In a new feature series, each Wednesday I will be profiling one of “Africa’s Most Innovative Companies”. In today’s edition, in an exclusive interview with Ventures Africa, CEO Stuart Forrest introduces Triggerfish – Africa’s answer to Pixar.
As prevalence of animation films in global cinema began to increase – with individual animated films amassing significant fan bases – freelance producer Stuart Forrest and special effects specialist James Middleton had an idea: to capitalise on the home-grown talent and wealth of story-telling tradition available in South Africa by starting the first African animation studio.
Bringing on board Mike Buckland to head up Computer Generated animations, and creative lead Anthony Silverstone, the team was ready to take the animations market by the horns. Casting around for an apt name, the group settled on Triggerfish. Why? CEO Forrest explains: “The triggerfish is a group of fish with a trigger-shaped fin, which are small and extremely beautiful, but are known for being very aggressive and fighting above their size. That’s us – we’re a small studio taking on the giants, and we’re fiercely ambitious.”
With the total lack of competitors on the African market, it was clear from the offset that Triggerfish would have to contend with global rivals. This was not off-putting for the Triggerfish team, on the contrary, Forrest claims this was a benefit for the new animation studio given the vast gap in the market. He says: “Audiences around the world are becoming more receptive to creative content developed outside of Hollywood and we bring that fresh voice.” He adds: “There is a huge gap for a creative voice from outside the US in the international theatrical circuit. In particular, Africa has been silent when it comes to widely released family films. We fill that gap.”
Triggerfish maintains an open approach to innovation and management, Forrest revealing that this is their key to remaining one step ahead. He explains: “As a new studio with young, passionate artists, we don’t have processes that are bogged down by legacy ways of doing things. When we come across a problem, we brainstorm a solution from a bunch of people who have never been taught how to solve this particular problem – so our solutions are always fresh.”
Of course, there are always challenges to be faced in setting up an innovative new business, particularly in an African context. Forrest names the two biggest issues as funding and finding the right talent. Drawing in investors to an unprecedented project in an empty market has been tough, the CEO notes. Given the total absence of an animations sector in South Africa, finding the right people to join the team has also proved a difficulty. Forrest is pleased to have drawn in the top South African talents, but the company has also launched an animation school in the anticipation of developing a next generation of South African animation film producers.
Having launched their first independent film earlier this year, Triggerfish has received an extremely positive response to its work. The film, named Zambezia, was Israel’s top independent film for the duration of the summer, and has already spent over 5 weeks in Russia’s top 10 films. The future is bright for the animation studio, with Forrest excited to see the film roll-out across more countries.
Triggerfish certainly has a busy few years ahead, developing the South African animation industry and nurturing the country’s next generation of animation experts at the Triggerfish school. Film remains the company’s number one passion and Triggerfish is currently looking for a strategic partner to help grow the studio to higher heights.
The team has also opened an incubator initiative called Triggerfish Labs, which is seeing significant success focusing on growing the company’s gaming business, and producing film-related digital content.
With so much going on, the Triggerfish team needs to keep hold of its focus. “We are determined to build Africa’s Pixar – we have the team and the talent,” says Forrest, adding: “we love making movies and animation is our medium. If we can keep doing this while building a successful business we’ll be happy.”
Integral to the company’s vision, Triggerfish remains proudly African and hopes to take the beauty of African story-telling to the rest of the world. Forrest says: “We would love to be Africa’s creative voice to the world in animation films and enjoy the support of the people here…Storytelling is in our blood and film has a unique ability to inspire people. We want to tell people a new story about Africa for this is what inspires us.”