Kenyan Animation Outpost

tinga tinga talesThe recent news that Playhouse Disney has joined with Britain’s Tiger Aspect Productions is co-producing a new animated TV series, Tinga Tinga Tales for preschoolers with Kenya’s Homeboyz Entertainment. The show, which revolves around African animals and is just starting animation,  is based on the Tinga Tinga art of Tanzania and was commissioned last year by CBeebies,(Children’s BBC).  What’s interesting is that the animation will be done in a studio  set up by Homeboyz in Nairobi.

A story notes that, “After production is completed in 2010, the studio will continue to provide jobs for the new animation industry in East Africa.” In addition,

Andrew Zein, Tiger Aspect’s MD, said: “This is one of the most ambitious projects we’ve ever taken on. On top of everything else it is truly inspirational to think that 50% of Tiger Aspect’s profits from the show will help make a real difference in improving the educational needs of children in East Africa.”

What interests me is what this may mean for animation in sub-Saharan Africa — will this really jump start animation in East Africa, or is just a one off deal?

Overseas animation studios have been around since the dawn of American television animation, when Jay Ward sent work on Rocky and His Friends to Mexico; in the process, it seems to have given a boost to the local Mexican animation.  However, Mexico did not last long as an destination for American TV work and, over the years, work flowed to countries as varied as Spain, Poland, Argentine, Japan, Taiwan, China and, more recently, India. The one continent that has been largely unaffected by this constant search for lower cost facilities has been Africa.

A small animation industry does exist in South Africa, though the only African outpost for overseas production I know of has been Pipangai Production on the island of La Réunion, a French colonial outpost off Madagascar. (Pipangai’s success seems due in large part to its political status as an overseas department of France, which allows for various financial incentives.) If Homeboyz can pull off its part of the bargain, and if Kenya can maintain some political stability, and if the show is a success, perhaps there might be some hope that East Africa can join the international animation fraternity.

P.S.: An update on Tinga Tinga Tales can be found here.

Presto, WALL·E

PrestoDoug Sweetland’s Presto, the new Pixar short that shows before Andrew Stanton’s WALL·E, is an absolute delight. As good as some of best classic Hollywood cartoons, it is brilliant, very funny and a much better piece of filmmaking than the accompanying feature. The nonstop piling of gag upon gag seems more in line with more recent DreamWorks Animation movies than to the run of the mill Pixar film (Brad Bird’s The Incredibles is a something of an exception).WALL·EFor its part, WALL·E tries very hard to be a silent comedy, as its two main robotic characters hardly speak. Stanton admits to looking to the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton for inspiration, which is not a bad idea; after all, Otto Messmer based the character of Felix the Cat on a close study of Chaplin films. But the film really does not, in the end, really work and seems a bit too precious. The story, an ecological fable about how the Earth has been abandoned for 700 years because of a garbage crisis, seems a rather weak thread to hang a feature film.

The film is not without its merits, especially in the design and rendering of the garbage-filled cityscapes on Earth .(Kudos to production designer Ralph Eggleston , who was art director on FernGully and The Incredibles, as well as directed the Oscar-winning Pixar short, For the Birds.) In comparison, Kung Fu Panda, is much the better film.

Moving Image Source

Moving Image Sourcer Moving Image Source is a new website of interest launched by the Museum of the Moving Image, which is located in New York’s  Astoria Studio across the East River from Manhattan. It features a blog-like magazine devoted to film history and a very useful portal with extensive links to all sorts of sites related to “film, television, and digital media.” For instance, there is a a calendar of events listing retrospectives showing at film archives around the world as well as a research guide that providing links to all sorts of material, from magazines and online databases to films online and bibliographies.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Museum, which is often overshadowed by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center; after all, they not only funded an oral history which led to my work on the history of animation unions, but later invited me to give a lecture on the topic several years later.