Against a tide of children’s entertainment that is becoming increasingly violent and aggressive, South Africa’s first black-owned animation company, Anamazing, is producing content that seeks to capture South Africa’s own cultural heritage and to expose children to a wealth of local folktales and heroes.Creative producer Isabelle Rorke and executive producer Dumisani Gumbi founded the company in 2000. “We had three great animation ideas – one being a black, female, dreadlocked superhero fighting for conservation – and enough cash to keep us going for a few months,” Rorke recalls.
After qualifying as a journalist, she edited a children’s conservation magazine and then moved into broadcast journalism, producing SABC2’s Morning Live. “It was then that I realised my two great loves were communicating with children and broadcasting,” she says. “My goal was to find a way to combine the two.”Gumbi too came from a publishing background, having been the managing editor of a literary magazine in the US. On his return to South Africa he worked in film and television, producing an animated children’s series on Shaka Zulu.When the two met up, they saw that there was huge scope for growing the animation industry in the country and creating jobs at the same time.
“As we started developing our business plan, it became apparent that it would take some time to educate government, funders and the public about what animation meant and what possibilities it presented,” says Rorke. With no access to funding, the two put their publishing experience to good use and set up a design division that functioned as a cash cow to get the animation side of the business up and running. They continued to work and kept the business going in the background for six months, until they landed their first big contract.
The design division expanded rapidly, building big cash reserves and enabling them to buy a liquidated animation business in 2002.“The company’s growth has been completely organic,” says Rorke. “We had no debt when we started it and no heavy expenses. I remember that we had R20 000 to keep us going until we brought in the first client.”Today, Anamazing is an R8-million business that is working with the likes of the SABC and Ster-Kinekor. Rorke and Gumbi are now on an investment drive and are approaching organisations like the IDC, Thebe Investment Corporation, and Umsobomvu Youth Fund.
Rorke has devoted much time to marketing and PR over the years but, she says, one of the company’s best moves was the establishment of its skills development programme which has been systematically addressing the dearth of local animation expertise. “We find talented artists from disadvantaged communities, bring them into our internship programme and train them. This has been mutually beneficial, enabling us to create capacity as well as develop skills – at first, we only had the ability to do commercials, but we now have sufficient resources to do longer-form animation. The programme has been so successful that we are supplying talent to the entire industry.” One of the advantages of animation – as opposed to live action – is that it opens up additional revenue streams.
“Locally, film distribution channels have yet to be properly developed, a factor that hinders local productions,” she says. “The great thing about animated films, however, is the licensing and merchandising opportunity. This includes things like music CDs and plush toys, which bring in additional income.” Rorke is passionate about the ability of animation to record South African stories and provide enriching education for children. “Kids are becoming increasingly detached from their various cultures; because it is both entertaining and educational, animation can help to incorporate our own local values and norms back into their lives. It detaches viewers from reality but, at the same time, enables discussion about issues that are relevant in an entertaining way.”
Anamazing plans to expand into Africa and to harness a variety of fresh ideas and styles into its formula. “Our aim now is the Africanisation of the imagery we use in our animation,” notes Rorke. “Different cultures have diverse animation styles. As Africans we need to find our own.”
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