A Retrospective of the Cape Town International Animation Festival

If you couldn’t make the Cape Town International Animation Festival because, well, it was in Cape Town, fear not – Carrie Wilson attended the CTIAF and took notes on all the most important bits so you could also be privy to the wealth of knowledge and insight into the dope projects going down right here in SA.

 

Cape Town International Animation Festival is now in its 7th year as a festival and has grown from a modest 30 people in attendance to hosting around 1500 students, professionals and interested members of the public. Which is 1.) dope and 2.) indicative of the growth in the film and video industry in SA over a relatively short period of time. The fest is structured over 3 days of intensive info & skill-sharing panels, case studies, demos and keynotes. I’d love to discuss at length about every session I attended but for the sake of keeping this thing sort of digestible in one sitting, I’m just going to fire off with the major points in the program that stood out for me.

 

DAY 1

So the fest opened up with kind of a soft and fluffy keynote delivered by the Dr. Phil of animation, Lorraine Posen, discussing how to switch your mental gears from being simply a person who likes to draw, to becoming an artistic athlete. The delivery was a little ‘Chariots Of Fire’ and probably more relatable for students but Lorraine made some good points for getting out of any creative slump which I’ll just regurge to y’all instead of being cynical because all the joy and wonder in my life has gone:

 

  • Learn Deeply – you design with your brain so nourish yourself with information and become a student of whatever subject you’re tackling in order to have a broad visual memory bank for recall whilst creating.
  • Make a checklist of the things you think are your artistic blind spots – like me, I can’t draw hands or guys for shit. So only draw hands and guys until you’re comfortable with your progress. Don’t ever settle for a comfort zone.
  • Craft your story and put yourself out there, whether it’s being a little more extroverted about your work with your friends, colleagues, clients or using a social media platform, the only way you can get more work is if you are a visible member of the creative community.
  • Consume your visual information right and limit your time searching for reference. Endless Pinterest and Insta scrolling can put yourself at risk of inspiration binging which in turn leads to a comparison hangover and comparison is the thief of joy my dudes. You’ll get stuck in that vicious circle for a while at best, or forever at worst.
  • Establish Focus and Flow creative sessions. Focus sessions involve sticking to a clear brief for the duration of a creative session. Flow sessions involve just spreading some materials out, drinking something possibly alcoholic, putting on some headphones and just letting your brain vom all the weird shit out of your head. You’ll often find the marriage of these 2 methods produce some of your better work. And the longer you keep at it, the more you’ll get into The Zone – or whatever sports analogy works for you where it no longer hurts and you catch your second wind. Cool, whatever.

 

I then switched over to a panel discussing the benefits of Open Source Software and whether it was right for your studio. Lol, I never thought I’d be at a conference and hear actual professionals fight over how great they think Blender is – in my mind Blender is still something hobbyist or high school 3D artists use. There’s kind of this product snobbery that’s always existed in the favour of proprietary CG software from Autodesk, I guess in part thanks to the fact that Autodesk gives a 3 year license-free grace period to students, and their aggressive marketing style. Also if you’ve ever had to fork out the full retail price for a perpetual license to Maya (a casual $5775) it’d better solve the Zodiac Killer cypher AND service all your 3D needs. It’s a noble challenge to try undo what animation education has taught the global talent pool to be industry standard software and go back to using Blender because in earnest the interface sucks and the shortcuts require a few extra appendages. But I guess the takeaway here is if you have no money whatsoever but you are high on hopes and a dream that you can make your projects happen, then use Blender and accept that you will probably have to fork out for add-ons at some point. If you have the money to spend on a Maya license, then well, shit, you should probably just do that.

 

 

The next keynote was delivered by Joe Burrascano, a New York native and Executive Creative Director at Aardman Nathan Love. We all know Aardman for bringing us Wallace & Gromit way back when & Early Man most recently, but they also have multiple industry partners like Nathan Love – a creative advertising and development house that mostly handles killer TVC content. Joe presented their work on Sprite’s most recent holiday commercial for the seasonal Sprite Cranberry offering (unrelated aside: Yooo I had no idea this was a thing and I need a case immediately). Sprite’s marketing team came to the party with a pretty loose idea of what they wanted; grandma’s house for the holidays, itchy sweaters, food burning in the oven, blazing fireplace, crowded af, all the kinds of micro-disasters you can imagine when your family get together, then Lebron James enters and somewhere amidst all this chaos he offers everyone some Sprite Cranberry with his key catchphrase “Wanna Sprite?” They were also dead set on using a distinctive stop-motion, claymation, miniature aesthetic for some reason. Seeing as I was one of those fortunate few who’d escaped the advertising hellscape, I kind of glazed over a bit while Joe presented the brief. But Joe’s enthusiasm for working on a Coca-Cola property that featured Lebron James was kinda palpable and the crowd gasped as he mentioned the kicker – they had around 7 weeks to get this assignment out the door with a lot of lawyers and creative executives shoulder-beasting the whole way through. Once they’d wrapped up a tight sequence of events and coherent story for 30 seconds of airtime, we were taken through a chaotic montage of character designs, miniature references, funny anecdotes, ridiculous previsualistions, enough post work to imagine this project would never see the light of day and a HILARIOUS joke about the magic render button that always gets the lighting and rendering experts howling (not), Joe showed us the final product and it is really quite sublime. Joe exclaimed proudly that after this went to air and he met up with Lebron their only exchange was “why’d you make my head so big man?”. He still has hopes that Lebron and he will become besties.

 

Animatic:

 

 

Final Ad:

 

Sprite “Thirstiest Time of the Year” from Aardman Nathan Love on Vimeo.

 

To wrap up the first day I headed to a keynote titled the zen of VFX delivered by the VFX supervisor of BlackGinger, Marco Raposa de Barbosa. So BlackGinger is lucky enough to have local industry professionals who have worked in SA’s fractured primordial commercial studio landscape in the late 80’s/early 90’s right through to now where both international big screen and small screen productions are taking place on local soil and can enjoy some lovely tax breaks if they employ and empower local crews. They also have a pretty young workforce fresh out of college to ensure a.) innovative and new thinking and b.) a team of drones that don’t mind working insane hours. I was impressed with BlackGinger’s keynote last year on the pre-vis work they’d done for Resident Evil 4, and was eager to hear what Marco had to share with us about his experiences and tips for surviving the industry in this time of opportunity. One of the most liberating truths Marco shared was not to take critique of your work too seriously because most critiques come from individuals so completely out of touch with all that went into your outputs. And even as obvious as that sounds, it’s true! No matter what I’ve been working on, there’s always some shitty client who comes back with a seemingly unjustified critique or request that comes from a place of fundamentally not knowing what it takes to perform your job. It’s difficult not to want to ragequit at times like these but there is a smugness of aptitude you can employ in these moments to keep you calm. Another truth is that the film industry has this tendency to want to downplay the efforts of VFX artists (*cough* like Ang Lee failing to acknowledge the VFX department for Life of Pi *cough*). I mean VFX work is so commonplace that it must be easy right? Although this can be disheartening for the major efforts behind the plate, the fact is that bad VFX stand out like a sore thumb in a film, but good VFX go principally unnoticed and this should be something that should make VFX artists hearts’ swell with pride – for instance, I was very surprised recently to realise just how much VFX and cleanup work had gone into David Fincher’s Netflix series, Mindhunter, I 100% believed it was all in camera. And that gave me a lot of respect for the art departments decisions to make subtle nuanced changes to elevate the story. Marco wrapped up by mentioning a balance of passion and panic to make some of your best work.

 

DAY 2

 

My day started with a video conference with Japanese Production Designer, Tomoya Imai, who had done some truly stunning work on crafting some of the environments in the latest Studio Ponoc (founded by Studio Ghibli alumni) film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Tomoya seemed shy and reserved and typically Japanese in his discomfort at discussing his work. He shrugged and said “I’m not sure how many people will really enjoy these drawings, but I’ll show you” as he opened up a PDF document with gorgeous iteration upon gorgeous iteration of the university building from the film, magnified to even the smallest detail. Tomoya mentioned principally working with CAD and Photoshop for digital painting, but found many challenges passing them along to Studio Ponoc who still animate primarily on paper and with paint (as is still largely commonplace for a dogmatic Japanese audience). They would feedback that certain colour combinations and certain shapes that required curved surfaces would be challenging to reproduce without any technological mediation. Tomoya offered some advice for helping establish an emotional connection between the audience and the background art in your film projects – be whimsical, inform your design decisions from nature or things that inspire joy or intrigue in you, and never sweat about details that the viewer won’t see – optimize what is in view in the shot, particularly if the shot has more frames to work with for the audience to take in nuanced details in the background.

 

Trailer for Mary & The Witch’s Flower:

 

 

 

Later in the day, I stopped by a showcase for a short film titled Pear Cider & Cigarettes. I hadn’t seen the film, knew next to nothing about it other than it was nominated for an Academy Award in 2017 in the animated shorts category, and assumed from the title that this was going to be some wanky french cafe vibes. The creator, Robert Valley, stepped up looking like someone’s lost dad. He asked the MC quietly how much time he had to speak, before quickly flicking through some of his illustrations. “I’ll just say one word about each of these projects I’ve worked on to use up some time quickly” he joked. A few Gorillaz stills flashed by from the Clint Eastwood & Demon Days era, followed by some stills from Tron: Uprising (the Disney animated series), and then from the old Aeon Flux series, casually interrupted by the odd freelance project here and there, like no big deal we were just in the presence of illustration royalty. Robert mentioned that he’d had this crazy idea rattling in his head about developing a graphic novel for a story he’d drafted through his and a friend’s personal experiences – kind of in the vain of Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh. While his wife was in the hospital, due to give birth to their first child and going through the throes of labour, he finally found the chutzpah to type out the script. By the time his son was delivered, Robert had all the material he needed to start. He waxed lyrical about how he had this delusion of grandeur that he’d get this graphic novel done and self-publish it, and all the sales generated from that would mean he could make an animation out of it. When he read the script back to himself to generate storyboards and thumbnails, he tried his best to make them feel like the theatre of the mind, like memories with distorted perspectives, oversaturated colours and rough line work. After putting out the graphic novel, he managed to save some $40,000 and set it aside as his budget to finance his film entirely by himself. He laughed and said that budget barely afforded his family their modest lifestyle so he was forced to freelance on the side just to keep their heads kind of above water. Since it was just his own manpower he relied on, he at this point reveals that he used Photoshop to animate the entire project. Fucking Photoshop, like some Billy Pineapples type shit. However towards the end of the project he shares how important the soundtrack was to him, and how he’d made the rookie mistake of including trademarked likenesses in the animation which would constitute some $70,000 in additional budget required for paying royalties to the artists featured on the soundtrack, and getting clearance from lawyers for the use of certain likenesses. I had to remind myself that this was a well-respected animator, with his name in the credits of projects that sit in our cultural zeitgeist, having to resort to a crowdfunding campaign just to ensure this project could see the light of day with integrity. I sat there wondering if it was a struggle for him, how the fuck could any of us ever hope to do an independent production? A sobering moment. Nevertheless, please watch this amazing feature, and be mad that it lost out on an Academy accolade to a short about a shitty baby bird.

 

Short:

 

 

DAY 3

 

Day 3 meant Moosebox. Oh Moosebox. This is one of those annoying stories. Mike Scott, the series creator, was heading to Annecy (like the world summit of animation hosted in Annecy, France) and had managed to schedule a few informal minutes with the head of animation, production and development for Nickelodeon International, Alexi Wheeler. He sketched a few ideas on some R2 waiters notepad on the plane to France and during his meeting with Alexi, put this ratty notepad in front of him. Alexi stopped him at a page with a moose being carried in a box that’s actually a cat and just thought it was the coolest thing ever and with his seal of approval that there was enough potential there, Moosebox was born as part of the Nickelodeon shorts programme. Mike brought the idea home and assembled a crew of writers and creatives and they got to work on the development with the guidance of Alexi. Greig, one of the scriptwriters, humorously referred to Mike as an ‘ideas Gatling gun’ and it was evident in all the development work they presented. The initial 2 minute short produced for Nickelodeon went out online for audience testing and it slew the game. I haven’t seen a pixel art short this good since Jérémie Périn’s NSFW music video for FLAIRS, Truckers Delight. I mean just watch it. Due to the favourable reception, they’ve gotten the green light for 20 short episodes, which they presented a few animatics for. Moosebox should be available in June/July this year, so get hyped fam and switch off Steven Universe.

 

Animatic:

 

 

Short for audience testing:

 

MooseBox from Nickelodeon International on Vimeo.

 

Next I went through to a panel by Tiaan Franken and Rob Van Der Bragt from Chocolate Tribe who spoke about the work they’d done on a short film, Robot & Scarecrow. This was another one of those stories where money ran out somewhere along the way and the direction team in the UK had to shop the project around and try find the cheapest available route to solve a vfx heavy problem. Low and behold, it ended up here in SA. Chocolate Tribe have a very formidable reputation and if anyone could make the vfx challenges in this short seem like child’s play, it was them. The story is admittedly a bit naf and takes place in a boutique garden festival in the UK where a scarecrow falls in love with a robot. All of the motion capture and live action footage had taken place in the UK with actors Holliday Grainger and Jack O’Connell and was provided to Chocolate Tribe. All the character modelling, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering, compositing within the live action plates and grading was for Chocolate Tribe to do. Most of the challenge seemed to be creating natural looking forms and muscle systems for these characters that would allow their movement to make sense in the same way a human actor’s does, and then rigging the modelled components accordingly. Rob emphasised how emotional the actor’s performance was and that they couldn’t be let down by their CG counterparts. The look-dev on these characters honestly looked like it would completely sacrifice any hope of reasonable render times- lots of organic moss systems and hessian fibre textures starkly contrasted by the smooth glossy materials of the robots body and semi-translucent, refracted wings. But they assured that through integrating Redshift cleverly into their pipeline, they were afforded way more time for crafting their art than waiting on a render.

 

Short:

 

Robot & Scarecrow from Factory Fifteen on Vimeo.

 

VFX Breakdown:

 

 

I rounded off CTIAF by attending the last panel, a discussion on the role of transformation in the industry chaired by Jinko Gotah of Women In Animation (Burbank chapter). This discussion handled some difficult subject matter with alot of grace and championed a spirit of skill-sharing and building community amongst women in the animation industry. The panel was joined by Isabelle Rorke (of Enlightened Poppy Network and business partner to producer, Dumisani Gumbi), Tasania Parsardh (Channel Director for Nickelodeon Africa), and Pearl Mthembu (Technical Director at Rooftop Productions & Katanimate) who could provide specific insight into the experiences as WOC in the animation industry. Most of these panel members rallied behind the need to attempt to demystify the film and animation business in order for young women to see it as a viable career choice. Jinko kind of alluded to the fact that women depended on a strong reel whereas men tend to receive jobs based on their relationships, so women had to possess both undeniable talent and a strong network to support them, which WIA is dedicated to providing through their mentorship programmes and connecting women to the right opportunities. Jinko’s sentiments kind of echoed that of Frances McDormand’s Oscar acceptance speech where she mentioned inclusion riders. Jinko acknowledged that the inequalities present in our industry are a run-off effect from some of the top studios and production houses, and they should be answerable to that as well as addressing issues in salary gaps and support for motherhood.

 

And that was all she wrote I guess. I’d like to take this last paragraph where I’d ordinarily put some self indulgent conclusion about what a good time I had, to highlight 2 of the freelance opportunities that presented themselves throughout the festival, because you know… we all have to hustle.

 

  1. Inspired Minority Pictures are looking for Blender artists to join their talent pool – they have a cool bounty system for choosing the work you know you can do and being paid per job, def a lifesaver for those of us who are eating tomato sauce on bread that last week before the direct deposit hits.
  2. MAAN Creative are looking for animators and creative generalists who can assist on their PSA film about autism spectrum disorder which is currently looking really cute and is told through the protagonist Sam the hedgehog, email [email protected] if you’d be keen to know more.

 

 

Comments
8 Responses to “A Retrospective of the Cape Town International Animation Festival”
  1. Susan scott says:

    Excellent article thank you.

  2. Rad roundup thanks!

  3. Dee says:

    wow. on a site that’s supposed to prop up local talent & culture, for the editor to not think twice about publishing the low blow shot this woman leverages at any fellow local artist, is really embarrassing. an actual critique, illustrating an insightful perspective as opposed to an obvious vindictive dig would be cool. perhaps no one read the article & that’s how this slip up occurred? suffice to say, I usually really enjoy reading about growing creative industries that i otherwise am completely ignorant about, irrespective of the personal character of writers. this, however, left an ugly taste in my mouth. women are usually on the receiving end of this sort of unjustified attack, and it’s really sad this chica can’t really tell she’s guilty of the exact same putrid tactic. please keep an eye out, editors of DIY. it’s not about censorship, it’s a general camaraderie that can be fortified by omitting a mere 8 otherwise useless words that add nothing to the article, nor writing style. if it was an attempt at a hard-hitting gonzo type journo piece, it didn’t quite work. it’s more like realising I’ve been stuck in the rotten head of a worm-infested cabbage for the last however many words i patiently read through before getting to that point. Makes me not want to visit Durban

  4. Dee says:

    Hint for the editors: Day 2. Paragraph 2. Please don’t post this hint, it’s for you, editors — because I realise my comment above was vague about what I was actually referring to (I’m guessing the otherwise general put-down tone implicit in this article is just an attempt at a sarcastic humour).

  5. Radmin says:

    You must be new here.

  6. I didn’t read the whole article, but from Dee’s comment I now see the 8 words.
    Hm.
    Doesn’t really bother me, Photoshop is a very versatile program.

  7. Radmin says:

    And you’ve done some very versatile shit with it.
    I thought the reference was a dope shout out likening Robert’s early years to yours.
    Didn’t see any controversy in it. Especially since you’ll be contributing to the site soon…

  8. Dee says:

    O i see. so even through it seems as though the chick’s got beef, it a sorta inverted praise, like an ingrown hair? lesson 1 in awry cultural ninjutsu complete, domo arigato senseis

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