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Triggerfish: Telling African Stories to the World

In 2015, South African animation studio Triggerfish launched a pan-African talent search for animated films and series. Supported by The Walt Disney Company, The Triggerfish Story Lab received nearly 1,400 entries from across the continent.

Triggerfish - Kizazi Moto

Fast forward eight years, and all of the Triggerfish Story Lab's TV series winners have major animated series out this year. Marc Dey and Kelly Dillon are co-creators of the preschool series Kiya & The Kimoja Heroes on Disney Junior, and Lucy Heavens is co-creator of Kiff on Disney Channel. Both shows debuted in the United States in March 2023 and will premiere across the continent soon. Malenga Mulendema's Zambian teen superhero series Supa Team 4 premiered in July as Netflix's first original animated series from Africa and is currently streaming to 238 million subscribers in more than 190 countries around the world. And Mike Scott is co-creator of a series launching soon across the continent on African streamer Showmax, produced by Braintrust and Mind's Eye Creative.

Triggerfish’s work is helping to change the image of Africa, showing the world that Africa is a continent of creativity, innovation, and storytelling, whilst creating opportunities for African animators and filmmakers. "Talent is everywhere; opportunity isn’t," says Triggerfish creative director Anthony Silverston. "So when you’re the first to open the door, there’s a backlog of talent queuing up."

2023 is becoming a breakthrough year for African animation. In addition to helping produce Supa Team 4 and Kiya & The Kimoja Heroes, Triggerfish is the lead studio on the African sci-fi anthology Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire and produced Aau's Song, the final short film in Lucasfilms' Star Wars: Visions Volume II.

Both anthologies are now streaming on Disney+ with rare 100% critics' ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, making them two of the most acclaimed animation series of 2023 so far. Collider hailed Kizazi Moto as "one of the best animated shows of the last decade," while Aau's Song was ranked as "the best episode" of Star Wars: Visions Volume II by Screenrant and described as "gorgeous" by everyone from Empire to Polygon, who called it "a perfect note to end the season on".

Triggerfish has been a pioneer in African animation for 27 years. They have produced award-winning work, including five BBC Christmas specials based on Roald Dahl and Julia Donaldson books, an Oscar-nominated short film, and a feature film that cracked the Netflix Global Top 10. In 2023, they are taking a major step forward by telling original stories about Africans.

"Parents in South Africa often treat the idea of making a career out of iPopeye [South African slang for animation] with skepticism, but animation is a growing, labour-intensive industry which is struggling to keep up with the global demand for talent," says Silverston. "Even outside the traditional film industry, there’s demand for animation talent within fields like advertising, app and web design, architecture, engineering, gaming, industrial design, medicine, and the motor industry, not to mention growth sectors like augmented reality and virtual reality. So, in a country like South Africa, with a 32.9% unemployment figure for the first quarter of 2023, animation can make a big impact."

"We are opening the door to the first generation of African animators to tell our stories," says Silverston. "This is an incredible honor, and we are committed to making sure that these stories are heard around the world."