Animation for the Nation: Kunjanimation 2012

Kunjanimation is South Africa’s premier and only animation festival and will be taking place in Cape Town later this week. The official launch kicked off at the Alliance Française in town with awe-inspiring animation and fantastic French wine. The festival encompasses screenings, workshops, business conferences and master animation classes. It is the only festival of its kind in South Africa and, now in its second year, aims to celebrate the art of animation. What stood out above all else at the launch was the abundance of excellent talent that is available in this country. From the whimsy of childhood to much darker themes, there was a sense of joyful escape evident from the crowd’s delighted reactions to the work.

As festival organiser Daniel Snaddon opened the launch he confessed that they are all volunteering and the “project is a labour of love”. This gives one an idea of the passion that drives their work. He also emphasised the “fantastic selection of South African, French and international content which will be shown at the screenings. The screenings include the South African premiers of Jean-François Laguionie’s Le Tableau and Adventures in Zambezia – the latter produced by local animation company Triggerfish. Snaddon says “Adventures in Zambezia recently reached ticket sales of one million internationally and can be considered a true success story for the local industry”. Laguionie himself will attend the festival to introduce Le Tableau and other French works.

The organisers also highlighted the importance of the business aspect of the festival: “There are twelve animation training institutions in South Africa producing over 200 animators a year and the truth is not all of them get jobs. That’s what we are trying to do with Kunjanimation, to have conversations around that,” says Snaddon. This is certainly an industry that needs to be brought to the fore and as Canda Kincess, head of Animation South Africa, explains: “the idea behind the business conferences is to start work towards developing proper platforms for distribution and to showcase films…to improve and grow the industry and make it more sustainable”. The workshops will involve “talks by local industry leaders on how to create 3-D characters with animation in mind, but we have made sure that there is something for everyone and there are more practical workshops for artists and even workshops on how to write stories”. With France being the largest producer of animation after the U.S.A and Japan, and willing to share their knowledge and connections with us, the festival is a bright light upon the horizon that will hopefully foster growth and awareness of this remarkable art form. The festival will include a portfolio evening whereby students and freelancers can have their work reviewed by local and international animation industry veterans.

A real coup for the festival will be the presence of Alexandre Heboyan from DreamWorks Animation Studio. He will be conducting a series of master classes in character animation. Heboyan hails from Gobelins l’Ecole de l’Image, possibly the most famous animation school in the world. The French school will also be facilitating Heboyan’s classes.

The presence of Gobelins, Laguionie and Heboyan is thanks to the presence of Alliance Française as a partner to the festival. Through them the festival is being run in collaboration with Annecy, the largest animation festival in the world, which is held in France every year. “Annecy is, in our opinion, the best animation festival in the world and we are working very closely with the festival organisers to bring some of the work, their friends and their network connections [to South Africa],” says Kincess.

France has a longstanding tradition and legacy in the animation industry and this is one of the sources of the collaboration between Alliance Française and Kunjanimation. As Antoine Michon, the French consul in Cape Town, stated, “We not only invented cinema but also animation. One of the first animated films, Fantasmagorie, was made in France.”

The festival is falling under the larger, six-month long French-South African season of 2012 in which French culture is celebrated in South Africa through a series of events. Next year we will respond in kind with a six-month season of South Africa in France. “The goal of this season is to showcase French culture and also to build bridges between professionals and through the people. We need to build relationships,” says Michon.

When the word animation is mentioned the typical, and very misguided, reaction is a Disney feature film; but there is so much more and this is also what the festival tries to highlight. In addition to films, commercials and music videos there are comic books and the exhibition has these on display too featuring the launch of Velocity 3, the latest issue of the comic book anthology published by Moray Rhoda, one of the exhibition organisers. Velocity is being produced in conjunction with Australian creators and publishers and is distributed in both countries. Rhoda noted that although they started with very short stories in each issue, four to five pages, they have circled towards longer narratives.

Rod Campbell is also on hand to proudly show off his splendid models from Liewe Heksie as well as Symphony in Sync and Man’s Best Friend. He lovingly describes how his models work and from the way his eyes light up as he speaks fervently to a crowd of admirers, it is apparent how much he loves his work. Another stroll down memory lane leads to an encounter with Ric Capecci’s work for the Chomp commercial with the jolly hippo and his endearing son. One of the organisers noted that the common thread between the animation festival and the exhibition was that it was all narrative art: stories and imaginary worlds.

For animators and enthusiasts, or anyone for that matter, unable to attend the four day festival in Cape Town there will be two days of screenings at Alliance Française in Johannesburg. These include a selection of screenings from the Annecy festival, several local short films and two of Laguionie’s films.

What remains to be done now, is to bring the art of animation to an even wider audience. The greatest challenge still lies in bringing the work to people who are not aware of how much is on offer. There is no doubt that this is work which is compelling and will speak to a vast audience, but the task which must now be tackled is making them aware that it is there.

Be sure not to miss the film screenings at the V & A Waterfront Cinema Nouveau from 18 – 21 October.All screenings are free to the public. For the whole programme and to make bookings check out: http://www.kunjanimation.org

Words by Sean Ritchie and Claudia Hauter

Originally published on Fortress of Solitude.

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