African Toons Take Off as Regional, Global Partnerships Blossom

Turner, Annecy on board to boost burgeoning biz

African Toons Take Off as Regional,
Courtesy Triggerfish Animation Studios

Africa’s toon boom takes center stage in Johannesburg this week, as the continent’s animation biz gets a boost from organizers of the Discop TV market Oct. 25-27.

A packed agenda will spotlight the bold strides being made by African animators to join the global conversation around kids’ content.

“We’re slowly building momentum, and we’re slowly building a platform for role-players across the continent to plug into,” says Nick Wilson, of the African Animation Network (AAN), an open-network platform for African animators and industry associations to connect and collaborate. “There’s going to be a real pan-African buzz represented at Discop this year.”

Anchoring the action on the floor of the Sandton Convention Center will be the African Animation Village. Sponsored by Turner Africa, the village will be the hub for a busy week that includes a roundtable discussion on developing local content through partnerships with international brands, led by Ariane Suveg, head of programming and acquisitions manager of Turner Kids’ Channels in Africa; a pan-African panel bringing together animators from across the continent; and the launch of the FupiToons Film Festival, which organizers describe as the continent’s “first ‘made in Africa’ animated film festival aimed at kids.”

Another highlight will be the final round of Annecy – MIFA Pitches Animation du Monde, a pan-African pitching competition organized by the Annecy Int’l. Animated Film Festival and Market, Discop, and the AAN. On Discop’s final day, a jury will select two projects to take part in Annecy’s prestigious Animation du Monde in 2018, a sign that the French fest will continue with its ongoing support of African animation. “The fact that they’re shining this light on the whole of the continent is exceptional,” says Wilson.

The participation of industry heavyweights like Turner and Annecy underscores a growing confidence in a sector that in recent years has also forged partnerships with the Walt Disney Co., which launched an ambitious pan-African initiative with South Africa’s Triggerfish Animation Studios in 2015; and Toon Boom, the Montreal-based animation software company, which announced plans last fall to train 3,000 animators in Nigeria.

Earlier this year, Triggerfish CEO Stuart Forrest declared that “African animation is at a tipping point” as his company announced a partnership with the U.K.’s Cake Entertainment to produce the animated series “Mama K’s Super 4.” Last week “Revolting Rhymes,” a 2016 collaboration between Triggerfish and the U.K.’s Oscar-nominated Magic Light Pictures, scored a nomination in the animation category of the International Emmy Kids Awards. Nickelodeon International also greenlit the animated series “MooseBox,” produced by South Africa’s Mind’s Eye Creative.

The growing accolades are burnishing the reputation of South African animators, even as they struggle to build viable business models in a country still reeling from recession. “We have to drive industry and government to support the production funding of [animation projects],” says Wendy Spinks, co-founder of Zeropoint Studios and FupiToons festival director, who has three projects at Discop, including a co-production with Canada’s Copernicus Studios.

Turbulence at pubcaster South African Broadcasting Corp. (SABC ) has had a dramatic knock-on effect across an industry where coin is scarce to begin with. Spinks says local studios have lost potential projects because foreign co-producers “got bored of South Africa not putting their money where their mouth is.”

“We are developing great content, and it’s clear that the world is interested in South African and African animation,” she says. “But when we bring it to the table, are we going to get it produced? Is there going to be production funding?”

Spinks is nevertheless encouraged by signs that the local government is determined to build an animation hub in Johannesburg, the culmination of years of lobbying from industry bodies. And animators from across the continent are coming together as never before, bolstering efforts to both find new audiences and create revenue streams to support their fledgling industries.

Recently the AAN entered into a strategic partnership with SSTREAMM, a third-party supplier offering streaming and VOD services for South African cell phone giant MTN, to launch a mobile channel shortly after Discop.

Along with offering an exciting opportunity to bring the best in African toons to more than 230 million MTN subscribers, it will allow animators to monetize their existing content “with a long-term view of being able to license and commission content,” according to Wilson.

The market is growing. When the AAN put out a call for submissions for the first edition of FupiToons, Wilson admits, “We didn’t know what to expect.” But organizers ultimately received 140 submissions from across the continent, underscoring the dynamism and determination of African animators, who in many countries work without any institutional support.

“It’s been fantastic to see the amount of content coming from around Africa,” says Spinks, stressing the importance for African kids to see “more representational characters” onscreen. “It’s exciting, but I don’t think we’re there yet, and there’s still much to be done.”