Sunday, October 30, 2011


Laika does it again. I haven't seen anything in a long time which inspires me as much as this trailer. Stop motion has a look which cannot be beaten when done as well as this. 


Monday, April 25, 2011

It's not all Black & White

I remember an early script meeting for Khumba where I was asked: "Are the zebras black or white?" 

The question put me into a bit of a spin, because - naively - I hadn't thought about it. Each had connotations and implications that would impact the characters, let alone the politics of it. I asked hopefully "Does it matter?" They are not human after all, they don't have to be any race, but this just prompted the next question "What about when you cast their voices?"


About 5 years later, as I now approach this casting stage in the production, the question once again rears its ugly head. 

Scientifically, it turns out zebras are in fact likely to be black with white stripes. And I did originally intend the herd to be more traditionally "African" with the other animals representing some of the different social groups of South Africa.  In the story, however, the zebras have closed themselves off from the outside, much like a gated community. It all sounds a bit paranoid white in our stereotypical view of South Africans. Plus, as a white South African, how could I really write an African film with a black lead? In any case, the voices (especially of the leads) are likely to be American so that throws yet another spanner in the works (the issue of South African vs American voices is a whole other issue I'll leave for another discussion...).

Khumba leaves his herd, goes on a mission to find his stripes, to change his skin. It is really a search for self-acceptance, a journey to discover and embrace his difference. Is this not a universal message? Surely I'd be limiting it by choosing a race? The film is about so much more than race. But now that I have to seriously think about casting the movie, the question of how they sound can no longer be put off. 

Are these characters black or white? 

Writing the screenplay for Khumba has been a bit like my own quest for stripes. Even though I might look the same on the outside (though slightly more balding), internally, I have changed and - like Khumba - grown into my own skin. And one of the things I've realized is that life seldom seems to be so cut and dried that the are only 2 options.

The answer has really been there all along, right in front of me. The reason I chose the zebra, the reason it's such a powerful symbol to tell this particular story. It's neither black nor white. It's not "or". It's "and". 

They are black AND white. 


Saturday, March 12, 2011

HaKhumba Matata

Pre-production for Khumba has been going surprisingly smoothly the last few months. Dan and Matt are doing a brilliant job and have already designed all the characters and most of the environments; we are already finishing up the second pass of the rough animatic; and Jacquie has been compiling everything together into an animation bible with the help of some great character poses by Jac.

Plus, we have finally attached a polish writer to give the screenplay a final (and American) once-over. More on this to follow once it is all 100% official, but it's exciting to say the least...

Yesterday the screening of the first Act went well which was a relief after the confusion of the first screening - zebras can really all look the same in 2d! Big up to the storyboarding team: Ric, Remi and Lorraine who are helping to bring pictures to the words.

As seen here, we got the go-ahead  for cinemascope which is great because the Karoo really needs to be seen in widescreen!

The last few months have helped me see what is and what isn't working and allowed us time to work out the most efficient process - including a simpler numbering system (so that we don't need 3 different numbers as seen above). Soon we go into the next pass of the animatic with the final, polished script - gotta get it all ready before the rest of the team start... shew.

One interesting issue came up with the animatic - can we show a dead mother? I really wanted to show that Khumba's mother is no longer a "character" but just an "animal" when she dies, but the particular poses and shots might be a bit disturbing for children, so I might have to tone it down a bit - even though Lion King didn't shy away much:

I don't know, maybe a dead mother on screen is much more traumatic than a dead father for kids?  


The Eagleman Stag

I do love stop-motion... especially with paper. Looks incredible.
Wish I could see the whole of this recent BAFTA-winner:


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sometimes the clouds

After capturing the lighthouse image in the previous blog post, I realised that earlier today I had put aside this image which I wanted to use as a cloud reference. I took the pic in Sydney - the clouds really were like this - no Photoshop work. 
Going through more photos I found these others too - it seems there is a subconscious trend in my photography.


Sometimes the stars

A beautifully crafted, moody animated music video.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Building a movie, making a home

I'm sure I'm not the first to compare building a home to writing/making a movie, but since I'm going through both processes at the same time (the reason for lack of recent posts), the similarities seem particularly apparent.
pic by Swedish illustrator Johan Thornqvist
You need to:

- have a strong vision for what you want the final result to be
- attach the right team who will support that vision
- go in with a good set of plans
- have a realistic budget and time frame
- get buy-in from your neighbours/investors
Then onto the actual building/production:
- start with strong foundations
- build in layers and sections (I know, I know - simplification of note)
- be flexible to creatively work around unexpected issues that arise
- listen to objective external input, especially expert advice
And when it's nearing the end:
- stay calm and true to the vision even though you might be ready to throw in the towel
- add the finishing touches to give it character
-and then accept the fact that it is not actually near the end just yet...

And if that's not enough, throughout it all, you have to enjoy the process otherwise it'll be difficult to enjoy the result! Luckily I have a great team on Khumba and a fantastic architect (Jennifer Sorrel), because I would not advise trying to do both at the same time. What was I thinking?