Adventures in Zambezia follows the life of Kai, a high-spirited falcon living in a remote outpost with only his strict father Tendai for company. Discovering a magnificent city of birds further down the river, Kai flies off to find the world before the world leaves him behind.
Mike Buckland is a producer at Triggerfish Animation Studios in Cape Town South Africa. Buckland believes that the South African industry has reached that ‘critical mass’ where it can develop and produce feature film animation, and he, Stuart Forrest (CEO of Triggerfish Animation Studios) and his crew at Triggerfish Studios has produced just that; a full length animated feature film Adventures in Zambezia which in the past couple of months has found some box office gold in the countries it has graced already.
“The film's success signifies for the South African animation industry, especially considering the relative youth of our industry and the comparatively small pool of local talent,” says a happy Mike Buckland. “We're hoping that our work will help to showcase the recent development of South African animation and redefine people's perceptions of African-produced animated content with regards to quality, entertainment, creative and technical achievement. Our budgets are not comparable to those enjoyed by the major studios in the US or UK, but this has encouraged us to be more enterprising in how we produce our work, manage our teams and and how we define our pipelines.” Adventures in Zambezia brought in the skills of about 80 people at the peak of the production Buckland says it is comparatively smaller than other international studios.
“But,” he says, “the smaller scale has brought in a lot of efficiency, just because there’s less overhead managing people, means we can focus people a lot better and we get through a lot, quickly. Because of the nature of the industry in South Africa, most of the people have been trained as Generalists. Previously, a lot of the work was in high turn-around commercial production, so people would have to be good at everything. The training was mostly on the job, and those who learned quickly, moved quickly through the departments. At Triggerfish, we identify their strengths and focus them there.”
The storyboard team for Zambezia started out basically on paper, bringing it into AFter Effects and Final Cut Pro for assembly after this. The main studio core package is Softimage, the crew then did all the modeling, UVing, shading, animation and lighting in this package. Zambezia was rendered out in mental ray, which was quite a challenge for the crew, being a stereo movie. “We’d never done stereo before and decided we’d be best placed if we brought in Bernard Mendiburu, the celebrated French stereographer who’d worked at DreamWorks and Volfoni. He came in for a week and trained our stereo team on the principles and guided us all on the details of stereo,” explains Buckland.
Softimage handled the stereo production very well, considering this was more than two years ago, when there weren’t any stereo tools in the Autodesk animation package. Triggerfish had a very talented software developer called Simon Anderson [now at Animal Logic] and they had him build his own stereo camera system inside of Softimage. “It took about three weeks for him to put that together. We could tailor it to every single shot and it was very flexible. Where we did have challenges was the rendering of disparities of different images for different eyes,” explains Buckland. “At the time it was the only rendering package we had available but it took a lot of comping to get the results we needed. There’s also a stereo anaglyph shader the artists could see through the viewport. This was a great help and sped up the artists’ output significantly.”