By now, you’ve probably seen or heard of The Adventures in Zambezia. The animated film made by Triggerfish Studios, in Cape Town, has become the highest grossing South African film, beating others such as District Nine and the Academy Award winning Tsotsi. The film earned R6.3 million in the first three weeks of its release in South Africa alone and sits at over $28 million dollars worldwide.
South Africa is leaping into the multi-billion dollar animation industry, producing three animated movies in the last 5 years: Jock of the Bushveld, Lion of Judah and The Adventures in Zambezia.
Triggerfish Studios’ CEO and producer, Stuart Forrest, is excited.
“We’re at the beginning of a big disruption in Hollywood. We’re starting to see a new wave of media. It hasn’t finished playing out as yet as the big studios have had so much power and have managed to still hold onto that.”
Trigger Fish has been called Africa’s DreamWorks and Pixar, but Forrest says the company would rather develop their own style than copy America.
“If we were in the States, we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing now… Our challenge is here, our voice is here and our heart is here. We want to lead the way for Africa on the world stage.”
The studio’s success with The Adventures in Zambezia has not come easy.
“The processes to raise funds are very labor intensive and expensive. We are moving to a model where we will release four or five films [a year] as we will be producing multiple projects and planning ahead more efficiently,” says Forrest.
Forrest believes that the secret to making a successful animated movie lies in their obsession to create films with compelling stories and heart-felt messages.
“Creating a film is like lightning in a bottle. You’ll only know if it works when you open it,” says Forrest.
In 2012, The Adventures in Zambezia won the “Best South African Feature Film” award at the 33rd Durban International Film Festival and also closed South Africa’s largest animation film festival, Kunjanimation.
Daniel Snaddon, the director of Kunjanimation, says that the idea behind the film festival was for animators to have their work celebrated while in the hunt for investors.
“The collaboration started off with the French Institute of South Africa, we then partnered with the National Film and Video Foundation, Westgro Financial Services and, our sponsor, the French Season South Africa,” says Snaddon.
The Kunjanimation film festival has evolved from a two day event with one workshop to a five day event with many workshops.
“It’s great to have the French as our partners. They’re the only non-Americans entering the arena to have cracked the genre. They made a movie called Despicable Me [with a $69 million budget] which grossed over $500 million at the box office.”
Snaddon says the reason South Africa is not where is should be in the industry is because many financiers look at the numbers and are not sure how they will add up. Animation is a risky business.
“You’re never really sure what the demand is going to be for any film. It only takes one big hit. Look at New Zealand for example. There was nothing, then there was The Lord of the Rings and now it is one of the go to places for filming.”
“Steve Jobs bought Pixar and lost a lot of money, his personal money, before they made a profit. It took 10 years and as soon as Toy Story hit he made all his money back and then some. It’s a question of having a long-term plan.”
Although there are many colleges offering diplomas in animation as more and more students are entering the industry, jobs are scarce.
“I’ll be honest; most of them will not find jobs. They’ll end up specializing in something else, be it web design or graphic design.”
“The lack of jobs in the industry has driven many talented animators to migrate to Europe or the USA where they comfortably live; going from project to project. People in South Africa who focus on one specific area of animation are quickly head-hunted by large companies overseas,” says Snaddon.
The Adventures in Zambezia was among 21 movies that competed for the Oscar for Animated Feature Film at the 85th Academy Awards earlier this year and it recently won Best Feature for Children at Anima Mundi 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
On October 25, Triggerfish Studios will release their second animated film, Khumba. The film is already making waves on the international circuit with its premier at Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June as well as its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. FL