How Stuart Forrest built one of Africa’s top animation studios

Stuart Forrest, owner of Triggerfish Animation Studios, is a finalist for South Africa’s 2012 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award, a testament to the recent strides made by his company in the African animation industry.

Stuart Forrest

In 1996 the company started with producing animation for the Takalani Sesame Street series, the South African version of the American children’s television show Sesame Street. Today Triggerfish has just completed its first feature film, Adventures in Zambezia, and it’s second, Khumba, is set to be released soon.

How we made it in Africa’s Kate Douglas asks Forrest about how he built one of the continent’s leading animation studios.

In the beginning, where did Triggerfish Animation Studios’ funding come from?

Initially I borrowed money from banks, credit card, family and friends – anyone I could convince – and I brought in a business partner who matched the money I could raise. When that ran out, I recruited three more partners who were willing to get behind the business to make it work. Without these partners, the company would not be what it is today. Their strengths complement all my weaknesses.

What is the most significant thing you have done to grow your business?

After bringing in the right partners, is has to be raising money. Without money, you only have an idea, but the money makes it a reality. We are constantly in discussions with potential strategic and investment partners.

What does the animation industry in Southern Africa look like today?

We’re growing rapidly. The quality of animation is world class, as most animation professionals have learnt their craft in the demanding commercials industry. Recently the size of the industry has grown into something that has been possible to scale into long form feature film production.

Describe the barriers to entry into the animation industry?

In order to get funders to entrust you with millions of dollars in order to make a feature film, you need to have proven your abilities. Triggerfish had been operating for 13 years before we got our first feature film funded. We spent 10 years working on kids animation for US pre-school giant Sesame Street and we completed two 12-minute shorts and one half hour short for various other clients. During this time we perfected our film technique and pipeline development as well as our confidence.

Tell us a bit about your animated feature film, Adventures in Zambezia

It has been sold in 40 territories around the world, most notably to Sony Pictures for English language distribution. We’ve just released in Israel and we are going into our fifth week on circuit as of today. We are thrilled at the ticket sales so far. Most territories will release over the next six months, so we’ve got an exciting time ahead. We are getting some great reviews. The film won Best South African Feature Film at the recent Durban International Film Festival and was selected for screening at the prestigious Annecy International Animation Film Festival.

How did you finance the film?

We got seed funding for our first feature film from a San Francisco-based company, Wonderful Works. It was their idea to make a feature film in South Africa. With that money in place we raised further funds from the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Film and Video Foundation, 120dB Film Finances in Los Angeles, and Cinema Management Group based in Beverly Hills. Some of these same partners also funded the second film.

Where would you like to see Triggerfish in 10 years time?

In 10 years time we want to be a world-leading media and entertainment company producing original content with a unique creative voice from the heart of Africa. We are well on our way to this goal with the experience of two feature films and our recently launched digital products department. We are completing our first eBook and are negotiating a music publishing deal for the soundtrack of the movie. We want to produce creative content and entertainment based on our stories and films on all the major platforms. We are also establishing an animation training facility which will add to our talent pool and help raise the bar for animation skills and world-class storytelling. We want to staff our development and creative team with the best writing talent available.

The Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year winners will be announced on 6 September 2012. Over the next few weeks How we made it in Africa will feature interviews with many of the finalists.