South-Africa-based Triggerfish Animation has come of age with its first two features, Adventures in Zambezia, about a lavish city of birds, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD (Sony Home Ent.), and Khumba, a zebra in search of its identity, which premieres at Cannes this month. Triggerfish CEO Stuart Forrest discusses the emergence of his studio as a regional force.
Talk about the challenge of taking on Zambezia with its African flavor about a young falcon that leaves his home to find the famed bird city.
We had to learn every aspect of the production and before we started we were eight people and then 80 in a matter of 18 months. It was a whirlwind.
Where did you get your financing?
Mostly from South Africa. There’s a development bank called the IDC. Then our national film agency gave us a bit of money and we got some money from the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Film and Video Foundation, and then we got some money from 120dB Film Finances in Los Angeles, and then there was a San Francisco financier from the start.
And what was the budget?
Under $20 million. It’s in line with what you can do to pull it off as an indie.
Where have you recruited from?
The entire crew came from South Africa and Nigeria. Everyone was African on the crew. Not the way we planned it but with the budget it made more sense. And I think we found our own unique way of doing films that would shock anyone overseas about our first experience working on a major feature.
And what was the level of experience?
Pretty much not much. And those with experience came from the commercials industry. So we had veterans when it came to the storyboard supervisor and art director, but for the most part, the average age was 22 or 23. So there was a lot of intensive training on the job, but in retrospect it helped us find something quite unique: a little crude but not unwatchable.
What kind of toolset did you use?
We worked with Autodesk and found Softimage the easiest to use as our building animation tool. And they also have a very effective visual effects package built into ICE. It was a good choice for us as a small studio. The pipeline itself was developed from our own propriety software to manage our assets, which is something we’ve had for nearly 10 years. It continues to be very dynamic in assigning tasks and to do normal project tracking to groups of people that become available.
Talk about the aesthetics of Zambezia in keeping with family fare.
We had some time in R&D to search for a look. We realized we wanted to go quite realistic because the bird life of that region is quite naturally unbelievable anyway. We wanted the viewer to be able to get lost in the story and we didn’t reference outside jokes or the human world at all. A lot of it is inspired by African art of the region, and you’ll find it in the region that we set it but because we wanted it to be a cosmopolitan city we brought in design aesthetics from all over Africa.
What can you tell us about Khumba, which is getting a prestigious premiere at Cannes and a September release?
The biggest thing is storytelling and to get it to work on different levels and also appeal to adults. Khumba is about a zebra with only half its stripes that gets blamed for a drought by the herd and goes on a quest to find the magical waterhole. It’s another adventure set in an unknown part of Southern Africa. Anthony Silverston, one of the Zambezia writers, is the director.
How have you raised the bar for this one?
We had more money to spend and actually have a high-end renderer, so the look is spectacular. We rendered Zambezia on mental ray and we’re using Arnold for Khumba [a global illumination system incorporating ray tracing and physically-based shading].
What are your future plans?
We’ve got five films and the idea is to really establish ourselves as a mini-studio where we’re releasing a film a year.
With a regional focus?
Yeah, we want to be able to play in every territory, but we’ve certainly found with Zambezia and Khumba quite an identity in the emerging markets. We have a cultural similarity that is playing in our favor so we want to push that difference and really establish ourselves in these emerging markets where most of the kids are. Even in Africa, there are 400 million children. We always want to be Africa’s voice on the world stage.