CTIAF: The real natural world can serve as an inspiration for animation

12 March 2019

Drawing inspiration from the real natural world and aspects of life we that we connect with in our surroundings can make for good animation stories.

This was a recurring theme animation experts who took centre stage at the recently concluded Cape Town International Animation Festival (CTIAF).

The eighth edition of the City of Cape Town-sponsored CTIAF was held over three days at the River Club in Observatory.

It is an internationally recognised platform that promotes African animation locally and globally, drives transformation while also looking to up-skill young upcoming animators.

Delegates at the sold out festival also enjoyed workshops, masterclasses, tried their hand at digital animation, virtual reality and cosplay.

This year’s festival featured a number of panel discussions with local and international industry experts who advised delegates on a range of issues.

On Friday, Cabblow Studios co-founder Kabelo Maaka and Lesego Vorster of The Hidden Hand Studios led a panel focused on educating young South African animation artists.

Maaka is an illustrator, storyboard artist and animation lecturer.

She believes that established South African animators with a foot in the industry should get more involved in the training of emerging artists.

“As a teacher, when I tell my students I’m working on something (for a (big international name brand )and that I’m working on it from home with my own little equipment it makes it real and accessible for them.

“When they see these real people working on these projects for the international market, it makes what they are studying that much more relevant and attainable. That’s what I mean by the industry getting involved in training.”

‘Your world is your inspiration’

Vorster is the founder of The Hidden Hand Studios who currently has 20 young animators working under him.

“What I always ask them is to draw everything around them. We are looking for South African aesthetic and it cannot be animals. It can’t be just black people; it can’t be Soweto or Kwa-Zulu Natal.

“If you draw your immediate surroundings, other people (from outside South Africa) will be curious about this place. When a Spanish artist, for example looks at it, they will say ‘wait, I don’t understand this. Where is this place?’. We need to get inspiration from here and then use it,” Vorster told the audience.

This is a concept shared by Aaron Blaise, animation veteran and co-director of the Disney classic Brother Bear who also worked on other features like Aladdin and Pocahontas.

Blaise dropped in at the festival via video call.

While sharing his process of creating fantastical creature paintings using the natural world as inspiration, Blaise explained how the vision for Brother Bear expanded as they visited several places to research the wilderness.

“When we were telling the story, when Kenai is human the screen starts at 1:85 aspect ratio but then once he turns into a bear he sees the world in a different way with different eyes. We didn’t get that idea until we went to these people where we discovered the world is big and beautiful,” Blaise told the crowd.

He told the audience research and experiencing surroundings is one of the most crucial steps in storytelling.

“It really excites me for you guys, where you are. Around the world, Africa is seen as this wonderful last frontier and there’s so much beautiful nature all over the continent.

“If any of you are working on a project that is set in a specific place, do the research, get out there and feel it. Experience the place and smell it. It doesn’t matter what the place is…try to find those things. You have to get out there. It will affect your work and it will make you better.”

‘Africa authenticity has a lot to offer the world’

Peter Ramsey, co-director of Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse who was part of panel talking diversity and transformation in the animation industry was captivated by the story of post-apartheid South Africa.

“What has gone on in this country over the past 20-25 years is so inspiring looking from American eyes, a country that is confronting its history and deciding to go in a completely different direction out of the sense of morality, fairness and justice.

“If you can get that into your work then you really have something to offer the world. People are dying for something real and honest that actually connects people together,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey believes authenticity in their work would serve local animators well and in the process raise the status of the African animation business.

“It’s going to make the films more representative of the people that live here and as that is reflected in the films that you make, the identity becomes more interesting and more dynamic out in the rest of the world.”

Comic Con is coming to Cape Town

Other exciting news to come out of the animation festival is the announcement that the Animation Festival will be partnering with Fan Con to bring Comic Con to Cape Town in May 2020.

Festival Director Dianne Makings said “the partnership with Comic Con  is immensely exciting as we take the next step of growth into the future” and added the presence of Comic Con in Cape Town will have a huge impact on pop-culture enthusiasts in the city.