Viral threat no match for Mama K’s Team 4

While film and television companies across the world are obliged to put their projects on ice for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, animators at a South African studio are hard at work at home.

Triggerfish, the Cape Town company producing the series, is still working on Netflix-commissioned animated series Mama K’s Team 4, the brainchild of Zambian writer Malenga Mulendema.

Set in a futuristic Lusaka in Zambia, the cartoon follows four teenage girls who are recruited by a secret spy agency to help save the world.

While most of Netflix’s live-action productions have been suspended, work on Mama K’s forges on from the comfort of animators’ couches and kitchen tables. 

Triggerfish CEO Stuart Forrest said the project — which is still in storyboard and animation design phase — does not yet have a scheduled deadline set by Netflix, but Forrest said staff are flourishing at home, and making good progress.

“It’s a blessing to work from home, everything is done by computer,” he said. “The only thing you really need is a computer and an internet connection. Everything is in the cloud. So whether they were in the office or at home they would still be working on the same principle. It’s only the speed of the internet that is the only difference.”

Forrest said the halt on live-action film and TV series shoots meant that animated films and series could fill the gap for the demand for content.

“Other productions will have weather and rain insurance, and all other sorts of insurance,” he said. “For us, the weather means nothing. It’s all about what is happening on the computer. So animation is more like a call centre with people working around desks than people working on set with lights and cameras.”

He added that the voice work for Mama K’s would be done in South Africa too.

“It will be a mix of South African and British voice actors,” he said. “We are still casting, so it is still early enough in the process so that’s not affected [by the pandemic].”

Changes to the way people work during the Covid-19 crisis will have a major impact on how the creative industry does business in future, Forrest said.

“Once all this dies down it will be interesting to see what will be learnt from the process of remote working,” he said. “There are advantages and disadvantages, and I think that a lot of the way work is being structured is based more on a traditional model than what is expedient given that technology has come such a long way.”

“It’s given us an impetus to try new models of working, of schooling. We’re forced to try it out, and people are going to ask, why haven’t we been trying this out two years ago. There are, of course, some roles in the animation where you need collaborative work,” Forrest added. “You need a director with a strong vision to get the best out of individual artists  — a lot of that comes from direct engagement with the creator and everybody in the room. So there is an element of that that will never go away. But a lot of that, the real slog work can be done better without the distractions of a workplace.”

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

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