Africa is home to a growing number of its own animators. This nascent industry, while dwarfed by a global animation industry worth in excess of $220bn, is proving to be popular across the continent and is beginning to make global inroads.
Founded in South Africa in 1996, Triggerfish Animation Studios is one of Africa’s pioneering animation outfits. It has made headway in bringing African animation to global audiences.
The company has produced two feature films: Adventures in Zambezia (2012), which starred Hollywood stars including Jeremy Suarez, Abigail Breslin and Samuel L. Jackson, and Khumba (2013), starring Jake T. Austin, AnnaSophia Robb, Steve Buscemi and Liam Neeson.
The two films have been distributed in more than 150 countries and dubbed into more than 27 languages. These successes generated gross revenues for Triggerfish of more than $64m, placing the films among the top five highest grossing South African films of all time.
Khumba did particularly well in China, selling more than a million tickets, followed by France, Russia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Brazil. This international rollout demonstrates the global appeal of South African animated features.
Triggerfish also animated Stick Man for the UK’s Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning animation company Magic Light Pictures. The film attracted 6.4 million viewers on Christmas Day 2015.
According to Jean-Michel Koenig, chief financial officer (CFO) at Triggerfish, the animation industry in South Africa has grown since the company launched 20 years ago.
“There is now a strong industry body, Animation South Africa, and the fifth edition of Cape Town International Animation Festival is currently on the go here,” Mr Konig says.
“South African animations have sold all over the world and won some of the biggest awards around, so we’ve proven repeatedly that we can deliver world-class content.”
Currently, Mr Koenig estimates Africa’s animation industry accounts for only around 1 percent of global value, in the absence of established data.
However he believes Africa’s animation space can boom and achieve popularity worldwide because the medium has a unique ability to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers.
“Animation travels particularly well, thanks in part to the ability to dub it into local languages,” he says. “We have no doubts it can resonate with African audiences, and with audiences all over the world.”
Triggerfish’s faith in the African animation industry is such that last year the company launched the Story Lab initiative to support the continent’s upcoming animators. The initiative will invest up to $3.5m into African film producers and scriptwriters.
The initiative is backed by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry. The Walt Disney Company is also a key partner. Eight animators – chosen from 1,378 applicants from 30 countries in Africa – will be invited to a mentorship programme at Disney’s headquarters in California. These creators’ films or series will then be developed through the Story Lab programme.
Disney is “thrilled” to be part of initiative, and feels the Story Lab provides a unique opportunity to uncover the “next generation of storytellers”, according to Christine Service, senior vice president and country manager for The Walt Disney Company Africa.
“[Disney] recognises the importance of the continent’s unique culture and we support the development of local creative industries by collaborating with relevant stakeholders such as Triggerfish,” she says.
“By supporting Triggerfish to find African stories, and for those to be developed by them into either feature films or TV stories for the global market, this can only benefit the wider African creative industries.”
Focus on education
In east Africa, the region’s animators are using the medium for more than just entertainment.
Tanzania’s Ubongo Kids uses animation to promote mathematics and science learning for children, with significant success. The show broadcasts on free to air TV in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ghana.
It averages 2.1 million households watching weekly on free to air. Ubongo Kids also broadcasts on a number of pay TV and video-on-demand platforms.
The company produces everything in-house at their offices in Dar es Salaam, from the stories and scripts, to voice and music, to animation. All Ubongo’s animators are Tanzanian, and learned their craft in Tanzania.
According to Ubongo’s co-founder and CEO Nisha Ligon, while the animation industry in Africa is still small, the continent has a large talent pool of animators and strong demand.
“There is massive demand, and local animation resonates very strongly with African audiences,” she says.
“Ubongo Kids gets more weekly viewers in Tanzania than most cartoons do from the whole US – and we are in a country with only 20 percent electricity penetration.”
According to Ms Ligon, impact assessments of Ubongo’s work show animation is ideally placed to teach both children and adults basic literacy and numeracy skills, and improve their motivation to learn.
Models for success for these kinds of shows already exist in other geographies. Sesame Street, a popular American educational children’s programme that has been running on public television since 1969, pioneered a similar concept to a US audience.
Ms Ligon believes the concept can be expanded in scope to other subjects such as civic engagement and health awareness programmes.
Despite the success of Ubongo Kids, Ms Ligon concedes there are challenges hindering the growth Africa’s animation industry. Funding is the main obstacle.
“The budgets we are working with here are tiny compared to Asia or Latin America, and minuscule compared North America or Europe,” she points out. “There is very little commissioning or co-production of content by TV stations.”
She says Ubonga has had TV stations offer to pay a paltry $50 per half hour episode for one year exclusive broadcast rights. “That does not even cover the cost of the hard drive it’s delivered on, much less paying animators and sound engineers,” she argues.
And while there are some examples of successful animation outfits out of South Africa and east Africa, animators in other regions say the situation is not as rosy.
Hervé Meli, lead designer at Cameroonian animation games development studio Kiro’o Games, says that central Africa cannot yet claim to have an industry ecosystem given how few people are currently engaging with animation.
“There are a number of schools teaching design and animation rising in Africa. There are also some Africans who learn abroad. However, we are not yet at the stage where one can speak about an industry, especially here in the central African region,” Mr Meli says.
Kiro’o Games hopes to be at the forefront of the central African region’s animation journey, with its first game, Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan, to be released in April. The game has been more than two years in the making. It features over 20 gameplay hours worth of hand-drawn African-inspired animation, all created in-house.
In addition to the challenge of funding, Mr Meli says training, while on the rise, is still insufficient. Resources for the necessary materials and equipment also pose an obstacle, particularly to small organisations. Marketing successfully created content is also hard.
Part of the problem, Mr Meli says, is that the popularity of animation in the region is still limited. Live action cinema is still the main focus for audiences and creators alike.
Still, he believes the industry will grow. “When you look at the potential in terms of creativity, this sector will evolve more in the future,” he says.
Source: This Is Africa