Sibusiso Ngubelanga, 26, first applied to study at The Animation School in 2014 but couldn't afford the tuition. The Khayelitsha resident attended every open day for the five years since then, to the point that some of The Animation School staff assumed he was a student there.
This month, thanks to a bursary from Triggerfish, Africa's leading animation company, that dream finally became a reality: Sibusiso is now enrolled at the Cape Town campus of The Animation School, named one of the world's top 100 animation schools by Animation Career Review for 2018.
Triggerfish is sponsoring Sibusiso and fellow first year student Zaid Neethling (19, from Strandfontein), as well as second-year student Dawood Salie (19, from Mitchell's Plain), who also received a bursary in 2018. The bursaries cover the full tuition fees for the year, thanks to funding from Triggerfish and Animate Africa, a US-based non-profit organization dedicated to supporting Africa's youth through animation skills development and training.
The Animation School principal Nuno Martins says these bursaries are important because of the shortage of funding opportunities for students at private animation schools. This year, he estimates there were over 50 students who applied but were unable to secure the necessary funding.
"Talent is universal; opportunity is not," says Triggerfish CEO Stuart Forrest. "We want to start changing that, because we need diverse teams to do justice to our continent's diverse stories."
Forrest pointed out that all three recipients are examples of how it takes a village to create an animator.
Salie is an alumnus of Draw for Life, an initiative offered by Sparks Flew Development Studio and PASCAP Trust and supported by Animation SA, The Animation School, and Triggerfish. Draw for Life introduces talented learners from disadvantaged backgrounds to South Africa's booming animation industry and mentors them through a three-month series of classes covering the foundations of drawing for animation. Salie went on to complete a short course at Digital Canvas Academy, offered pro bono to Draw for Life alumni. From there, Salie was invited to take part in Triggerfish's hot desk program, where he experienced first-hand what goes into creating the BBC Christmas specials that Triggerfish animates in collaboration with Magic Light Pictures, like the Oscar-nominated Revolting Rhymes.
Ngubelanga and Neethling are both graduates of False Bay College's 2D animation course, funded by MICT Seta and lectured by Cate Wood Hunter and Riaan Theron. The False Bay College course provides an ideal bridging course for learners who were not able to study art formally at school. This allows learners to build their drawing as well as digital skills and put together a competitive portfolio for application to attend the likes of The Animation School.
Ngubelanga and Neethling also both interned on Jabu's Jungle, a ground-breaking children's animation produced by Pixcomm, first in Masiphumelele township and now in Muizenberg, which provides training and internships for young animators from the community, and has been sold to India. China and America, among other territories. Ngubelanga and Neethling also interned on Yolanda Keabetswe Mogatusi's Rapulani and Rapunzel.
"It's great to see the way the industry is coming together to create opportunities and mentor new talent," says Forrest.
While many parents are sceptical about 'iPopeye' as a career, animation is currently a scarce skill - not just in South Africa but globally. "Finding animators who are ready for our scale of projects is a real challenge," says Forrest. "If we had more animators, we could take on a lot more work."
Martins agrees, adding that 85% of graduates from the last two years at The Animation School found work.
For example, Sinenhlanhla Sanelisiwe Shozi received a third-year bursary to The Animation School in 2018 and was immediately snapped up afterwards by Triggerfish, where she's now part of the layout department on their third feature film, Seal Team - their follow up to two of the top five highest-grossing South African films of all time, Adventures in Zambezia and Khumba.
These bursaries are just one of a number of recent Triggerfish initiatives aimed at growing and diversifying the animation industry in Africa, from the pan-African Story Lab, which was supported by The Walt Disney Company and The Department of Trade and Industry, to Triggerfish Academy, an online introduction to animation in partnership with The Goethe-Institut and The German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation. For more information, visit https://academy.triggerfish.com/.