A Conversation with Dianne Makings

Dianne Makings is the Festival Director of The Cape Town International Animation Festival.  Now, in it’s sixth year, the CTIAF, previously called Kunjanimation Amination Festival, has something to offer for everyone and brings South African’s the chance to catch some of the world’s best animated films as well as an exciting range of master classes and workshops with global industry leaders, providing a rare opportunity to engage with them. We chatted with Dianne about the festival, the future for women in animation and how she’s managed to finally find her role in the arts. 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

I started off at drama school. I loved art and I loved drama and I loved theatre so I went to UCT where I did theatre and performance. I did acting for a couple of years and a bit of directing, writing, education in theatre, that kind of thing, and then [I] realised that I had made a terrible mistake and that I was not actually designed for the acting world. That’s how I kind of started branching off. I started trying to find out what I was going to do. I knew that I loved the arts, but I just couldn’t figure out what my role was going to be in the arts. That’s how I met Christine. I met her in PR and we were doing the Spier Arts Festival together. After that, I went into advertising and I did events and from then I moved over to the festival

What is the Cape Town International Animation Festival?

It is the celebration of the art and the business of animation. It really is about celebrating, not only the creative side of it, which is very important, but also recognising that there is a portion of the programme which is dedicated to the upskilling and to the development of producers and the technical side. The programme is split into three bits; creator, producer and technical. We do workshops and master classes for all three groups over the three days. We also have the films and the screening side of things. That is really to introduce audiences to new types of films. To expand the horizon that there is more than just Pixar and Disney, which are wonderful films, but there is other types of content out there. The NFVF did a survey a few years ago and it came out, from this audience reaction survey, that actually what people want most in the world is animation. It makes sense because you can take the whole family. You can take the five year-old, the nine year-old and mom and dad to the same film. There is a definite gap in the market for more animation. We try to introduce new styles of animation. For the past two years we have shown stop-motion, this year we will show My Life as a Courgette and a 2D feature film, which I think people are pretty used to 2D but it’s always something a little different. This year we are going to show Miss Hokusai which is an anime-style feature film that is about a daughter and her relationship with her father who was the artist Hokusai who did the big Japanese tidal wave painting

I think it’s great that you mentioned the family aspect because I go back and watch animated films that I used to love as a child and realise that there are so many jokes that I didn’t get because they were written for the parents. 

I think that is what is so cool about animation. You can hide the adult jokes in there but the kids are still having a great time and laughing at completely different things than what the parents are laughing at. 

And for kids nowadays, animation is everything. 

It’s everywhere. In that way it’s big business as well because of all the merchandising. There is a lot of money to be had which means that a lot of investment goes into these properties to develop them into some of the best films that you see because a spin-off of that is quite big, far more than a live-action film for adults. 

And just so we are clear, My Life as a Courgette is the same as My Life as a Zucchini which has just been nominated for an Oscar?

Our partners are IFAS and so we are showing the French film with English subtitles. There is an English version and that one is called My Life as a Zucchini. 

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Dianne Makings. Photo credit: Sophie Kirsch

What goes into your role as the festival director?

My role is to coordinate and conceptualise all the different aspects and then handle the logistics that go into it. We have an outreach programme that runs out of the Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha and that is about introducing people to the potential of animation. That is done with our partners at Animate Africa. I’ll put together the programme for that and which forums will go there and I’ll chat to the venue and to the different NGO’s and we’ll put together a programme that highlights to people that animation is a legitimate career for you. This is actually an avenue that you can go into if you love art or if you love storytelling. Then on the main programme festival, I’ll liaise and find all the guest speakers, the international guest speakers, I’ll put the programme together, the titles together, the logistics of it all and do the same with the films. Then on the other side, there is the student competition and that is run by our student programme coordinator and she received something like 200 entries this year. She, together with her judging panel, will go through all the entries and will whittle down our winners. Our overall winners of the student competition win a two week internship at Nickelodeon in California. All expenses paid and they get to go into the studio and see how a show is created and meet content and show creators. It’s a pretty awesome prize.

Is your planning process a year round thing? Do you start planning for the festival the same after the last festival closes?

Exactly a day after the festival closes. You do your reports for maybe a week or so and then straight after you are into the next thing. What you actually see in the festival is the tip of the iceberg. You don’t see 90% of the work because to get down to the actual programme you have got to go searching. We search the globe for the content and then we whittle down to what the final three day programme is. 

Why is the festival so successful in Cape Town of all places?

Cape Town was chosen because we are leveraging off of the incredible job that the city did with Cape Town as one of the top 10 bucket list travel destination in the world. It is quite easy to persuade international delegates to come down because they know it and they are familiar with it. The goal of the festival over the next nine years is to become the defacto African animation festival, pulling panAfrican content to South Africa during the course of the festival to attract international delegates to come down and meet Africa animation as opposed to just South African animation. But that is going to take nine years to get there. 

Is there a very strong female presence in the animation industry?

No but it is definitely growing. The importance of bringing in female voices to animation can’t be stressed enough. In the same sense, bringing in people of colour to this industry absolutely has to be one of the top things that the animation industry concentrates on because it is the thing that differentiates us from the rest of the world. What is happening in North America and Europe is that the students that are being produced there are all starting to become quite homogenous and the work is a little bit homogenous. These studios are looking for a new voice and the next thing. It is people of colour and women that are going to be giving us that voice. They are going to provide us with that different look or that different voice or that different story. More women in animation is definitely needed. 

Photo credit: Sophie Kirsch

What advice would you give to women looking to enter this world?

I think the first part is not to be intimidated. You are welcomed. You are wanted and if you have a story to tell then this is a really good medium to tell your story in because you can expand the creative quite a lot. It doesn’t need to be as ridged as live-action which is dictated by your body or the set or the permit or the location whereas with animation you can go as big as your imagination will let you. The second thing I’d say is that if you can draw, you can be taught to animate. If you can write, you can write a script. Don’t get bogged down about what you can’t do, rather focus on what you can do and adapt those skills into where you want to be in the pipeline. 

What does the festival have in store for members of the public who don’t know what goes into the world of animation?

We have some parts of the festival that have free entry and those parts of the festivals are for consumers who might be interested or might want to know a little bit more. [They can] wander into the room and hear a talk or go down to the exhibition area and have a look at some of the artists and speak to some of the artists, speak to the animation schools, and speak to Animation SA. [They can] just get a sense or a feeling for it. Some areas of the festival are a little bit cornered off and that is for more industry-type events, but I think that if you are curious about animation then you should come and you should just find out. You should just have a look. There might be something that you don’t necessarily think is part of the animation pipeline that is perfect for you.

Photo credit: Sophie Kirsch

I think that’s fantastic that there are elements that are free and accessible to everyone. How have you noticed the entertainment industry has evolved? 

Over the last 10 years we are starting to develop an industry. In theatre, for example, We now have big shows with good budgets and very high quality production. We have gone from excellent talent to people who are creating an industry and it is the same with animation. 10 years ago we had people who were passionate and talented and were trying to make work and trying to make it happen. We have an industry now. It’s taken 10 years but we have an industry that has gotten deliverables doing amazing work. There is a studio in Joburg, Mind’s Eye Creative doing all the animation for F is for Family, which is that Netflix show. Then we’ve got Triggerfish Animation Studios and they’ve done the BBC Christmas special for two years in a row, that’s Revolting Rhymes which you can see at the festival, and the year before it was Stick Man which is the Julia Donaldson one. These are big properties and they are being done right here in South Africa. Then you have smaller pockets of studios, people like Tulips and Chimneys or Zeropoint Studios which is doing the most incredible IP creation and they are creating pre-school TV shows. One of their shows is called Hatch and then they have a web series called Squeers which is about gay squirrels.

That’s brilliant! That’s such a good name!

It’s so cool. It’s full-on adult web series content. Not only do we have the talent, we also have an industry that is growing which is great. People must make money. I hate the idea that artists are sloppy. They’re not. You have to be so incredibly disciplined to put on a theatre piece or to put out a piece of animation. You have to hit your deadlines, you have to be organised, you have to be a project manager, and a creative. Creative people are industrious, they are organized, and they are creating content which is possibly one of the most difficult things to do. It’s amazing and yet the perception of creativity is “don’t go there, you might never make any money” or “what’s your real job?” 

Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?

Ree Treweek from Tulips and Chimneys. She is an artist and illustrator who truly has a unique style. Her voice is very clear and she is very different. Zolani Mahola, also such a unique voice. When you hear her on the radio, it’s Zolani. There is no mistaking her voice. I love women who are able to take their voice and make their own stories and are telling those stories. I also love Julia Anastasopoulos and Gina Pauling. They are such a powerful female duo creating original content and just writing, just doing it. I love strong women. 

The Cape Town International Animation Festival runs from March 3rd until March 5th at The River Club. For more information, click here.

Special thanks to Christine Skinner, Sophie Kirsch and Hannah Baker.

All photos taken by Sophie Kirsch.

Sarafina Magazine and Sophie Kirsch maintain copyright over all photos. For usage and permission, please contact us.




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