South African Animation Studio Triggerfish Launches Story Lab With Disney Support

Khumba Still - H 2013

Khumba Still - H 2013

The "Pixar of South Africa" will invest up to $3.5 million over three years in the initiative designed to give African storytellers the opportunity to develop their ideas.

Triggerfish Animation Studios, which some have called the Pixar of South Africa, will launch The Triggerfish Story Lab with the support of the Walt Disney Co. and the country's Department of Trade and Industry.

Triggerfish said on Wednesday in announcing the partnership that it would be investing up to $3.5 million over the next three years in the Story Lab, which is designed to give African storytellers and filmmakers the opportunity to develop their ideas alongside Triggerfish’s international network of mentors. "Selected storytellers will potentially have their concepts developed into episodic TV content or an animated feature film for the global market," the company said.

The animation studio in Cape Town has had international success with its first two feature films, Adventures in Zambezia and Khumba. They were distributed in more than 150 countries and dubbed into over 27 languages.

"Triggerfish is conducting a continent-wide search for storytellers," the studio said. "These storytellers will be carefully selected, based not only on the creative and commercial merits of their concept, but also on their track record."

The entries will be evaluated by a panel of local and international experts, including British director and Aardman Animations co-founder and creative director Peter Lord (Chicken Run, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists), Hollywood writer Jonathan Roberts (The Lion King), development executives from Disney, as well as South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope, comedian David Kau and Triggerfish’s development team of Anthony Silverston, Wayne Thornley and Raffaella Delle Donne.

Shortlisted storytellers will take part in two weeks of workshops with Hollywood script consultants Karl Iglesias, author of Writing for Emotional Impact, and Pilar Alessandra, author of The Coffee Break Screenwriter. The selected Story Lab participants will also receive two weeks of mentorship immersion with studio and TV executives at Disney’s headquarters in Burbank.

“We are ready to bring a fresh voice to the world,” said Silverston, head of development at Triggerfish. “We believe there is extraordinary talent in Africa, and the Story Lab is the perfect way to partner with them.”

“We are excited to be supporting Triggerfish on this innovative project,” said Christine Service, senior vp and country manager of The Walt Disney Company Africa. “We believe the Story Lab provides a unique opportunity to discover this continent’s next generation of storytellers.”

“The Story Lab will be a great catalyst for African creativity on the global stage,” said Triggerfish CEO Stuart Forrest. “We look forward to opening up the Triggerfish production platform and our networks to the continent’s top creative talent."

For each phase of the development process, Triggerfish will provide financial support, workspace and guidance by internal and international consultants and mentors, as well as a route to market through its relationship with William Morris Endeavor.

The Story Lab accepts applications from all writing and creative disciplines until Aug. 31. Applicants must be over 21 and either African citizens or permanent residents, and entries must be in English. Full guidelines and an online application form can be found at

The selected Story Lab participants will also receive two weeks of mentoring with key studio and television executives at Disney’s headquarters in Burbank, California.

Said Lord: "I’m honored and delighted to be a small part of the Triggerfish Story Lab. Feature-length animation is a wonderful medium for storytelling — compact, entertaining, intense and, at its best, incredibly inclusive. I believe also that it’s vitally important for every country and culture to tell its own stories. Much as we may enjoy Hollywood storytelling, it is not the only way; there are so many different stories to be told, and so many voices demanding to be heard. I look forward very much to immersing myself in authentic African storytelling."

The partners eye a minimum of six participants in the Lab, and Forrest says first projects could come to screens in 4-8 years.

Established in 1996, Triggerfish had its first feature hit with Zambezia (2012), starring Jeremy Suarez, Abigail Breslin and Samuel L. Jackson. It followed that up with Khumba (2013), starring Jake T. Austin, AnnaSophia Robb and Liam Neeson. The two movies are among the top five highest-grossing South African films of all time.

After two animated features that have done well around the world and led to the WME partnership, "we have a production facility and now also a distribution network," Forrest tells THR. "Now we are looking for the creative talent to bring different stories into the platform we have got."

Projects don’t have to be set in Africa. "They can be set anywhere in our out of the world," he says. "We're not looking for another Lion King or simply stories about animals in Africa. We’re looking for a lot of different kinds of stories and stories that are different from what we’re used to seeing. We encourage originality. Africa has a lot more stories to tell, and we like to break the stereotypes."

Disney is also looking to help further develop the industry in Africa by getting involved in the initiative. "Disney is committed to doing what we can to support the creative industry in Africa," Service says. "When the Triggerfish team approached us, it was clear that lending our hand in the form of a mentorship program for the Story Lab winners is a perfect way for us to contribute to this exciting project." She adds: "A strong creative industry in Africa is positive for Africa and also positive for companies like Disney."

The Lab launch comes a year ahead of Triggerfish's 20-year anniversary. "We are looking at the next 20 years," Forrest says. "We want to invest in African talent."

The Lab is not just for film but also TV ideas. "We see TV becoming more and more a part of our future," Forrest says. "And we want to add games and other storytelling later."

Twitter: @georgszalai