Triggerfish Studios is Africa's Pixar, Dreamworks and Disney

Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Triggerfish Animation Studios has recently received a lot of attention, especially from the international market, with Forbes magazine calling the company Africa's answer to American giants like Dreamworks, Disney and Pixar.

It's great news for South Africa, and its creative sector in particular, given the fact that investment into the arts and, even more so, animation and entertainment, has historically been very small. There are only a few movies that have made a profit and animation is an even smaller niche. It's an expensive and risky business and you're competing with companies with huge resources; investors are usually going to look elsewhere and, with little to no local opportunity, animators are forced to find work overseas.

Triggerfish's success is changing the landscape. The company was first established way back in 1996 as a stop-frame animation studio, creating commercials. But now it has developed into a fully-fledged computer-generated animation studio with two feature films under its belt (the second to be released in October, 2013), a number of awards, and a third film in the works.

After building a reputation in animation in the advertising world, Triggerfish's big break came in 2001 when it was asked to produce the animation for a localised version of Sesame Street, the well-known US educational kids programme. For six years, Triggerfish directed and produced the material, giving the company a lot of experience in the field, and also creating a solid reputation. The contract was the largest ever given to an African animation company and Triggerfish, as a result, became the largest CG animation company in Africa.

This led the company in 2006 to shift towards animated film. Its first project was called Zambezia, a movie which tells the story of an adventurous but lonely young falcon bird named Kai, who is born in an isolated bird-city outpost in Victoria Falls. Through a series of events he learns about the exciting and bustling bird city of Zambezia and sets out on an adventure to discover it. Once there, he learns about his origins, how to fight for others and become part of a community.

“The film is a wonderful ambassador, in a way, of South Africa and I think as it travels the world it's going to spread the word about an industry that is young and vibrant and extremely talented," said Wayne Thornley, the film's director and co-writer, in an interview with CNN.

Zambezia went into production in 2008 and was finally released four years later with Sony distributing. It was well received, being screened at the popular Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France and winning the Best South African Feature Film category award at the 2012 Durban International Film Festival. It was also nominated for two Annie awards, which are the most prestigious awards in the animation industry, alongside animation giants like Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar and Illumination.

“It was a huge honour for Triggerfish to be nominated alongside the greatest animation studios in the world and an achievement, not just for us, but for South Africa's industry as a whole,” says Stuart Forrest, head of Triggerfish and executive producer of Zambezia.

Khumba is Triggerfish's next film and is set to be released in October 2013. It tells the story of a half-striped zebra who is blamed for a mysterious drought by his superstitious herd. He hears the tale of a magical waterhole which is said to be where the zebras got their stripes and, with an array of misfits, sets out on his adventure through the Great Karoo. The budget is bigger and the movie was written by Raffaella Delle Donne and Anthony Silverston from Triggerfish, in consultation with Jonathan Roberts who co-wrote The Lion King. Liam Neeson plays the film's antagonist, a villainous leopard named Phango who terrorises the animals and controls all the waterholes.

“He brought a real menacing gravitas to this key character with his powerful, distinctive voice. The fact that he took part in our movie is a testament to the quality of animation produced in South Africa and I am immensely proud of what our team has achieved,” says Silverston.

Laurence Fishburne also takes up a role amid several other rising Hollywood stars.

With its success and its use of technology, Triggerfish has been labelled as one of the most innovative companies in Africa. In a recent interview with ITNewsAfrica, Forrest was asked about how the company stays ahead of technology and instils an environment of creative thinking.

“Technology is empowering independent producers to take advantage of the massive opportunities digital disruption is bringing to the media and entertainment space,” he said. “We use technology to enable our creativity, so everything we do with technology is done in order for our creative vision to be realised. We do not have the resources of some of our more established competitors so this compels us to find new and better ways of doing things.”

The success, the awards and the on-going attention is only a good thing for South Africa's creative community who will be encouraged that, at last, technology and creativity is coming together in their own country in an economically stable way. Perhaps this will encourage further investment as investors realise that South Africa is a brilliant melting pot for interesting and talented creative people.


Ryan Peter is a South Africa-based journalist who has edited video games site Do Gaming. He has also written books on fantasy, philosophy and theology.



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Ryan Peter

Ryan Peter is a South Africa-based journalist who has edited video games site Do Gaming. He has also written books on fantasy, philosophy and theology.

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