Animating Jock

2010-05-01 00:00

WHEN Duncan MacNeillie, the man behind the animated version of Jock of the Bushveld, decided to go ahead with the project, one of the biggest hurdles he faced was getting enough talented animators on board.

Twenty-five animators, most of whom have come from an advertising and video production background, are working on the 3D film in Johannesburg, using technology imported from Canada.

“I wish there were better schools of animation in this country,” MacNeillie, a former Maritzburg College pupil, said. “At the graphic design colleges people are only taught the basics and even when they’re working, the industry is so small that most don’t get the chance to do character animation.”

The team working on Jock has had to learn the necessary skills and, as MacNeillie is determined to bring a high-quality product to the screen, some of the scenes have been redone up to five times. “The longer you stick at it, the better it is,” he explained.

The idea for an animated version of Sir Percy FitzPatrick’s classic South African novel has been in producer-director MacNeillie’s mind since he scripted the 1986 film, Jock of the Bushveld, which starred Jonathan Rands. But it is only now, thanks to the advances in animation technology, that he believes it is possible to produce quality animated films far away from the Hollywood machine.

The new Jock of the Bushveld is told from the animal’s perspective. In it Jock and his master, Fitz, enjoy a host of adventures in the 1880s when Fitzpatrick worked as a storeman, prospector’s assistant, journalist and ox-wagon transport-rider in the bushveld of Mpumalanga.

Among the colourful characters appearing in the new film are: Pezulu, a cocky rooster; Snarly, an opportunistic mongrel; Jock’s mum, Jess, who is fiercely loyal and protective; George, the baboon, who wants to destroy Jock; the evil Seedling, who hates both Fitz and Jock; Basil, a flamboyant monkey; and Polly, a beautiful French poodle.

One of the biggest coups for the film-makers has been getting Archbishop Desmond Tutu on board to provide the voice for the spiritual leader, Tata. MacNeillie is quick to place credit for Tutu’s presence at Sir Tim Rice’s door: “He sat next to him at one of Sir Elton John’s concerts and thought he’d be great as Tata, so he wrote to Tutu and he agreed to come on board.” Tutu is expected to begin recording his role in June.

The film’s other major coup is having Rice, himself, on board. “When I was considering doing an animated film, he was the first person who came to mind,” MacNeillie said. “As a lyricist, he did for The Lion King what Eddie Murphy did for Shrek.”

He added that Rice — famous for his collaborations with Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, and his work with Disney on Aladdin and The Lion King  — had told a British interviewer that the animation quality on Jock is “as good as my days at Disney” and that he is delighted to be involved in the project.

Rice has already collaborated with Johnny Clegg (who provided the song Great Heart for the 1986 film) on the opening song in the film and there are plans to include music by other local musicians, such as Craig Hinds, lead singer of the band Watershed, and Namibian-born singer-songwriter Nianell.

Jock of the Bushveld is expected to be finished by the end of the year and in South African cinemas for the Easter holidays in 2011.

ANIMATED films are proving to be among the most lucrative film genres, and the merchandise sales triggered by these films often exceed the box- office take.

Andy Rice, the marketing guru for the animated South African film Jock of the Bushveld, said the income from merchandise material linked to the film Cars made 10 times more than the box-office takings.

He is currently negotiating with retailers, clothing producers, toys and games companies and publishers about associating with characters from the new 3D animated film.

“As with sponsorship, character licensing borrows the equity of a loved character and transfers this to the brand, giving it an immediate emotional competitive advantage,” said Rice.

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