Leading the Animation Revolution in South Africa with Toon Boom

"Harmony gives us the freedom to not be locked
into one particular way of working." — David Hecker, Asset Manager

Leading the Animation Revolution in South Africa with Toon Boom

Managing Director and Head of Animation, Sean Rogers had a vision of a sustainable and vibrant animation industry in South Africa, with Clockwork Zoo at the forefront of 2D in South Africa. "Toon Boom were the natural partners to assist us in activating economic development and training in animation in South Africa, drawing from their experience in developing animation territories such as India and now the Caribbean," says Sean.

The company's focus is on producing compelling original content and international quality co-production and service work. The animation studio at Clockwork Zoo, headed by producer Matthew Brown has a team of 54 animators, designers, storyboarders, editors, writers and production staff.

Scene Courtesy of Cookie Jar Entertainment

The team broke new ground in 2006 with the launch of South Africa's first locally produced half hour show, URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika (104 X 24 min), which has been critically acclaimed for its "razor sharp writing" and "world-class animation with a message." Created in Flash, the experience of working on URBO was a training ground for teams outputting one episode of animation per week, with only 11 weeks from script to post.

A small development team started Toon Boom Digital Pro training in mid 2007, creating test episodes for Clockwork Zoo-owned IP kids properties Lucy & The Nightmares, the heroic misadventures of Banna Banana as well as an offbeat adult comedy about a household of zombies trying to make it in the real world, Deadbeats.

With the conclusion of the second series of URBO in mid 2008, the entire studio re-trained in Toon Boom and has provided service animation on the Xilam production Mr Bebe and Happy Valley for Dinamo Productions in Wales.Technical Lead Wynand Groenewald appreciated Toon Boom Harmony's ability to streamline his art directing role"During production, clients changed their minds all the time. Centralized palettes make art direction manageable.When the colour of the night-time sky got edited (four times!), the animators didn't have to do a thing to update it in their shots and the next time they loaded a scene, it was already there in the background. Some didn't even notice the change."

Scene Courtesy of Cookie Jar Entertainment

Clockwork Zoo is currently working on the South African/Canadian co-production of the fifth season of Caillou with partner Cookie Jar Entertainment. Clockwork Zoo is also partnering with the award-winning Wish Films on Florrie's Dragons for Disney UK.

Toon Boom Harmony's network view with its node-based rigging system has allowed the Caillou team to build character rigs that are faster and easier to animate with than any system the studio has used before. "Using its templating system, we were very excited to be able to use an existing character walk cycle and drop on another version of the character, standing still in a different outfit.

Tada! Instant walk cycle with new clothing, a feature which saved us valuable time in production," says Wynand. Ease of design and set up has been essential as the team transferred assets from Caillou season 4 created in standard definition Flash to High Definition 16:9 using Toon Boom.

The unmatched versatility and openness of the rigging system allowed a small rigging team to create rigs that are incredibly complex or elegantly simple, specific to the needs of a particular production. "At the start of each production, we design a new rigging system to complement the particular style and required features for that show. Harmony gives us the freedom to not be locked into one particular way of working," says David Hecker, Asset Manager and in-house Toon Boom trainer.

This flexibility is essential in a studio that focuses heavily on cut-out animation. "We really enjoy the ability to seamlessly blend paperless animation into our workflow. This gives our animators an unparalleled amount of freedom to do whatever is required to get the shot right.

This also allows them to be more creative in their problem-solving, often leading to unique internal solutions to tricky shots that the animators would not be able to accomplish using only cut-out rigs," says David.

  • Scene Setup
  • Scene Setup

The Caillou pipeline has been designed to be as efficient as possible, while still maintaining an element of creative flexibility. Our part of the worksplit includes design, rigging and layout and animation, while scripting, the majority of the storyboards, some design, leica and post-production are being handled by Cookie Jar in Canada.

Animation is the largest single block of work required on Caillou. With five teams of five animators working for eight weeks on a 24 minute episode, time management is essential, especially as the 8 week cycle will reduce to 7 weeks. Toon Boom Harmony's robust templating system is ideal for the tight production schedule where reusability is key.

"Apart from the traditional uses of templates for creating additional angles and walk cycles for characters, our animators also use templates to transfer information between shots. An example of this usage is to ensure that the continuity is correct in terms of start and end poses," says David.

Team From left to right, back to front row: Tim Wang (Lead animator), Chris Denovan (Head: Backgrounds), Gareth Jones (Head Storyboard), Wynand Groenewald (Art Director and Technical Lead), Matthew Brown (Producer/ Director), Tyronne Herring (Lead animator), Bryan Devlin (Lead animator), Rhoda Rutherford(Lead animator), Sean Rogers (executive Producer), David Hecker (Asset Manager)

The team has learned to use Harmony to innovate. "Some of my favorite bits about the program are the result of surprising uses for unrelated features. For instance, we use the lineArt and colourArt layers of the elements as objectDrawing and objectPatch. For each frame we swap on a shirt sleeve, the perfectly matched corresponding patch for that drawing swap with it. Quick and easy," says Wynand.

As the only active Harmony pipeline in Africa, it has been challenging to find enough Toon Boom users in Cape Town, let alone South Africa. Toon Boom Sales Director Harry Ravelomanantsoa and reseller Touchvision have assisted in up-skilling existing nimators from around the country in strategic skills. With sometimes as little as a week of training they are able to be productive in the studio. The ease of accessibility for people trained in both 3D and 2D or even from a illustration background means Clockwork Zoo can create a cadre of highly-experienced Toon Boom users to draw on for future productions.

With the Cape Film Commission aiming to create 10 000 additional jobs in animation by 2020, Clockwork Zoo is helping to realize that vision and is committed to long-term growth in the creative industries.

With the studio's production schedule filled to late 2010, executive producer Sean Rogers says, "As a fledgling industry, we're only starting to tap into our potential. I foresee Clockwork Zoo being an essential part of South Africa's development in the global marketplace, especially in training up and empowering young animators. Toon Boom has been with us every step of the way."

About Clockwork Zoo

Clockwork Zoo (formerly Octagon CSI) is Cape Town’s premier broadcast supplier of live-action shows and houses the largest animation studio in Southern Africa.