Wallace and Gromit give hope to Cape Town youths

They have struggled into the wrong trousers, picnicked on the moon and foiled a rampaging were-rabbit. Now the cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his wily canine sidekick Gromit are taking on their most ambitious adventure yet: helping to bring animation skills to one of South Africa’s most violent townships.

David Sproxton, co-founder of Aardman Animations, the film and television animation company that produced the Wallace and Gromit series, opened the country’s first public animation academy on March 25 in Khayelitsha on the outskirts of Cape Town.
The yellow bricks and bright blue roof of False Bay Good Hope College rise out of a grey landscape of shacks and low-grade social housing.

Studies have found that as many as half of Khayelitsha’s households struggle to put one meal on the table each day. The school drop-out rate is high because of gang violence and teacher absenteeism.

“There are 900 000 people living in this area and most of them are unemployed,” said the academy’s principal, Gary Kachelhoffer (53), who previously taught animation in central Cape Town.

“Most of the skilled people in the South African film industry are white. That is because the colleges that train them are in the centre of town and you need money to pay tuition fees and to get there. So we decided it would be a good idea to set up a course in a township.”

Thanks to its weather and infrastructure, Cape Town is a choice location for the international film and commercials industry. The city is building a Hollywood-style studio complex. But South Africa has a severe shortage of animators, said Kachelhoffer.

Anele Siwa (20) is one of 120 students who started a one-year course at the academy this week.

“To get the chance to learn a creative skill and perhaps make a living from it is incredible,” said Siwa. His sister works in a supermarket, his father is a welder, and his three brothers do odd jobs.

Siwa will receive a R20 000 bursary for the one-year course, which is supported by the Western Cape government and the relevant sector education.

“As South Africans we really need our own stories in the vernacular languages,” he said. “At the moment we are stuck with watching Japanese and American cartoons.”

Siwa’s favourite character is Sponge Bob, from the American cartoon series: “He really cracks me up, man.”

South Africa’s only recent attempt at creating a home-grown animated series failed last year. Controversial cartoonist Zapiro attempted to interest the national broadcaster in a South African-style Spitting Image (a satirical UK TV puppet show). But the subject matter was deemed too sensitive for the SABC, so Zapiro put his puppets on the internet.

Siwa has been drawing all his life. “While my friends were playing soccer, I would be sitting in the corner, drawing in the gravel,” he said.

He gained his matric in June after three years in a township school ridden by violence.

In common with most township homes, Siwa’s has a television but no computer, let alone an internet connection. But Kachelhoffer does not require his pupils to do computer-based homework. “We are going to teach them Walt Disney’s 28 principles of 2D animation and they can do all their computer work at the college,” he said.

“There is nothing more irritating than private students who come along with their laptops and do things you haven’t asked them to do. In the third term each of our students will make a one-minute production, which will be their show-reel.”

Kachelhoffer expects there will be jobs for most of the students by the end of the course. “We now need the industry to come to the party and I expect they will, simply because they need staff.”

Arthur Sheriff, head of communications at Aardman Animations, said there is a worldwide shortage of animators. “We have not defined exactly what Aardman’s involvement with the Khayelitsha course will be, but one could imagine one of the students coming to our studios in Bristol for an internship, or one of our animators coming to Khayelitsha to give a master class,” he said.

“I have been coming here for nine years. On every street corner, there is a kid selling a piece of artwork. There is clearly talent here. We just need to develop it and I think Aardman should be part of that process.” —

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Alex Duval Smith
Journalist, West Africa and Sahel. Senior Ochberg Fellow @dartcenter Alex Duval Smith has over 3631 followers on Twitter.
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