Director & Writer, Anthony Silverston, chats with us about the new animation film ‘Khumba’ – a story about a semi-striped zebra born into an insular, superstitious herd. The herd turn their back on the young Khumba, blaming his difference in appearance for the onset of their severe drought. With allies in tow, namely a ‘sassy wildebeest and a flamboyant ostrich’, Khumba leaves his home in pursuit of a legendary magic waterhole, where it is believed that zebras received their stripes. A fantastic film with a storyline that has blended the fantasy of animation with the reality of life in an amazing way. The visual metaphors woven into the storyline are a truly great touch!
That is not all! There is a star-studded cast behind the characters including Liam Neeson, Steve Buscemi, Laurence Fishburne, Jake T. Austin, AnnaSophia Robb, Richard E. Grant, Greg Ellis and the hilarious Catherine Tate!
Having made an immediate impact around the world, ‘Khumba’ has already received acclaim as the New York Times ‘Critics Pick’ and has been presented with 2 Gold Panda Awards. Furthermore, preparations are underway for the Broadway production of Khumba.
Interview with writer & director Anthony Silverston
Gail: Your new exciting animation is called Khumba, can you tell us a little about the motivation behind this movie?
Anthony: The film tells the story of a half-striped zebra who has to learn that being different is not a bad thing. There are many themes which the film touches on – all inspired by growing up South Africa, but ultimately it’s a personal journey about learning to be confortable in one’s own skin.
Gail: What ‘Khumba’ highlights would you like to share with your audience?
Anthony: There were many incredible highlights during the journey of making Khumba, the first being winning the scriptwriting competition run by the UK Film Council and NFVF – this really set us on the path to make the film a reality. When we pitched the project, we said it had the quirky humour of Chicken Run and the spirit of The Lion King and amazingly we ended up working with Richelle Wilder who was the head of development at Aardman during Chicken Run and with Jonathan Roberts, one of the co-writers of The Lion King!
Recording the various celebrity voices was an intense but exciting process with a many memorable moments, but really every single day in the studio was filled with something to look forward to – seeing new shots get animated or come through the pipeline is a highlight in itself.
Gail: Which learning curves, from your previous award-winning animation movie, have been welcome when creating Khumba?
Anthony: From a production point of view all of our systems ran more smoothly which helped us focus more on the movie. The whole technical team grew so much over the course of making Adventures in Zambezia, so it was really at every level that they could build on what they’d learned. The results are visible on screen, from the animation performances to the richly-detailed environments.
Gail: How difficult is it to assign cast members to the different characters? Did you have certain actors in mind while the characters personalities were developing?
Anthony: There were about 37 (!) speaking roles, and we wanted South African, American and British voices, so casting was a big process, but Ned Lott our casting director did a fantastic job and pulled it off very quickly. Often we unanimously knew who was the top choice right away, because each of the characters already had a unique voice on the page.
We already had some actors, such as Catherine Tate and Loretta Devine in mind when we were writing the characters and were extremely fortunate to get them for the respective roles of Nora and Mama V, while others such as Joey Richter were great discoveries along the way. With their massive experience, stars such as Liam Neeson, Steve Buscemi and Laurence Fishburne also brought fantastic character and vocal performance.
Locally, comedien Rob Van Vuuren did a number of read-throughs and scratch recordings for us basically playing every role in the whole movie and informing many of the characters, so it was great when we could cast him as the Springbok Captain
Gail: You are the Director & Writer for Khumba. How different is your approach with Khumba, in relation to previous Triggerfish productions?
Anthony: Both Zambezia and Khumba were directed by first-time directors and each have different directing styles. The story concept was initiated by myself in 2003 so I have had a long history with the project.
Gail: How do you compare the making of Khumba to your previous work? Do you now have a winning formula or is it different for every production?
Anthony: Every project has its own challenges, but the production definitely went a lot more smoothly than Zambezia with less overtime. Making a quest movie in the Karoo required many large sets and designing, filming – and furring – a zebra herd and a hoard of other animals (17 different species!) definitely brought its own challenges too. We hope to continue improving our processes with each movie and are already looking at starting our storyboarding process much earlier on, but making an animated feature on a budget will always be a challenge to pull off!
Gail: What specific animation technology and software do you use when making a production like Khumba?
Anthony: We use Softimage for 3d, Nuke for compositing and this time we rendered in Arnold.
Gail: Have any new production and design techniques been introduced in the making of this film?
Anthony: Daniel Clarke, our production designer did his own maquettes of the characters in 3d in Z-brush which really helped the process to be more efficient as it allowed the director to immediately see the translation from sketch to 3d model. We also had to come up with a stylised look for the fur as well a system to create a variety of highly-detailed plants which work on both the macro and micro scale. A lot of our lighters did their own compositing which also helped smooth the process.
Gail: Now that Triggerfish is an internationally acclaimed animation studio, did you find that the support required for creating ‘Khumba’ was more readily attainable?
Anthony: It was definitely easier because we could point to what we had done once before, and we had built a good working relationship with our investors – the NFVF, the IDC etc. But financing a feature film is always tricky so we are now looking at financing a slate of 3-5 films which mitigates the risk and allows us to plan the films more efficiently in a back-to-back pipeline.
Gail: Do you have a Triggerfish Team you work with on all your projects, or do you bring in different members for each?
Anthony: The core team remained the same, with some artists moving into different positions within the production, while others left and new graduates came in, often bringing with them a great energy and passion.
Gail: When is Khumba due to be released?
Anthony: It was released in SA on October 25th where it held the number 1 spot for 2 weeks. The UK release has not yet been confirmed by our distributor there, Kaleidoscope, although many territories will be releasing from March or April 2014.
Gail: You now have two full length animations under your belt and are due to start on a third, any inside information you would like to divulge on the next movie?
Anthony: We are exploring a number of options for our future films, but our next one will be our most ambitious story yet! It features a sea monster and will be our first exploration of human characters.
Gail: As Triggerfish Animation Studios develops would you like to keep elements of ‘Africa’ in each production?
Anthony: We are not going to limit ourselves exclusively to telling stories set in Africa, but they will all be African in that the artists creating them are from here. The people and environment around us are a great source of inspiration and we have an opportunity to bring a unique perspective to the world.
We are gladly following the adventures of Khumba and will keep you all up to date on the news and reviews. What’s in store for the International Award-winning Triggerfish Team? we believe they are taking us underwater in the not too distant future !
Find out more about the production company Triggerfish.