JOHANNESBURG — Turner is putting its weight behind Africa’s growing toon biz this week, as the company partners with South African industry body Animation SA on a search for the continent’s top toon talent.
The Kids’ Animation Pitching Competition, which takes place during Discop Africa from Nov. 2-4 in Johannesburg, will give African producers and storytellers a chance to pitch their properties to a panel of local and international industry experts, buyers, and commissioning editors. The network will be handing out cash prizes to two African toons currently in development.
Pierre Branco, Turner’s VP and general manager of southern Europe and Africa, calls it “a demonstration of how we are strengthening our presence across the continent, and building our local production strategy to create content that is both relevant and engaging for our African audiences.”
For Nick Wilson, chair of the export missions committee of Animation SA, the partnership is a “validation” of a years-long effort to develop local capacity in animation.
“Our mandate is to grow the animation industry in South Africa, and there is no better way to do that than in dialogue with one of the biggest players in global animation,” he says.
It’s been a banner year for South African animators, who have enjoyed a string of high-profile successes. At Annecy in June, South Africa’s Bugbox Animation and France’s Folimage announced the the first animation co-prod between the two countries, a 2D children’s TV series, “Musi & Cuckoo.”
In September, Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios announced its third collaboration with the U.K.’s Oscar-nominated Magic Light Pictures, an animated adaption of “The Highway Rat,” by author/illustrator duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The companies’ 2015 collaboration, “Stick Man,” earned widespread acclaim, including a prestigious Cristal for a TV Production at the Annecy animation fest, and a recent children’s BAFTA nomination. Their adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” (pictured) will bow later this year.
In October, Sunrise Productions inked a global distrib deal with the U.K.’s Aardman Animations, the producers of Oscar-winner “Wallace and Gromit.” Aardman will rep Sunrise’s new series, “Munki and Trunk,” which world premiered at MIP Junior.
Wendy Spinks, CEO of Zeropoint Studios, which has five IPs currently in development with international partners, and will present the animated series “Hatch” during the Turner competition this week, summed up the position of many bizzers enjoying the South African toon boom: “Exciting times ahead!”
Skilled animators and a favorable exchange rate have paved the way for South Africa to emerge as an exporter of world-class animation at highly competitive prices. The steady supply of service work in recent years has had a dramatic trickle-down effect, according to Nina Pffeifer, executive producer of Tulips and Chimneys
“The competition is certainly fiercer than before, but this is indicative of a growing and stronger industry, which is good news for everybody,” she says. “It’s great to see smaller studios popping up, and the pool of talent is growing nicely.”
For Triggerfish prexy Stuart Forrest, though, the industry’s vast potential still remains to be tapped.
“Capacity is one of the driving forces behind the decisions we make,” he says. “We need to be quite selective with the work we take on, simply because the industry is limited at the moment.”
Since the release of the studio’s first animated feature, “Adventures in Zambezia,” in 2012, Triggerfish has been at the forefront of the local industry. It followed “Zambezia” with “Khumba” in 2013, with the two films ranking among the top five highest-grossing South African pics of all time.
The studio hopes to deliver its third feature, “Seal Team,” in 2019, and the company has six features and four TV series currently in different stages of development.
Triggerfish has also been among the leaders in reaching out to the rest of the continent, where pockets of skilled animators generally lack broader industry support.
Last year Triggerfish launched an ambitious pan-African initiative, the Story Lab, backed by South Africa’s Dept. of Trade and Industry and the Walt Disney Co. The continent-wide talent search and competition yielded four projects for which the company is now negotiating international deals. Forrest says the decision to look beyond South African borders for the competition opened it up to a range of new voices.
“The continent of Africa has 1.1 billion people, of which most of them are very young,” says Forrest. “There’s tremendous talent.”
Interest from the likes of Disney and Turner highlight growing confidence in the ability of local animators to create world-class content. And those animators are starting to deliver. Sunrise’s “Jungle Beat” has been broadcast in over 180 countries on channels including Cartoon Network, Boomerang, and Nickelodeon. Triggerfish’s “Zambezia” and “Khumba” have been distributed in over 150 countries and been dubbed into at least 27 languages.
The success points to what Forrest sees as an important opportunity for Africa to engage with the rest of the world.
“Animation is a wonderful way to tell our stories,” he says.