Monday, December 12, 2005

Long-form animation takes off

With a new animated commercial on TV seemingly every week, the increase in South African animation is clearly evident. Together with this current boom in the commercials sector, word of long-format work abounds, and it appears the local animation industry is flourishing.

There are a number of established companies based throughout South Africa, all offering excellent services across the board, covering every field of animation, be it 2-D or 3-D, traditional or computer. Those mentioned here only give a taste of the variety available. One need simply look at advertising campaigns currently on TV to see more of the vastly differing styles of animation on offer.

Gauteng-based company Depth animation believe they have pushed boundaries in terms of technology in a number of recent character animation ads, including those for ZamBuk and Playboy deodorant. Their work is, however, not limited to the local market. Amongst others, Depth have done a 60-second TetraPak commercial for Switzerland and have three more for the same client in development, along with a number of other commercials lined up.

Based in Cape Town, Atomic Visual Effects have proven how effective super-real animation can be. Objects are integrated into live action so seamlessly that the audience is barely aware of the hours of work and rendering that have, for example, gone into updating the Guinness bottle in an existing ad, or making a dinosaur walk casually through a local suburb for Telkom broadband.

Another Cape Town company, but one keeping the traditional form of 2-D animation alive is Capechino, whose recent work includes a spot for the perfume Hoity Toity by Lentheric. Capechino are currently working on an exciting campaign for Panarotti�s, consisting of three 60-second spots for cinema, each with its own storyline.

Although on the increase, commercials have always been around, and it is the appearance of more series and features on the scene that hint to the fact that our potential is finally being realised. Depth have an American animated series in development, a series in co-production with The Refinery, and one other long-format in development. Atomic VFX worked on 80 shots for What the Bleep? and are already in pre-production for their own special effects feature, Spoon. Videolab in Gauteng created a 12 minute, 2-D animated short, Ummemo, as part of Animated Tales of the World. This film won the Special Jury award at the HIAFF Animation Festival in Japan. Character Matters, who are originally from Zimbabwe, but are now based in Cape Town, produced a 24 minute 3-D CGI children's Christmas programme, Once Upon A Stable, which won Best Animation at the NRB conference in Texas. Since then, they have also completed two 5-minute episodes for a children's series. In addition, they are in initial stages of pre-production for a long format animated project scheduled to start in January 2006. The primary focus of Character Matters is to produce long format 3-D animation and they say they would love to see a 3-D feature coming out of South Africa in the near future.

But it is not only computer animation that is breaking out of the constraints of short-form advertising. The niche market of stop-motion is also something that can be produced locally at a world-class quality for international clients. XYZOO completed The Velveteen Rabbit, a 22 minute claymation film that won two major international awards, and Triggerfish Animation has just completed 5 and a half minutes of stop-motion inserts commissioned for the acclaimed series, Sesame Street. Long-format animation has even entered the independent film scene with Beyond Freedom � a 13 minute animated documentary directed by Jacquie Trowell � which has just had it�s international premiere in Washington.

As most people are aware, the local feature-film industry has also grown immensely in the last couple years, and Videolab has worked on vfx for 28 features and Digital Intermediates for 9. The most recent was for local production, Tsotsi. The film has already won a number of awards and is our official Foreign Film submission for the 78th Academy Awards. On the international production Duma, Videolab also completed 75 visual effects for Warner Brothers. Up next is the new Leon Schuster movie Mama Jack, and the next Darryl Roodt/Videovision film, The Prey.

As Riccardo Capecchi of Capechino says, �animation is a collective effort, combining like-minded people with the same vision. Everything takes time but what is important is that we all push in the same direction.� With the local database of animation companies and freelancers (as listed at doubling in size over the last six months, it seems that the training and experience brought about by the increasing international work is helping to build the infrastructure required to accommodate even more work. So keep it coming!

by Anthony Silverston

Article courtesy of The Callsheet Vol 2 Issue 10.

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