Khumba Earns Its Stripes

The scoop on South African indie Trig­ger­fish’s sec­ond fea­ture. by Michael Mal­lory

Animation Magazine - - Content -

The scoop on South African indie Trig­ger­fish’s sec­ond fea­ture. by Michael Mal­lory

You don’t have to scratch too deeply to find the metaphors in Khumba, the sec­ond dig­i­tally an­i­mated fea­ture film to come from South Africa’s Trig­ger­fish An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios. Even through­out the film’s amaz­ing color pal­ette, it’s all there in black-and-white.

“We grew up un­der apartheid and that was sort of sub­con­sciously built into our sto­ries,” says the film’s di­rec­tor An­thony Sil­ver­ston, who also co-wrote the script with Raf­faella Delle Donne ( The Lion King’s Jonathan Roberts was brought in for con­sul­ta­tion). “Ob­vi­ously, it’s a story about dif­fer­ence, whether it’s skin color or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, or any­thing, and about over­com­ing that feel­ing of be­ing in­fe­rior be­cause you’re dif­fer­ent. The black-and-white stripes is such a great metaphor for that be­cause it’s a vis­ual metaphor.”

Khumba tells the story of a half-striped ze­bra who has en­dured a life­time of ridicule for be­ing dif­fer­ent, which leads to a more dan­ger­ous ac­cu­sa­tion from his herd (who all live in a seg­re­gated en­clo­sure) that he is the bad omen caus­ing a dev­as­tat­ing drought. With en­cour­age­ment from a mys­te­ri­ous pray­ing man­tis, Khumba (voiced by Jake T. Austin) em­barks on a quest to find a leg­endary “magic” wa­ter hole in or­der to re­stripe him­self. Along the way he meets a host of off-kil­ter friends and helpers (seven­teen dif­fer­ent species of an­i­mals en­demic to South Africa are de­picted), though to suc­ceed he has to face off against a mur­der­ous leop­ard named Phango (Liam Nee­son).

The Ele­phant in the Room

De­spite its mes­sages of diver­sity and brav­ery, Khumba should not be re­garded as In­vic­tus with un­gu­lates. It may be a hero’s jour­ney, but Khumba echoes Monty Python and the Holy Grail more than The Lion King, par­tic­u­larly through its gonzo sup­port­ing cast. There is even a good skew­er­ing of the clichés of racism through se­quence in­volv­ing a herd of gems­boks who “all look alike” so com­pletely even they can’t tell them­selves apart. But there is a sec­ond story to the film, one that is nowhere to be seen on-screen: its cost. Khumba was made for less (some whis­per con­sid­er­ably less) than $20 mil­lion, roughly the P&A cost of a big- stu­dio toon fea­ture.

How can a high-qual­ity dig­i­tal film be turned out for roughly Pixar’s Hawai­ian shirt­laun­der­ing bud­get for a year? “In­stead of pay­ing your­self $500,000 as a pro­ducer’s fee, you pay your­self $100,000, and you’re work­ing over four years,” says Ed­ward Noel­ter, Khumba’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and pres­i­dent of Cin­ema Man­age­ment Group, which is sell­ing the film world­wide in thirty lan­guages, and who was also a pro­duc­tion part­ner in Trig­ger­fish’s first fea­ture, Zambezia. “That’s a real sac­ri­fice th­ese guys are mak­ing to build a nascent in­dus­try in South Africa.”

The name voice cast, which in­cludes Steve Buscemi, Lau­rence Fish­burne, Ben Vereen, Richard E. Grant, Cather­ine Tate and An­naSophia Robb, made a sim­i­lar sac­ri­fice, many of them work­ing for less than their go­ing rate. “We ba­si­cally get on our hands and knees and beg them to come on board,” Noel­ter says of star tal­ent, “and when they see the qual­ity of the an­i­ma­tion and the mes­sage of the movie, a lot of them say okay, I can sup­port that at a rea­son­able rate. This was a strat­egy we de­vel­oped on Hood­winked!”

For pro­ducer and Trig­ger­fish CEO Stuart For­rest it comes down to spend­ing the time and money be­ing cre­ative, rather than sec­ond-guess­ing your­self. “I think there’s an ef­fi­ciency from the ig­no­rance of not know­ing how com­pli­cated things could get if we al­lowed them to,” he says. “Big­ger stu­dios have had decades to learn how dif­fi­cult an­i­mated fea­ture film pipe­lines can be­come, so they put all th­ese safe­guards in place that make it less dif­fi­cult.” The youth of the stu­dio’s staff also helped, he notes. “Our av­er­age age is 23, and for peo­ple who have just come out of col­lege, their salaries are not as high as those who have been in the in­dus­try for 20 or 30 years.”

Lead­ing the Stam­pede

Nei­ther to be dis­counted is the jump-offthe-div­ing-board phi­los­o­phy of Trig­ger­fish, which started in 1996 as a stop-mo­tion com­mer­cial and short sub­ject house. “We kind of threw peo­ple off the deep end,” says Sil­ver­ston, not­ing that Quentin Vo­gel, a lead an­i­ma­tor on Zambezia, was el­e­vated to an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor for Khumba, while Daniel Clark made the leap from con­cept artist to pro­duc­tion de­signer. But, he adds, “You don’t want to come across as do­ing work cheaper, we re­ally see our­selves as do­ing qual­ity work.”

Al­ready re­leased in South Africa (whose gov­ern­men­tal film foun­da­tion has heav­ily sup­ported it) and in other global ter­ri­to­ries through other dis­trib­u­tors, Khumba will have an Os­car-qual­i­fy­ing run in L.A. in De­cem­ber and see its of­fi­cial U.S. re­lease in early 2014 through Mil­len­nium En­ter­tain­ment. Which leads to yet another in­escapable mes­sage: the method of pro­duc­ing, dis­tribut­ing and mar­ket­ing an­i­mated fea­tures is rapidly chang­ing.

“I think the stu­dios will strug­gle in the next 10 years to keep the strongholds they have in terms of how they can ac­cess au­di­ences,” says For­rest. “The dis­tri­bu­tion in­dus­try is go­ing through a shift that has lev­eled the play­ing field for in­de­pen­dent producers.”

Mil­len­nium En­ter­tain­ment will re­lease Khumba na­tion­wide early next year.

Land of Op­por­tu­nity: Khumba, the sec­ond ma­jor Cg-an­i­mated fea­ture by South African stu­dio Trig­ger­fish, ze­roes on the im­por­tance of em­brac­ing dif­fer­ences in our world.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.