Aardman backs Cape Town academy


A newly opened animation school in Cape Town is recruiting students from the poorest of area townships, with support from U.K.-based, Oscar-winning Aardman Animations.

The Animation Academy at the Goodhope College in Khayelitsha opened March 25 as an educational effort specifically targeted to strengthen Cape Town's animation production muscle, while simultaneously offering new skills and a brighter future to some of the region's severely underprivileged youth.

Aardman, the company behind "Wallace & Gromit," signed on to donate equipment and provide occasional input from its executives and artists after its communications head, Arthur Sheriff, met with representatives of the Cape Film Commission while on holiday in South Africa.

Sheriff then contacted David Sproxton, Aardman's executive chairman and co-founder, about the possibility of offering help.

"I was excited about the opportunity and the potential for the academy," Sproxton says, "because I know what an impact animation can have on regional economies, and how fast the most impoverished areas can see job growth and improvements in quality of life through animation.

"We've seen it in China, India, Singapore and South Korea, animation employing people and turning around regional economies quickly," he adds. "There is no reason why Cape Town shouldn't experience that same improvement."

Fifty young animators entered the academy even before the official ribbon-cutting, beginning creative, technical, business and life-skills training in February. They will be absorbed into the full-time program, with funding already in place for 100 students to earn a National Certificate in 2D Animation.

"The project is running on a three-year cycle, and the budget is currently 2.5 million Rand (more than $350,000) per year," says Judy Robison, a Cape Town business owner and an organizer for the Khayelitsha school, who adds that the academy was founded and sponsored by two organizations: The Cape Film Commission and the Services Sector Education and Training Authority.

"Both organizations contributed a significant amount in terms of infrastructural implementation and project support," she says.

The region's Animation Industry Development Initiative, an effort to drive new media development in Cape Town, also supported the project, she says.

The academy hopes to create 10,000 jobs by 2030 within the region's growing animation industry, the film commission's CEO, Laurence Mitchell, notes.

"I am convinced that we will be able to fill a significant skills gap within the animation and new media industries," Mitchell says. "I believe that the quality of our services and content will ultimately be the main contributor to drawing even more international animation productions to our shores."

Aardman's Sproxton is excited about Khayelitsha and the untapped human potential surrounding the academy.

"I've been in this business for more than 30 years now, and I never know where the talent might come from," he says. "We've had the most talented artists come to us from the poorest neighborhoods in (the English town) Bristol. And I see similar amazing work come from other parts of the world. I look forward to discovering what the academy reveals, what the imaginations within those townships show the world."