the World Design Capital 2014; South Africa is in its 20th year of democracy, and has the best infrastructure in Africa. The country has a strong financial sector, the JSE (Johannesburg Securities Exchange) is ranked amongst the top 10 in the world, and with a competent telecommunications industry South Africa is at the forefront of a mobile revolution. As of 11 November 2013, GSMA published its latest comprehensive study of the socio-economic impact of the mobile industry in Sub-Saharan Africa. “The report; “Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy 2013”, developed by GSMA Intelligence, reveals that mobile contributes over six per cent of the region’s GDP, higher than any other comparable region globally, and this is forecast to rise to over eight per cent by 2020.”

Within the next decade Africa will have a population of over a billion people and is currently the fastest urbanising continent in the world with a rapidly growing middle class.  The next big consumer market is Africa, and South Africa is perfectly poised to quench the thirst for original content created by Africans for Africans.  

South Africa has established a reputation for world-class creativity whether in advertising, film, television or music production, with much of our home-grown talent now heading-up major advertising agencies & creative houses in New York, London, Singapore and even Australia.

It should come as no surprise then that today there is a burgeoning animation industry in South Africa. Just as is the case of film, TV, music, and advertising, there have been great strides in development of the animation industry, in terms of talent, experience and capacity. 
South African animation services offer a good value proposition for North American and European companies. Our exchange rate hovers favourably around R10 to the US dollar, and while South Africa is not necessarily cheap compared to providers in Asia and the East, it does comes with fewer cultural and language barriers, manageable time zones and a highly sought after design sensibility. 

In June this year, a delegation of South African animation producers and content creators attended the 2014 Annecy International Animation Festival and Film & TV Market to represent the industry and build on business relationships established last year, taking advantage of the growing awareness of country as a creator of quality animated content. 

According to Glenn Gillis of Sea Monster who attended Annecy for the first time; “What emerged was that although we are still a relatively small player at present, we are increasingly being recognised for the great creative and concepts that we have on offer. We seem to have a particular strength in design and pre-production, and broadcasters and production partners have taken note of some of our recent achievements. The Sea Monster team have delivered over 75 hours of broadcast 2D animation, including shows for Cookie Jar, Disney and others. Our innate understanding of humour, the ease of doing business and, our ability to deliver creatively on schedule and on budget has been proven.  What this means is that our concepts are not only of a world class standard, but also are production-ready, so that creatively, technically and financially there is more control and predictability.”
The South African animation industry however, is not purely positioned to service international projects.  

At the South Africa Territory Focus at Annecy the NFVF’s Production & Development Manager Thandeka Zwana elaborated: “The NFVF (National Film and Video Foundation) is an agency of our Department of Arts and Culture and is structured very similar to France's CNC. We are mandated by our Parliament to develop and promote the film industry in South Africa. This involves funding for South Africans in training (writing and producing), script development, production, post production, distribution, exhibition and marketing. We spend approximately 50% of our funding on development and production and 40% on marketing including assisting filmmakers to travel to various markets and festivals and hosting showcase events to promote our industry.”

The NFVF act as a liaison between the industry and various government departments and one of our most important roles is ensuring that information is shared both ways. Our closest partnerships are with the Department of Trade and Industry who administer all rebates and incentives. The NFVF is responsible for certifying films as either local content or co-productions. Another important partner is the Industrial Development Corporation - the money people who often look to the NFVF for script input when it comes to assessing projects that they are considering for funding. These two entities have been instrumental in growing our industry by providing South African content producers with vital leverage in terms of raising funding especially for the larger co-productions.”

Different companies have experimented with various business models to accommodate both service work and create original content. There has been a definite shift in South African perception toward quality and original content generation, which alludes to a sophistication of the growing animation industry.

The most successful South African creator of long-form animated feature films to date is Triggerfish Animation Studios.  Triggerfish's feature film “Khumba” premiered at Annecy in 2013 before its international release in theatres and has become a significant marker of the progress and maturity of the South African animation industry as a whole.

“Khumba” however, is not Triggerfish's first foray into animated feature films. Their debut feature film, “Adventures in Zambezia”, released in 2012 and is the most successful South African-owned film in the last 30 years, grossing in excess of US$ 34M at the international box office.

Speaking at the Territory Focus on South Africa in Annecy this year, Triggerfish producer Mike Buckland pointed out that the success of South African animated films such as "Adventures in Zambezia" and "Khumba" are a great indicator that there is an international appetite for high quality, original South African content. 

Creative services company Pollen, who has made a name for themselves creating world-class design and animation for TV, Film and Web locally & abroad have embarked on developing their own children's content. In early July the team goes into production on not one, but three children's series: "Fledglings”, "Fishpaste" & "Luminati". The series, all of which have been developed with the global children's market in mind, will be produced in English, as well as Sotho & Afrikaans for local broadcasters with the characters already having been picked up for commercial licensing purposes in 2015. Pollen is currently finalising their international distribution agreements and working on the development of their newest properties "Meet Mo", "Homesick Mole" and "Nikki, Nonna, Noo & you!" which will be going into production in early 2015.

While bigger companies like Triggerfish and Pollen exist there is still room for smaller boutique studios (which are the general norm) such as Mike Scott Animation and Shy the Sun and are attracting international attention for their artistry.  

Mike Scott, an independent 2D specialist has consistently raised the profile of South African 2D animation. His music videos for the South African band Goldfish have been acclaimed worldwide, appearing on MTV International and finding a spot in the ‘20 Best Music Videos’ in the London International Animation Festival 2011. Collectively the six videos have racked up over 10 million views on YouTube. 

Mike’s work has been exhibited at numerous international and local animation festivals, including France’s Recontres Audiovisuelles 2011, the Anima Mundi in Brazil and the Edinburgh African Film Festival. Mike’s latest animated music video was nominated for a 2014 South African Music Award for Best Music Video, he recently sold “HappyLand”  an original IP consisting of 52 interstitials.

He also recently completed a very successful pilot for “Moosebox”, which is one of seven International Shorts greenlit for the Nickelodoen International Shorts program.
“I believe in the importance of developing personal projects alongside commercial work and am increasingly leaning towards original IP.” ~ Mike Scott.