Mpumalanga-based Duncan MacNeillie is back in Johannesburg, pursuing his long time ambition to create an animated version of the well-loved Sir Percy Fitzpatrick story about Jock, the indomitable Staffordshire terrier, saved from drowning in the African bush. It's a great story and indeed, MacNeillie has done it twice before - both times in live action.

3D animation
"I decided eight years to make this animated version," he says. "I have always had the idea that animation would be the way to go, particularly since with animation, you can do it from Jock's point of view with talking animals.

"Originally, I had hoped to do it all in the bush. It was my dream to build an animation team in Nelspruit, but there is such a small pool of animators, and practicalities dictated that we should set up in Johannesburg, and that's what we did two years ago," he explains.

"When we first started there were 15 animators. They came from the industry and had to be technically competent and familiar with Autodesk Maya, which is the system we are using. Selection was based on experience and ability to handle the Jock workload. We also brought in four students at the beginning of this year and they have all done well. We now have over 22 staff, each with their own workstation, and we use a large Sledgehammer server."

It's an ambitious project by any standards. The Stereoscopic 3D is TRUE 3D which means that nothing is flat. The elements that come out at you when viewing are creatively selected and everything requires the creative touch of MacNeillie, which can be taxing. "Whilst I love it, I have to have time to get away and see family, and this leaves the weekends, so I commute from Mpumalanga and Johannesburg weekly," says MacNeillie.

Grammy and Oscar award winning Sir Tim Rice has written six songs for the movie and has just been in Johannesburg working on lyrics. Rice's brother, Johannesburg-based marketing and branding expert Andy Rice, is taking care of the marketing drive. Discussions are currently underway with publishers, retailers and indeed any interested parties. Merchandising products are under consideration, which could include books, games, toys, clothing - the works. This could be one of the largest merchandising campaigns ever seen in South Africa.

"We have another year to go," concludes MacNeillie. "We will be at festivals next year, and if the test screenings we are doing at present are anything to go by, the reaction should be extremely positive."