NFVF strengthens its ties with France to support SA’s animation industry

South Africa’s budding animation talent made their way to the French lakeside town of Annecy to participate in the 43rd edition of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Mifa Market from 10 to 15 June 2019.

The students were part of the NFVF Student Mentorship Programme, held in partnership with Animation South Africa, the Department of Trade and Industry, KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission and the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

Joy Mawela, head of Industry Development and Promotions at the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), said: “The student mentorship programme is one of our training and education strategic plans, and the Annecy initiative was created to give an opportunity to animation students to advance their skills, build competitiveness and exposure and showcase their talent to the international animation industry.”

Heeding the call

The journey to Annecy began when the NFVF announced a nationwide competition, calling for final-year animation students to submit character designs inspired by lead characters from South African films.

“The call was released in April, and the submissions received were overwhelming,” says Mawela. “The quality of entries we received was a clear reflection that the South African animation industry is set to soar to greater heights.”

A large number of entries were submitted by students from The Animation School, including Claudia E’Silva. “I received numerous emails notifying me of the competition and my lecturer announced it to the entire class. My inspiration to enter was the Annecy Festival itself. Since I learnt about it in first year, it has been my goal to attend. Having been given this opportunity, there was no conceivable way I could give it up.”

E’Silva’s design is titled XI-1980, and is a futuristic reimagining of the character Xi from the South African cult favourite, The Gods Must Be Crazy. “I worked on my project in and around my third-year film duties for around a week… Finding out I had made it was honestly the happiest moment of my third-year experience,” enthused E’Silva.

The film Spud was a huge inspiration for a number of applicants, including Abraham Mohotsi and Antoinette Malan, who are both completing their Digital Animation diploma at The Animation School.

Mohotsi’s design, titled Student Mentorship Programme, is inspired by the male character Troye from Spud, while Malan designed a sporty, female character named Kimberly.

“I was constantly thinking about her and what her personality was like and where her interests lie…” says Malan. “I really wanted to do my best and make my family and friends as well as myself proud.”

Journey to Annecy

The shortlisted entries underwent an intense judging process by industry experts Lesego Vorster and Tumelo Selamolela, as well as 2018 Annecy winners Terence Maluleke and Smangaliso Sibaya.

Malan, Mohotsi, E’Silva and Jared Dean Mahonri were the four students selected to showcase their artwork at Annecy alongside South African animation professionals.

The NFVF arranged a jam-packed, five-day programme for the four winners which included attending pitching sessions, masterclasses and film screenings, as well as networking sessions with students from the Gobelins Animation College and industry experts.

Lesego Vorster, who is an alumnus from Gobelins, acted as a mentor to the students throughout their Annecy journey.

Earlier this year, Vorster worked with Gobelins to provide an internship programme for 20 animation students from the Tshimologong Animation Studio. The programme was dedicated to developing authentic African aesthetics through appropriate referencing and understanding of design and storytelling fundamentals.

Speaking about the programme, Vorster said: “The partnership with Gobelins offers interns strong support from one of the best schools in the world, not only in raising the standard and quality of the work to come out of the Tshimologong Animation Studio, but also to broaden the horizons of all interns.”

NFVF partners with Gobelins

At Annecy, the NFVF signed an official partnership agreement with Gobelins and the French Embassy of South Africa.

The agreement is aimed at growing South Africa’s animation industry by presenting opportunities for future collaborations – including skills exchange – between African animation productions and institutions and their French counterparts.

Furthermore, the NFVF promised to contribute more than EUR16 000 (R268 000) towards scholarships for South Africans to study at Gobelins. The scholarship programme is additionally funded by The Animation School and Campus France.

Karien Benz from Cape Town has been selected as the first student to be awarded the scholarship to study for a Master of Arts in Character Animation and Animated Filmmaking.

“South African animators have been creating soundwaves across international borders over the last decade, and it’s essential that – as the funding body mandated to ensure the development and growth of the film industry in South Africa – we have partnered to create a scholarship with Gobelins,” comments Mawela.