Following independent animation film company Fopspeen winning a special mention award for animation in a short film (Agenda) at the 3rd SAFTA award ceremony recently, In Focus decided to find out more about thisPretoria-based company, its strange name and its work.

Fopspeen, based in Arcadia, Pretoria, does any kind of animation for film, television programming, commercials, music videos, training videos, theatre productions and so on. They also compose and record music, record sound effects, do sound design and final mix for any kind of production.

But what does 'Fopspeen' mean and what inspired the name? Diek Grobler explains: �Fopspeen is an Afrikaans word for a baby�s dummy, or pacifier. A baby sucks on it to calm down, or as a substitute for the real thing. Similarly, art is a dummy or pacifier for life.�

Fopspeen create their magic in a small studio in Arcadia, within spitting distance of the Union Buildings. They see convoys of dignitaries charge by, hear protest marches steaming up the hill, and songs of celebration resounding from the Union Building gardens.

Grobler, who directed Agenda, trained as an artist and has been painting and exhibiting professionally since 1988. He has also ventured into performance art as well as avant garde theatre over the past twenty years, which eventually led him to animation.

�My paintings were always narrative,� he says, �so it was a natural progression from painting. In a film I can explore my narratives further than in the single frame of a painting. And I prefer animation to live theatre for the distance it affords: The audience can�t throw things at me any more!�

�I�m glad somebody took enough notice of our work to commission an article,� continues Grobler. �Independent animation in SA is in such dire straits, despite the boom in the commercial application of the craft.�
Fopspeen started in 1999 and in 2000, Grobler started doing animation to be used in his performances and got �more and more enchanted with the art form.� In 2004, Fopspeen became primarily an animation company and started working on a (still to be completed) animated children�s series Sanna�s Garden.

�We currently employ four animators and one producer. Being such a small company, everybody multitasks: I am director, editor, animator, scriptwriter and caterer, to name a few duties. My partner, Charles Badenhorst, animates, does all our sound design, composes and records music, and on our puppet films acts as DOP, lighting person and general technical overseer. On our short films, we collaborate with sculptor Marinda du Toit, who designs and builds the characters, does art direction, props etc, and also composes the original music. We have one junior animator, Jansen Lourens, who is highly skilled at 2D and 3D computer animation, and one trainee animator, Crowther Lindeque. We recently took a producer on board to help us expand our scope of activities.�

The SAFTA-award winning Agenda is the company�s second short film. The first, Little Bang, did extremely well on the international festival circuit, and was on the official program of about 30 animation and short-film festivals. It was picked up for international distribution by Canadian distributor, Ouat Media.

�All our work is, unfortunately, not puppet based. Stop motion is our passion because of the �realness� of it: real sets, real lighting, real �actors�. There are, however virtually no financially viable opportunities for our kind of work here. Most of our income is generated by doing various other styles of animation for a variety of different projects � from animation for theatre productions to animated inserts for television. We are currently working on an educational series for SABC 1, called The Justice Gang.
�Our next puppet project in the pipeline is a 40 minute animated film of an Afrikaans Opera based on a play by Ingrid Jonker. Tall order, but we like challenges!� laughs Grobler.

Agenda, which tells the tale of a �tea-girl�, was shot in July and August 2007. The boardroom scene was shot in the Rosendal Theatre in the small Eastern Free State village of Rosendal.

�The puppets we used were enormous - almost life size. We therefore needed a large space to work in. Since we had almost no budget, we could not hire a place in the city. Actor and theatre owner, Chris van Niekerk, offered us the use of the Rosendal theatre. He also provided the voice for �the Chairman�. The look of the theatre interior fitted perfectly with our characters and their world, so we did not need to do much set dressing.

�Half of the film, which takes place in a kitchen, was shot in our studio in Pretoria. Only one puppet appears in this scene, and she is much smaller, so we constructed a set to scale. We did our own post production.�

Agenda was shortlisted for best African short film on the Africa in Motion Film Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008. Little Bang was nominated for a SAFTA in 2007. It also won a merit award for new media at the Ekurhuleni arts competition. Fopspeen also  won an award at MIPCOM in Cannes in 2007 � for best factual content for Mobile and Internet.

�We have lots of exciting projects in the planning and development stage,� concludes Grobler, �and we are hoping that the SAFTA nod will aid us in securing funding or investment.

For more information on Fopspeen, contact Diek Grobler on diek@fopspeen.co.za or +27 (0)82 374 7115