Animation and vfx boom in South Africa

SETA aims to create 10,000 new jobs in industry

In South Africa, animation is booming and the post biz is polishing its showreels.

Capacity is the major constraint on South Africa’s animation industry. The Services SETA, the South African training authority, has just announced it will be funding the multimillion-dollar Animation Industry Development Initiative, an ambitious drive to recruit and train animators as part of AnimationSA and the Cape Film Commission’s vision to create 10,000 jobs within the animation industry by 2020.

Outreach workshops have already briefed more than 1,000 prospective animators, with the first 50 students currently studying at the False Bay College in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

When Sunrise Prods. and Character Matters teamed up to start production on “The Lion of Judah,” South Africa’s first CGI-animated feature, they had just two trained animators, no render farm for the first year, and worked inProject Messiah and Lightwave because they couldn’t afford Maya.

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American Tom Roth (“Valiant”) and Canadian Eric Lessard (“Shrek”) were swiftly recruited, while Character Matters embarked on an aggressive internship policy. In the end, it had 33 people on the project, making Character Matters the largest CGI animation studio in the country at the time, but “Lion of Judah” director Deryck Broom says they’d need four times that to keep up with demand.

South Africa also has been quietly building a visual effects showreel. For example, Blackginger delivered an average of 200 shots a week for NBC’s “Knight Rider” and is finishing all the CGI work on “Free Willy 4” for Warner Bros.

Condor, Blackginger’s main local rival, produced more than 400 shots for Rick Jacobson’s sexploitation extravaganza “Bitch Slap,” which was shot entirely using greenscreen and recently completed all the post-production and visual effects on “Master Harold … and the Boys,” Loni Price’s adaptation of the Athol Fugard play, starring Freddie Highmore and Ving Rhames. Condor’s showreel includes work on “Scorpion King 2” and “Lost City Raiders” as well as the local hits “Hansie” and “White Wedding.”

As in animation, the only real constraint on post is capacity. “It will take a large feature film that’s willing to invest in infrastructure to jumpstart a vfx industry” like the ones that exist in New Zealand, Canada and Australia, says local producer Michael Murphey of Kalahari Pictures. “Blackginger is great but will need to expand significantly in order to handle what’s required on a larger feature film.”

The key may lie in reversing the brain drain that saw many of South Africa’s most promising vfx talents head overseas. Emmy winner Conrad Murrey (“The Triangle”) returned to work on “Starship Troopers 3” but was soon lured back overseas. Jeremy Hattingh left London’s Double Negative to head home, where he contributed 35 shots to Neil Marshall’s “Doomsday” and supervised the visual effects on “The Silent Army.” Condor has also added a few members from Double Negative and London’s MPC to its growing team — now at 17 — 2-D and 3-D artists.

One way to boost local effects talent is via the production side, Hattingh says, alongside foreign vfx crews, which will allow for training and eventually boost the confidence of production supervisors while allowing foreign effects talent into the local chain, improving the chances of them returning for longer periods to complete work.

Adding to the depth of the post community are other post-production facilities like the Refinery, Blade and HD Hub; editors like Megan Gill (“Wolverine,” “Rendition,” “Tsotsi”); and composers such as Mark Kilian (“Rendition,” “Before the Rains”).

Doubts remain about sound design and mixing capabilities, but American Foley artist Michael Broomberg (“Angels and Demons,” “Watchmen”) has relocated to Cape Town and could help fill this gap.

But the tables are weighted against keeping post in South Africa, despite the growing quality, capacity and cost-effectiveness.

Chris Roland of ZenHQ Films explains: “On a treaty co-production that shoots entirely in South Africa, it’s not possible to keep the post here due to minimum spend requirements in each country. On nontreaty co-prods or service jobs, we certainly suggest completing all or a portion of post here. However, if they’re not interested in viewing the work remotely, this requires the director to stay in South Africa during post or fly back and forth, which is not an ideal scenario.”

Despite the odds, the local animation and post industryies continue to grow steadily. As Roland says, “In the next five years, South Africa will be able to compete globally with very high standards in all aspects of post-production.”

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