Zambezia: the rise of South Africa in animation movies


120724010318-zambezia-ezee-horizontal-galleryWith a young falcon’s big wings, South Africa launches its challenge to the animation movie giants. Adventures in Zambezia, a 3-D independent production, featuring the star voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum and Jenifer Lewis, tells the story of Kai, an intrepid young falcon who decides to leave the isolated land where he was raised to discover Zambezia, a lively and colorful bird city. It is enrolling in the local air force that Kai discovers the value of team work and the principle of Ubuntu: “a person is a person only because of other people”. Mixing African and global values, a great cast and a compelling story, this movie may finally be able to put Cape Town in the limelight as a new destination for animation movie productions.

120724010009-zambezia-hair-salon-horizontal-galleryZambezia is the third computer generated movie ever made in South Africa, its budget being the highest every invested in the African continent for animated films.

Behind this titanic endeavor there is Triggerfish Animation Studios, an entertainment company that started with stop-frame animations for commercials in the mid-90s and ended up producing content for Sesame Street, both for the local and the US shows. They are now the largest computer generated animation company of Africa.

Emerging Accents – a radio project connected with Patricia’s Accents – had the chance to talk about the rise of the South-African animation market with Stuart Forrest, the founder and CEO of Triggerfish.

EA: Before Triggerfish was founded, how was the CG animation market in South Africa? Were there other companies that inspired you to open this business?

SF: It’s a very young industry in South Africa. Two other companies started at the same time we did, but they haven’t really continued to create films.

EA: So now you basically don’t have any competitors in South Africa, have you?

SF: No we don’t.

120724010423-zambezia-tree-horizontal-galleryEA: What about the rest of Africa? Are there other countries whose markets are growing?

SF: I think the important markets are still overseas, outside of Africa. Anyway from a strategic point of view we are very interested in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana. We would like to expand our business in these countries as well. They are among the fastest growing economies in the world. They have an emerging middle class that doesn’t really have a voice. That’s why we would like to enter those markets very early, with a wide range of offers. The Hollywood studios, for instance, have already launched movie channels and other distribution strategies in these countries.

EA: What do you think about Nollywood? Can you imagine a sort of South African – Nigerian axis for the international growth of African productions?

SF: Yes, we are, in fact, in touch with Nigeria. Just a few weeks ago we sold Zambezia to a Nigerian distributor for East and West Africa. We are also in discussion with Nigerian potential partners about the possibility of doing a dubbed version of the movie in an African language. If we do it, I believe, it would be the first time ever that something like this happens.

EA: We heard that Triggerfish going to open a school in 2013. Can you confirm this?

SF: Yes, the next year we will be running an elite course for the very best talents from all over the world.

Zambezia_GiraffesEA: Going back to Zambezia, how was the reaction of the public in South Africa? Do you think that the young South African kids need to hear more South African stories or are the traditional Disney movies a good globalized fit for kids from all over the world?

SF: The South African feedback on Zambezia has been extremely positive. I think that, for any country, being able to recognize in the movies some aspects of its cultural identity is a very good feeling. This has never happened before in South Africa, in the field of animation movies. I don’t think we are going to replace Disney and the big studios, though. They have their own place and they are universally appealing. We’ll try to stay universally appealing too, but we are something else. Whether it is the music or the design style or the storytelling, I think that anyone who watches can tell that this is something different. I hope that in Africa there will be a lot of people who will say “this is different and I really got it.”

EA: This is Triggerfish’s first feature movie. How did the idea of creating an animation movie come to you?

SF: It all started at the time when an American company  came to South Africa to look for opportunities and they decided to create a feature film. We basically brainstormed the story together and then they put in some money to create a pilot. We then raised the money to make the whole movie.

EA: What do you think are the strengths or weaknesses of doing this business in South Africa?

SF: First of all we have low cost spaces and competitive salaries. Secondly we have a lot of enthusiasm because we are still quite new to this business, we are in a stage where we are very hungry for doing the best work. Thirdly, I’d say, we are putting our own stamp on it, we have our own way of seeing the world and our own way of doing things that makes the film just a little bit different, although we do stick to the universal storytelling principles. All the technical aspects are in line with what the rest of the world is doing, but the artistic aspects are fresh.

EA: Do you think that the African cultural references in the movie could be interesting for the rest of the world, that people from Europe, America or Australia can actually appreciate and learn from them?

SF: In the film there’s an African ethical value called Ubuntu. It is something that Nelson Mandela mentioned often and it’s about the nature of shared humanity, if you like, that everybody needs to work together to be prosperous, to overcome problems. This is the core message of the story. Our character starts his life living in isolation and needs to learn what it means to be part of a community.

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