An SA Pixar?

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & technology - BELINDA AN­DER­SON

JUST AS SOUTH AFRICA is mak­ing some in­roads in be­com­ing an at­trac­tive in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tion for busi­ness process out­sourc­ing, such as call cen­tres, an­other buzzing in­dus­try – an­i­ma­tion – stands to be­come a source of in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment and job cre­ation. That’s if SA gets it right.

Right now the in­dus­try’s still in its in­fancy and ap­pears to be highly frag­mented, lo­calised and un­able to raise sig­nif­i­cant cash. How­ever, var­i­ous ini­tia­tives are un­der way by stu­dios, train­ing in­sti­tu­tions – such as the Depart- ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ Na­tional Elec­tronic Me­dia In­sti­tute (Nemisa) and fun­ders like the In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (IDC) – to de­velop SA’s long-form an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try.

Long-form is an­i­ma­tion for television se­ries and film; short-form an­i­ma­tion is for TV com­mer­cials, cor­po­rate videos and the In­ter­net. The short-form cur­rently con­sti­tutes the big­gest part of the in­dus­try.

Tracey Wil­liams, fa­cil­i­ties man­ager at 25year-old Blair­gowrie-based an­i­ma­tion stu­dio Video Lab, says most an­i­ma­tion sto­ries come from Canada, the United States and Europe and their de­vel­op­ment takes place in coun­tries such as In­dia. There, many stu­dios are sweat­shops, util­is­ing cheap labour to churn out an­i­mated pro­duc­tions.

Wil­liams says SA is well placed to win an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­tion busi­ness from Europe, given that it’s on the same time­line and speaks English. For ex­am­ple, many an­i­ma­tors say they’d pre­fer to spend a few years in a coun­try such as SA than in Korea.

How­ever, Wil­liams says it is a “chicken and egg sce­nario” – given that the in­ter­na­tional stu­dios first want to see the work that stu­dios in SA have pro­duced be­fore they’ll give them busi­ness. And it is ex­pen­sive to set up a stu­dio.

Wil­liams says it costs be­tween R35 000 and R80 000/minute to pro­duce an an­i­mated se­ries, and a ful­l­length se­ries could cost any­where be­tween R24m and R45m. The SABC only paid be­tween R7 000 and R10 000/ minute for a top-notch filmed pro­duc­tion. The only way that broad­cast­ers could af­ford to pro­duce an­i­ma­tion in SA was to col­lab­o­rate with other broad­cast­ers, she says.

The IDC, which in­vests in films pro­duced in SA and also has an ap­petite for an­i­ma­tion, has al­ready in­vested in a se­ries by Red Pep­per Pic­tures and as­sisted an em­pow­er­ment group to buy a stake in the Re­fin­ery Group, which owns Video Lab.

IDC me­dia and mo­tion pic­tures busi­ness unit head Moses Silinda says there are two in­dus­try streams. First, fa­cil­i­ta­tion – which in­volves in­ter­na­tional stu­dios us­ing South African tal­ent to pro­duce or man­u­fac­ture their pro­duc­tions, as is hap­pen­ing in In­dia, China and South Korea.

How­ever, fa­cil­i­tat­ing the pro­duc­tion of other peo­ple’s ideas means miss­ing out on the creative stage and thus not reap­ing the re­wards as­so­ci­ated with own­ing their in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. While it is more risky for pro­duc­ers in SA to de­velop their own ideas, source the fund­ing, pro­duce and mar­ket their pro­duc­tions, there is greater re­ward, says Silinda. As with this coun­try’s fea­ture film in­dus­try, South African films would have to be mar­keted in­ter­na­tion­ally in or­der to be com­mer­cially vi­able.

Silinda says the IDC would like to see SA pro­duc­tion mak­ing up the big­gest pro­por­tion of this coun­try’s an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try. It needed to do some of both and would prob­a­bly lean to­wards fa­cil­i­ta­tion in the early stages in or­der to de­velop the in­dus­try.

Silinda says the IDC would be in­ter­ested in not only fund­ing spe­cific pro­duc­tions but also po­ten­tially in­vest­ing in a spe­cific stu­dio that has fully funded pro­duc­tions in the pipe­line, which can be used to prove the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity of the stu­dio.

Stacey Eber­schlag, a Cana­dian an­i­ma­tor who’s worked on projects in Canada, In­dia, China and the Philip­pines and who re­cently worked at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios’ Curious Ge­orge project in In­dia, says it seems stu­dios in SA were all try­ing to work on their own small projects. Eber­schlag says he hasn’t seen any South African pro­duced an­i­ma­tion mak­ing its mark out­side this coun­try. For the in­dus­try to grow, stu­dios needed to also com­pete with In­dia and China for ser­vice work.

Eber­schlag says SA’s an­i­ma­tion skills are on par with those in In­dia, where it’s a US$9bn in­dus­try. How­ever, Nemisa and other train­ing ini­tia­tives and projects could start bridg­ing that skills gap, giv­ing bud­ding an­i­ma­tors the op­por­tu­nity to work on real projects. He says it was im­por­tant for train­ing in­sti­tu­tions to form part­ner­ships with pro­duc­ers.

Magic Cel­lar is an an­i­mated TV se­ries com­mis­sioned by the SABC and co-pro­duced by the pub­lic broad­caster, Mfundi Vundla’s

Morula Pro­duc­tions and Choco­late Moose Me­dia of Canada, which bills it­self as Africa’s first an­i­mated 3D se­ries. The se­ries uses an­i­ma­tion to tell tra­di­tional African sto­ries and lessons as an ed­u­ca­tional tool and has won nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional awards. Iron­i­cally, the se­ries was largely pro­duced in In­dia.

Last week, Eber­schlag be­gan teach­ing a course on an­i­ma­tion for Nemisa, which is based on the cur­ricu­lum of a three-year qual­i­fi­ca­tion from Al­go­nquin Col­lege of Canada. Many of the univer­sity’s stu­dents had gone on to lu­cra­tive ca­reers at stu­dios like Dis­ney, DreamWorks and Pixar, Nemisa says.

Nemisa COO Vuyo Makaya says the De­part­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (DoC) had com­mis­sioned a study of the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try in 2004 and it be­came ap­par­ent from the re­sults that SA didn’t have a tra­di­tion of long-form an­i­ma­tion. Makaya says Nemisa wanted to help change that and was keen on po­si­tion­ing it­self as an an­i­ma­tion hub for the con­ti­nent.

The DoC study, con­ducted by Ana­maz­ing Work­shop, led it to em­bark on an in­ter­na­tional re­search study of coun­tries that had over­come sim­i­lar prob­lems. It then formed a pro­gramme called the An­i­ma­tion Pro­duc­tion Train­ing Ini- tia­tive (APTI) to try to re­solve those.

Wil­liams says while build­ing tal­ent is im­por­tant, the in­dus­try cru­cially needs to be able to raise funds off­shore.

Makaya says Nemisa can be po­si­tioned in a role to pull the in­dus­try to­gether to form a solid base. That, he says, is im­por­tant if SA wants to at­tract in­vest­ment. At this early stage it would be pre­ma­ture to approach fun­ders.

While SA ap­pears to be a long way from hav­ing a lo­cal ver­sion of Dis­ney or Pixar, it seems re­al­is­tic to be­lieve that a few years down the line stu­dios here will have set up stu­dios to pro­duce char­ac­ters for Euro­pean pro­duc­tions. And, hope­fully over time, one or two SA pro­duc­tions will be the Tsotsi’s and Yes­ter­day’s of SA’s an­i­ma­tion world.

Keen on po­si­tion­ing them­selves as an an­i­ma­tion hub for the con­ti­nent. Vuyo Makaya (right) and Peter de Klerk (left)

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