Thursday, November 20, 2008

Animation in Africa: Going Beyond the 'Low-Cost' Option

South Africa and Egypt lead the way, but quality work can be found in a number of African countries, as Karen Raugust reports.

The success of animated films such as The Lion King and Madagascar suggests that properties with African themes can have significant potential with global audiences. To date, such properties have come out of Hollywood rather than Africa, but there are signs that animators on the continent may be poised to make an impact on the world market. In fact, a handful of properties produced in Africa, with African themes, are set to debut globally, including in the U.S.

Tinga Tinga Tales, for example, is a television series animated at Homeboyz Ent. in Nairobi, Kenya, produced by U.K. studio Tiger Aspect in partnership with Cbeebies, the BBC's children's channel, and Playhouse Disney. Based on Tinga Tinga art from Tanzania, the series is hand sketched and colored before being scanned to give it a traditional look. Entertainment Rights will distribute the 52 episodes starting in 2009, as well as handling licensing and merchandising.

Meanwhile, HBO acquired The Magic Cellar, a joint Canadian and South Africa production, in 2007 for HBO Family. Partners in the CG series, which consists of 20 animated folktales, include Chocolate Moose Media from Ottawa, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and South Africa's Morula Pictures.

And the first CG feature film to come out of Africa, The Lion of Judah, was produced by Sunrise Prods. and animated by Character Matters (both South African studios) and commissioned, financed and owned by Animated Family Films in the U.S. The movie utilizes Hollywood voice talent and is expected to be released in April 2009.

The status of the animation business varies in each of the 53 countries in Africa. South Africa and Egypt have established industries, albeit small compared to other global animation centers, while some nations have virtually no industry. "It is difficult to look at the continent of Africa as a whole undifferentiated mass," explains Paula Callus, a specialist in the study and research of African animation and faculty member in animation at Bournemouth University. "Each separate country has a very different landscape of animation, varying from independent self-funded filmmakers, grant-funded initiatives through UNESCO, UNICEF or The French Ministry of Cultural Affairs, to small and large local production studios."

South Africa
South Africa has the most diverse animation output of any nation on the continent, both in terms of style and medium. Much of the work to date has been completed on a service basis, with a significant focus on commercials. However, more studios are starting to be active in the entertainment arena, including developing proprietary properties and investigating co-productions down the road.

"In the short-term, the industry needs to go through some usual challenges facing a growing industry, but in the long term I think the South African animation industry will be a serious player, not only in commercials and TV but more and more so in CGI feature films," says Phil Cunningham, executive producer at Sunrise Prods. In addition to The Lion of Judah, Sunrise also produced a stop-motion film called The Legend of Sky Kingdom, among other projects.

However, service work continues to account for the bulk of work. "As [South Africa is] Africa's economic powerhouse, with strong international relationships and an overall good perception and reputation, South African companies are therefore well placed to service international clients," says Roger Smythe, co-founder of Masters & Savant Worldwide, one of the largest studios in South Africa. He cites factors such as the country's reputation for creativity, time zone advantages, favorable exchange rates, and a strong work ethic as benefits of working with South African studios.

Masters & Savant specializes in commercial and branding work and is currently pitching four commercial projects for the Middle East, creating an identity for a Gospel channel, completing the branding and holiday commercials for Musica, a local retailer, creating an animated corporate video for the MTN cellular network, and producing two public service announcements.

Another leading studio, Triggerfish, focuses almost entirely on international clients. "Unfortunately, in South Africa, animation is often seen as the 'low-cost option,' so the domestic budgets do not allow for fluid 2D animation or high-quality 3D," says Stuart Forrest, producer. "We therefore do 90% of our work for overseas clients, particularly in the U.S. where we can take advantage of exchange rates and our relatively low cost of production."

Triggerfish launched with a focus on stop-motion commercial work, expanded into children's TV animation, and, more recently, has concentrated on CG productions, including direct-to-DVDs for U.S. and other international clients. It made its name on the global market as the lead animation provider for Takalani Sesame, the African version of Sesame Street, on which it collaborated with 10 studios across the country. It has three feature films in development, including Zambezia, which starts production this February, andKhumba, which is scheduled to go into production in June.

Some studios in South Africa produce mainly for the local market. Anamazing Workshop, for example, produces animation with African themes, mostly for South Africa. A recent project was Backyard Shorts, a collection of 13 short films produced at its in-house Animation Production Training Institute, which aired on SABC and in theaters around the country earlier this year.

While the South African animation community is large compared to other countries in Africa, it is still small from a global perspective. There are about 20 established animation and vfx studios in the country, according to estimates, mostly small (two to three people) or medium in size. A few larger studios, with staffs of 30 to 35, dominate the commercial, vfx and long-form character animation sectors, but smaller studios can be profitable by specializing in commercials or motion graphics.

While the industry is small, South African studios have developed a reputation for quality. Compared to studios in Asia, "we tend to give more attention and better quality with a competitive budget," says Ivan Greyling of Character Matters, a CG studio that has been in business for 15 years.

South Africa is the rare country in the region where there is government support available for animation. The Department of Trade and Industry offers a rebate of 15% of productions and 30% of co-productions if the local spend is more than $100,000, while the Industrial Development Corp. provides funds for films made in South Africa. Regional film commissions such as the Cape Film Commission in Cape Town also have been supportive of animation.

Animation SA is a nonprofit group representing the interests of the local industry. It has a presence at film festivals, holds monthly networking meetings that attract 150 people on average, and operates a website for networking and to promote South African animation companies. Animation SA has 1,800 members and a database of about 2,000, mostly comprised of animators with some experience.

"South Africa is breaking into the world animation market, and we're seeing more and more interest from abroad," says Forrest. "With a wealth of untapped creative artists and very high production values, it's just a matter of time before the industry explodes."

Egypt also hosts a significant animation production business, with more than 50 animation studios, according to Mohamed Ghazala, an animator, animation historian and faculty member at Minia University in Egypt, one of the relatively few institutions in Africa that offer animation programs. His films include Carnival (2001), Crazy Works (2002) and HM HM (2005). Ghazala also is director of ASIFA Egypt, which was established in Cairo in October 2008 as the first ASIFA chapter in Africa.

The number of studios in the country has expanded throughout the 1990s and 2000s. About 10 of these account for much of the production, responsible for over 100 hours annually of television episodes, commercials and shorts. Examples of studios include Al Sahar, which has an animated feature, The Knight and Princess, in development; Tarek Rashed Studio, which got its start in commercials in the early 2000s and has since expanded into co-productions with Arab countries for local series; Zamzam, which produces Islamic series in clay animation; and A+ Cartoon, which uses Flash to produce series for Egyptian TV.

The number of animators in Egypt also is growing, with academies such as Cinema Institute, Helwan University and Minia offering animation classes and more than 200 new students graduating every year with at least two years' of training. Ghazala estimates that about half of these pursue animation as a career.

Egyptian studios services customers mainly in Egypt and nearby Middle Eastern and North African markets, including Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar, Libya, Yemen and Kuwait, Ghazala says. The majority of work consists of 2D and clay animation, with some specialists offering 3D and Flash.

Other Countries
Outside of South Africa and Egypt, animation production is limited mostly to a few small studios and independent animators in countries such as Mauritius and Kenya, working primarily in 2D animation, along with some Flash and Maya work. Much of their output consists of a small number of short films and commercials, with very little long-form entertainment content. "We do a lot of work for Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, because there are very limited animation resources available in these countries," says Forrest.

Studios tend to come and go. Some relocate to countries where the business environment is better; Character Matters, for example, began in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1993, but was forced to move to South Africa, which had more business advantages, a decade later. Others simply go out of business. Pictoon, a studio in Dakar, Senegal, one of the poorest countries in the world, produced a children's series called Kabango le Griot, which was a hit on the Canal France International satellite service in 2003 and generated a lot of publicity. But the studio subsequently ran into financial difficulties and had to cut its staff.

There are positive signs in some regions. Homeboyz Ent., a company in Kenya that has several businesses in radio and music production, launched an animation studio to complete Tinga Tinga Tales. It employs local designers, writers, musicians and animators for the production and plans to continue creating African animation for global distribution after work on this production ends. A couple of other small studios are working on animation seriously in this country as well, according to CEO Myke Rabar and Angelina Koinange of Homeboyz.

Even countries without an animation industry per se have some independent artists at work, reports Callus, citing Jean Michel Kibushi in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Moustapha Alassane in Niger. In Ethiopia, a country with virtually no animation industry, a UNICEF-funded studio called Whizkids produced Tsehai Loves Learning, an educational puppet and animation series in the Ethiopian language of Amharic that garnered international awards.

One initiative that helped further the animation industry in Kenya and throughout Africa in recent years was UNESCO's Africa Animated!, based in Nairobi. Its intent was to train local animators and encourage the production of animation with African themes. The initiative offered three training workshops in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, which were attended by animators from 10 countries and yielded 20 short films, some of which went on to win awards in global festivals.

Partners included the United Nations Development Programme, South African Broadcasting Corporation, the Mauritian government, Canal France International, the French Embassy in Nairobi, Bournemouth University, Parsons School of Design, Kenya College of Communications, regional broadcasters, educational and professional institutions in Africa and others. The plan was ultimately to set up a permanent training facility, but the initiative has gone dormant since its founder, Alonso Aznar, relocated out of Africa.

Future Promise
Challenges facing animators in Africa vary depending on the country. In many nations, barriers include a lack of training facilities and institutions that offer animation courses, along with a subsequent lack of production-ready talent; a dearth of investment in local series and commercials; and an economic situation that makes it difficult and expensive to buy equipment and software. Meanwhile, local animation houses face competition from international studios, since networks and other distribution channels rely mostly on foreign fare, particularly for children, and animators in most countries have very little or no government support. In addition, many talented animators end up leaving the region for greener pastures in Europe or the U.S.

Animators in Africa also have to deal with a lack of recognition from the international community. "[There is] a perception internationally about South Africa and Africa as a whole, that it is a third world country and continent, not able to produce anything of interest," Greyling says.

"We've got the talent, we can do the work -- we just need the rest of the world to switch onto that fact," agrees Forrest.

Animators in Africa also are striving to develop a definitive style, which is difficult since many have been trained by European or American animators. "The biggest challenge -- and the one I undertook with Africa Animated! -- is to have a production made by Africans, for Africans and with images, scripts and music from that continent," says Aznar. He worries that the disappearance of Africa Animated! will prevent the industry from developing further in sub-Saharan Africa. "This is particularly sad since there is a treasure trove of talents ready to produce high-quality animation," he says.

Observers agree that there is no lack of creative artists capable of producing quality work. "The most positive sign is that there is a group of creative hands that come from Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, Algeria and Zimbabwe, in addition to Egyptian and South African artists," Ghazala says. "In fact, I'm optimistic!"

"Many young people are taking an interest in animation and realizing that it could be a viable career path for them," adds Greyling.

Koinange and Rabar point out that big international animation companies are coming in to train people in countries like Kenya, and that both the quality and quantity of work are on the rise.

"Not withstanding economic, social or political strife, the type of work that is being produced is qualitatively comparable to any animation being made in the West," says Callus. "The talent is not lacking; it is the support to enable this talent to grow and blossom that needs to be worked on."

Karen Raugust is a Minneapolis-based freelance business writer specializing in animation, publishing, licensing and art. She is the author of The Licensing Business Handbook (EPM Communications).


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Saturday, November 8, 2008

No shortage of animated product at AFM

By By Leslie Simmons

Publication: The Hollywood Reporter

Date: Saturday, November 8 2008 

AFM is more animated than ever. 

With nearly 90 toon titles offered at the market, from low-budget straight-to-DVD or TV to high-end $10 million-plus features, buyers have seen a constant rise in animated product, thanks in part to 2005's "Hoodwinked! The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood."

"The cost of production has come way down and, with a budget of $10 million, you can make a really great looking movie," said Edward Noeltner, president of Cinema Management Group, which brought "Hoodwinked" to the market four years ago.

At the time, "Hoodwinked" was among the few high-quality animated features at AFM, selling in 16 territories its first time out, Noeltner said. It was picked up by the Weinstein Co. and went on to scoop up $110 million at the boxoffice worldwide, with a virtually even split between domestic and foreign boxoffice sales.

Its main competition that year was "Valiant," repped by Odyssey Entertainment, which was picked up by Buena Vista Pictures and went on to gross $62 million at the worldwide boxoffice.

Since then, Noeltner has noticed a steady rise in the number of CG-animated features at AFM. CMG's offerings this year include the African adventure "Zambezia" and the action feature "Louis La Chance."

Noeltner has already negotiated distribution for both films in several foreign territories, including the Middle East, Russia, Portugal and Turkey.

"In the five years that we've handled animated features, the quality has gone through the roof," he said. "That allows us to have scripts with more characters and detail and more spectacular imagery."

The ones that do well, Noeltner said, are usually made for between $10 million and $20 million, can be marketed to audiences ranging from ages 6 to 60, and can easily be dubbed to whatever foreign market it is distributed.

The technology to create quality animation for less money has increased, allowing features to be produced anywhere in the world. For CMG's titles, the animators are based where the film is being produced. "Zambezia," for example, is being produced entirely in South Africa, while "La Chance" is in France.

Interest in animated features was evident Wednesday night, when Summit Entertainment screened to a packed room at the Casa Del Mar Hotel a short sample of its feature "Astro Boy."

"The only difference with independent animation is vis-a-vis the distribution and P&A push," Summit's Patrick Wachsberger said. "Some independent animated films have done quite well in Europe."

Also generating buzz at AFM is "Light of Olympia," being offered by ITN Distribution.

It's an about-face from last year when the film's producer, Liyan Yan, came to AFM shopping the project around.

"No one wanted to talk to him," ITN's Annalisa San Juan said. "We didn't even have any animations at the time."

But ITN owner Stuart Alson was so impressed by Yan's artwork, they made a deal a few months before Cannes.

ITN sold Turkey and the Middle East at Cannes and at AFM they're in negotiations for several territories, including a bidding war among several Russian companies.

"The amount of traffic of people coming in ??? even if they're not normally picking up animation ??? they're asking because the quality looks so good," San Juan said of the animated feature, made on a $16 million budget.

Liza Foreman contributed to this report.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New York - No Borders 2008

A team from Triggerfish attended the IFP film week in NY representing Khumba at the No Borders co-production market. 

We arrived September 11 and were there during the Wall Street crash. Between meetings we managed a bit of sight-seeing . 

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Khumba: From the Karoo to New York

For the first time in its 30 years running, an animated script has been accepted into the Independent Film Week. Khumba is one of three South African projects that will participate in the No Borders International Co-Production Market in New York from 14th to 19th September. The event offers opportunities to pitch to sales agents, financiers and distributors in a series of one-on-one meetings.
No Borders is the only international co-production market in the US, connecting US and international narrative projects at the script stage with financiers and buyers. Khumba, a Triggerfish production, tells the story of a half-striped zebra who leaves his herd on a daring quest when he is blamed for the drought affecting the Great Karoo. The concept which won the “25 words or less competition” in the Zero to Hero category in 2006 has been developed into a screenplay over the last 2 years by Anthony Silverston and Raffaella Delle Donne in close association with the NFVF and the UK Council. International script editor Camilla Bubna-Kastelitz has provided invaluable feedback and advice along the way. Among the other projects at the market are Howl executive produced by Gus van Sant and The Nightingale directed by Mark Bamford of Cape of Good Hope fame. The other South African projects are Lara Foot Newton’s And there in the Dust and Helena Spring’s Karoo Boy.
Formerly known as the IFP Market, Independent Film Week™ is qualitatively and quantitatively the best and biggest venue for financiers, sales agents, and distributors to discover new works-in-progress from experienced, producers and directors, as well as new voices on the independent film scene. The six-day event consists of: the Independent Filmmaker Conference; free public screenings of films by IFP alumni and emerging short filmmakers; and the Project Forum, a pitch meeting showcase for over 150 works-in-progress. It is presented by IFP, America’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers. Pin It

Monday, September 8, 2008

CMG seals three-picture deals with Poland, Turkey

taken from: Pin It

CMG takes on 3D CGI animated feature Zambezia

Cinema Management Group (CMG) president Edward Noeltner has picked up international rights ahead of Toronto to the 3D CGI animated feature Zambezia.

South African-based animation house Triggerfish Animation's family tale takes place on the edge of a spectacular waterfall in the Zambezi River Valley where the eponymous bird comes under attack from vicious forces.

'This an exciting and visually exhilarating story with wonderful moral values which, much like Disney's Lion King, will appeal to audiences of all ages in every corner of the globe,' Noeltner said.

'We are very excited to be offering Zambezia for the very first time in Toronto where we have footage from the film to screen along with a full plate of new projects to offer.'

CMG will present in Toronto's Mavericks Conversations programme a work-in-progress screening and panel discussion of the civil rights feature The People Speak featuring Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Howard Zinn and producer Chris Moore along with TIFF's head documentaries programmer Thom Powers.

Noeltner's slate includes the National Geographic Entertainment presentation of Chris Davies' prison tale The Choir, which CMG signed up this summer, as well as the upcoming historical drama Heaven And Earth starring Natascha McElhone and James Purefoy that Marleen Gorris is set to begin shooting in January 2009. Noeltner pre-sold Swiss rights to Rialto Films this summer following discussions in Cannes.

CMG will also be talking up Holy Mountain, the fifth instalment to its Mysterious China documentary series, as well as six new cult titles from its 56-title Legend Films Collection with newly restored and colorised features starring Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price and Roger Corman's classic Creature From The Haunted Sea, among others.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

IFP No Borders selects 37 projects for co-production market

A highlight of New York's Independent Film Week, the IFP has announced 37 projects for the 14th No Borders International Co-Production Market, one of three sections of the org's Project Forum held Sept 14-19.

No Borders' alumni include Courtney Hunt's Sundance-winning "Frozen River," Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden's "Half Nelson,' Joshua Marston's "Maria Full of Grace," and Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know." 
Notables this year are:

HOWL – A biopic of revolutionary beat poet Allen Ginsberg starring James FrancoMary-Louise Parker, and David Duchovny; written and directed by Academy Award winners Epstein and Friedman; executive produced by Gus Van Sant

KHUMBA – No Borders' first fully animated project, KHUMBA, is set in South Africa and tells the story of a half-striped zebra who is first ousted and then saves his herd.

- A grief-stricken Japanese ice-carver mourning the death of his only child makes an unexpected connection with a struggling cabaret singer played by Maria Bello. 

MEN – Alan Cumming and Lukas Haas star in a contemporary American adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's classic La Ronde directed by Broadway helmer Chris Ashley (XANADU) 

LOU – John Hurt stars as a man with Alzheimer's disease who builds an unexpected relationship with his granddaughter. 

THE NIGHTINGALE - A highly-charged contemporary political thriller set in present day Iran directed by Mark Bamford (CAPE OF GOOD HOPE).

IFP has unveiled the 37 projects selected for the No Borders International Co-Production Market that will take place during the 30th Annual Independent Film Week, set to run in New York from September 14-19.

Now in its 14th year, No Borders is designed to connect US and international narrative projects at script stage with financiers and buyers.

Projects for the upcoming session include Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein's Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl starring James Franco, Mary-Louise Parker and David Duchovny; No Border's first fully animated project Khumba; Alan Cumming and Lukas Haas in Men, an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde; and the Alzheimer's drama Lou starring John Hurt.

'No Borders has become one of the great success stories of IFP's first 30 years,' IFP executive director Michelle Byrd said. 'Since 2004, when the programme became restricted to narrative projects, we've had 151 projects take part in a record-setting 1,688 financing meetings. The efficiency and impact of the programme has grown dramatically since inception.'

Projects that have benefited from No Borders include the upcoming Weinstein/Miramax release of Stephen Frears' Cheri, Courtney Hunt's current hot ticket Frozen River, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's Half Nelson, Joshua Marston's Maria Full Of Grace and Miranda July's Me And You And Everyone We Know.

13 August, 2008 | By Jeremy Kay

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Breaking into the African animation market

The use of animation in advertising is still rare in many African countries outside of South Africa. Two major African brands recently turned to Cape Town-based animation studio, Triggerfish, to produce their animated commercials.

Cape Town animation studios, Triggerfish, have just completed two spots for Tura, a major soap brand in Nigeria. Tura is the market leader in skin and hair care products throughout Africa. For the launch of their new brand of soap, a brave decision was made to create an MTV-style music video featuring a family of dancing soaps. One of the major challenges facing the Triggerfish animation team was to recreate the signature Yahoozee dance movements that Nigerian audiences would recognise and with which they would identify.

The first spot introduces the four distinct characters of the Tura Supremes as the soap family is known. Using their long-lasting freshness, they overcome other soap brands (portrayed here as deadly zombies). The second spot which will released in February, presents the Tura Supremes as the kings of their convenience store riding around in their bling-covered car, bopping their heads to the funky Nigerian beat.

Besides the animation challenges of bringing a family of dancing soaps to life (remaining true to the Nigerian Yahoozee style) there were a number of technical challenges too. These included the time consuming render of complex scenes featuring the 4 characters dancing on a reflective stage covered in bubbles, surrounded by exploding fireworks, cheering fans and a number of other elements.

This work for Nigeria comes after Triggerfish produced four spots for Safaricom, Kenya's leading cellular network last year. Safaricom is the fastest growing branch of the Vodaphone group and the initial commercials were so well received that Triggerfish was approached again - this time for a print campaign where a SMS envelope character had to be designed in various 3D poses.


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Friday, June 27, 2008

Triggerfish is hiring

Triggerfish is looking for 3 junior to mid-level animators for a 6-week contract starting end of July. The applicant should have experience in character animation – preferably in Messiah, although free cross-training from other animation packages will be provided from mid-June. Triggerfish is based in Bergvliet, Cape Town.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

US Studio chooses CT for Animated TV series

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Friday, May 23, 2008

We've just finished production on a 14-minute show for the US.
More to follow...
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

US studio chooses Cape Town for animated TV series


Triggerfish Animation has completed a 14-minute episode of an exciting new children's series entitled Me and Jessie D for Studio 125, a production company based in Alabama.The episode, entitled Fish Fry, is the second in the series which follows the antics of a group of animal friends living in the swamps of the deep South. Although the show is rich in idiosyncratic Southern culture, the US producers were delighted with the South African team's interpretation of the expressions and body language of the eleven different characters.

The decision to produce in South Africa is part of a growing trend as international producers recognise the coming-of-age of the fledgling SA animation industry. With the sliding Rand and high production values for low cost, South African animation companies are quickly becoming more attractive to overseas producers.

In 2007 Triggerfish produced 30-minutes of animation for the direct-to-DVD film The Rise and Fall of Tony the Frog, an episode in a successful children's animation franchise, Life at the Pond. The DVD has been widely seen in the US and has set a benchmark standard for South African low cost animation, which directly led to the commissioning of Me and Jessie D.

“Because we are the new kids on the block, we have a brand new way of managing our production pipeline which is unencumbered by traditional top-heavy production techniques,” says Stuart Forrest, producer at Triggerfish. “We’ve been able to concentrate most of the funding on the actual animation, and have stripped away layers of management and committee decision-making. We’ve also developed our own in-house management software which is specifically tailored to our workflow - so approvals, revisions and renders are smoothly handled with maximum efficiency.”

Triggerfish currently has a feature film in script development, and one set to go into production later this year. “Our long term strategy is to create our own content and export South African animated features to the world,” says Forrest. “We want to show the world a different side to South Africa filmmaking – one that is specifically child friendly and therefore has universal appeal.”

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