Jozi Zoo

I’ve got something special for you today – Jozi Zoo. It was the short piece I did that kickstarted my animation career. Back in 2003/4, Angel, a girl I went to University with put me in touch with John Vlismas – a brilliant local comedian. He had an idea for an animation called ‘Jozi Zoo’. I decided to do a pilot for the short. Bear in mind I had no animation software really and only some experience from my own animation experiments and one stop-motion a kind family friend helped who worked in advertising helped me with (I made this using GIFs from Photoshop and then imported those GIFs into Premiere – hardly a suggested workflow for an animated short). Anyways, John and I discussed the concept, came up with a few characters, I did some sketches and he wrote and voiced the script. I went home and worked like a dog for 4 days making this thing. I drew images on paper, scanned them in and made the GIFs. I think it may have been edited down even more by Paula Callus, an animation lecturer from the UK, because I seem to remember a scene involving a White Rhino South African character that’s not in here. In any event, it runs smoother now, and thanks to Paula I was able to get hold of this piece again because I had since lost it / deleted it years ago. It played in the Edinburgh African Film Festival years ago and I contacted Paula recently who luckily had it still on a removable hard drive (thank you Paula!)

Soon after making this, I gave it to John who took it to Red Pepper. I was on a paid-for 5-week animation course in Durban, sponsored by UNESCO, called ‘Africa Animated! 2.0’, and one day an attendee said ‘Dude, I saw Jozi Zoo on TV’. Lo and behold, the show had been turned into a watered-down kids show. Being young and full of hope I was just pleased that it had been turned into a show, albeit with newly designed characters, and, well … new everything. Amazed, I contacted Red Pepper and got an intern job at Art Attack, the small studio that was animating the show. I was soon being given full 5-minute shows to animate, and generally animated an entire episode every 2 weeks. Scripts were being written by Stephen Francis and character designs by Rico, both of Madam & Eve. Anyways, the shows had good scripts but they definitely lost their adult bent that the pilot had. The good news is – this is where I learned to animate. I then moved in to Red Pepper and animated on Cool Catz, a (probably still going) daily pre-school show. Jozi Zoo reached over 100 episodes. I’m not sure if it’s still going. I animated about 16 of those episodes, and then left to freelance. It used to come on during Saturday mornings on eTV.

Now it’s clear to me that this show could have been something special had John and I just continued to make episodes ourselves based off this pilot. Nobody consulted me about the show’s development either, something that I didn’t let phase me before because it was, after all, John’s original idea. Anyways, the way I see it is that I was hired as an animator for Red Pepper, got thrown in the deep end, learned a bunch of stuff fairly quickly, made a bunch of useful mistakes and still got paid for it, so, that’s not too much of a bad thing. I could be bitter and say the show got pulled out from under us and we had our intellectual property swiped, but John Vlismas did the voice and the script, so I can’t claim full ownership of it, and what a thing for an animator just starting out to have his first pilot picked up for a show!

Perhaps next time I won’t have so many stars in my eyes, realise the awesome stuff I’m making and stand my ground a bit more 😉

Please enjoy this short. You’ll likely recognize a couple South African character types.

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