But, with audiences flocking to the likes of ?Shrek?, its recent sequel and ?Finding Nemo? it seems that everybody loves 3D animation too. And with two more computer-generated movies, ?The Incredibles? and ?Shark Tale?, coming soon ? as they say in the trailers ? Hollywood is meeting the demand.
If people like Philip Boltt have their way so will South Africa, albeit not quite so soon. Boltt ? a local animator, editor and sometime director ? believes that within three years this country will be producing its own feature-length 3D animated movies. One of these is ?Feedback?, the project he?s been working on for the past two years.
It?s a recreation of the acclaimed play by Andrew Buckland, a quirky murder mystery about a downtrodden detective helping two brothers discover who murdered their mother. In the process they become embroiled in the Foodstuff revolution, trying to liberate the imprisoned food stockpiles and end the reign of the D'Earth Multinational Food Corporation.
So why did Boltt choose this story for an 80-minute film?
?The first time I saw the play, it struck me as an incredible work of art,? he answers enthusiastically. Describing it as very creative, action-intensive, hilarious and visual, he says that the play lends itself well to animation ? evident from the five-minute pilot scene completed over the course of 2003.
A collaboration between Boltt and six students from the Digital Arts Postgraduate Program at Wits University, it had both commercial and educational aims. The commercial: to create a pilot that could be used to raise funding for the completion of the project. The educational intention: to set up a studio-style production environment in which the students would work and to pioneer a feasible method for making an animated film in South Africa.
So, during the first half of 2003, the team held weekly production meetings to deal with pre-production elements such as screenplay adaptation, character and environment design, and creation of storyboards from the screenplay. And the students got to grips with the 3D animation package used for the project.
Getting their head around the new software and technologies, was one of the most difficult aspects of the project, says Boltt. Especially the motion-capture technique, similar to that used to create Gollum in the ?Lord of the Rings? films, proved to be challenging.
With the learning phase out of the way, production began in mid-July ? although most of the animation and rendering (computer generation) was done in a two-month period at the beginning of 2004.
With the pilot now complete, Boltt foresees two years of production to complete the 80-minute film. But, before that can begin, funds need to be raised during the coming year.
Such fundraising is one of the major obstacles to creating a South African animated film. But Boltt is optimistic: ?Funding is a just a process all filmmakers need to go through, regardless of whether they?re making a live-action or an animated film?.
Closely related to the funding situation is this country?s lack of a track record. ?It?s difficult to sell the concept because we first need to convince people that it is possible to do this in South Africa ? that we have the skills, the talent and the equipment.?
While the local industry is small by world standards and we are a bit behind in terms of technology, such as motion-capture, ?on a workstation basis we relate very well?.
?It's really a matter of scale,? he offers.
The local focus is still on smaller studios that primarily cater for the ad industry. Which is one of the reasons why, until now, South Africa hasn?t produced a full-length animated film.
?A full-length 3D animated feature film is an enormous undertaking,? says Boltt, adding that many European countries have yet to produce one.
Recently, however, there have been dramatic decreases in the prices of hardware and software for 3D animation which has opened the doors for many countries.
But, in addition to such technology, a wealth of trained artists is needed. Although South Africa does produce artists of a high calibre, many go overseas where they have the opportunity to work on big features. ?It?s the challenge people want,? he says.
?We look at America which is now churning out 3D features at a rate and think it is the norm, but it is still an incredible technological and artistic feat. It's no easy task, even if you have money and technology, you still need a lot of talented people.?
Our industry has simply been too small to take on a project of Hollywood magnitudes, ?but all that is changing,? says Boltt, optimistically.
?A few years ago I would have given a much bleaker picture,? he admits, but says that now there are no insurmountable obstacles ? just hurdles ? to getting a full length animated project underway.
He cites many government initiatives aimed at boosting the local animation industry, including The National Video and Film Foundation which largely funded the ?Feedback? pilot. And, it was on their insistence that the project have educational benefits for the country.
With such initiatives now coming together, ?really incredible things will be coming out in the next three years. Big things are just around the corner,? says Boltt excitedly.
He believes that such changes will entice South African animators working overseas back into the country. And, on a more personal level, it will allow him to devote all his time and attention to animation. Although he currently pays the bills by working on various TV editing projects, Boltt has been pursuing animation seriously since 2001 and ?dabbling? for about five years.
?Unfinished Business? is a short film he produced before ?Feedback? to teach himself the basics of 3D animation. Shown at the African Eye animation festival in Cape Town last year, it is also an ongoing project that Boltt hopes to complete in the future.
But is there a market for South African animated films? Boltt is convinced. ?Everybody loves animation. But to see animation with a South African twist would be magic,? he explains animatedly.
He says that while international animation appeals to local audiences, only South African filmmakers can provide the ?local flavours, like the Cape Flats accent or the Transkei twang, and a truly South African story?.
?Feedback? offers just that. A uniquely African tale, it presents powerful messages through humour: from environmentalism and globalisation to food-consciousness and the importance of standing up for oneself.
Although these themes are relevant to people around the world, ?the film will resonate with local audiences in a way that foreign animation can?t?, believes Boltt.