Innovative Strides in Animation

pixar-monsters-university-1Advancements in computer animation and consumers’ insatiable appetite for stylized robots, animals and monsters have propelled the industry. The momentum isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon, according to South African industry experts.

Related: How South African animators are making industry waves (internal link)

Since the turn of the century, the animation industry has been propelled forward thanks to computer graphic advancements and affordable, relatively easy to use and professional desktop tools. The web, predominantly through the rise of social media, has also become a distribution channel to pretty much everyone.

“If you look worldwide, there are 45 or 50 fully 3D feature-length, computer-animated films in production today, ready for release over the next couple of years,” says Yanik Fairbank, an industry veteran who is currently CEO of Turbulent Pictures, South Africa’s leading animation and special effects firm. “In the past 10 years there has been a rise in animations coming out of South Africa who are bringing with them a fresh view on what makes a great animated movie thanks to these technological advancements.”

Adults are flocking to theaters as well, as storylines have become more mature. “The creative ambition is now matched by technical capabilities; the sophistication of the imagery now matches sophisticated stories,” says Ann Daly, chief operating officer at DreamWorks, the studio behind Shrek and Madagascar.

Some of the innovation strides in the past decade include:

Early 3D animation in the cinema

FutureworldThe first use of 3D wireframe imagery in mainstream cinema was in the sequel to Westworld, Futureworld (1976), directed by Richard T. Heffron. This featured a computer-generated hand and face created by then University of Utah graduate students Edwin Catmull and Fred Parke which had initially appeared in their 1971 experimental short A Computer Animated Hand.[42]

The third movie to use this technology was Star Wars (1977), written and directed by George Lucas, with wireframe imagery in the scenes with the Death Star plans, the targeting computers in the X-wing fighters, and the Millennium Falcon spacecraft.

First solid 3D CGI in the movies

The first cinema feature movie to make extensive use of solid 3D CGI was Walt Disney’s Tron, directed by Steven Lisberger, in 1982. The film is celebrated as a milestone in the industry, though less than twenty minutes of this animation were actually used—mainly the scenes that show digital “terrain”, or include vehicles such as Light Cycles, tanks and ships. To create the CGI scenes, Disney turned to the four leading computer graphics firms of the day: Information International Inc, Robert Abel and Associates (both in California), MAGI, and Digital Effects (both in New York).

Virtual cinematography

matrixreloadedThe early 2000s saw the advent of fully virtual cinematography with its audience debut considered to be in the 2003 movies Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions with its digital look-alikes so convincing that it is often impossible to know if some image is a human imaged with a camera or a digital look-alike shot with a simulation of a camera.

The scenes built and imaged within virtual cinematography are the “Burly brawl” and the end showdown between Neo and Agent Smith. With conventional cinematographic methods the burly brawl would have been prohibitively time consuming to make with years of compositing required for a scene of few minutes. Also a human actor could not have been used for the end showdown in Matrix Revolutions: Agent Smith’s cheekbone gets punched in by Neo leaving the digital look-alike naturally unhurt.

“The industry is in an exciting phase at the moment with several smaller visual effects companies coming into the fray with highly innovative advancements,” says Fairbank. “ International filmmakers are already looking overseas to add greater value to their films, to give them that competitive edge.”

Related: 5 Phenomenal filming locations in South Africa

Here’s how Turbulent Pictures is revolutionising the animation industry:


A SFX Music Industry ‘Mashup’!


Picking up four South African Music Award nominations and respect from many fans across the country who enjoy their fusion of sound and music video effects, we met up with Lead Guitarist and Vocalist, Mthae from The Muffinz, to find out how SFX can fine tune a recipe for success for artists in the South African music industry. Like muffins, The Muffinz are made up of different ingredients. Apart from their music as the main ingredient to their success, this band has shown a lot of progression over recent times by adding special effects to their music videos.

Intro1 copy

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The Turbulent Pictures team find this niche extremely interesting and consider it to be a competitive advantage to do SFX & VFX for music videos. Zamani, SFX Editor at Turbulent Pictures, spoke to Mthae to see how SFX & VFX can add more flavour to our local music industry –a winning formula that will make The Muffinz rise.

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 14.34.07Mthae is inspired by how SFX enhances storytelling and how it brings their music to life. “I’ve always had a passion for SFX and grew up reading Superman comics. The visual stimulation was also on another level back then. If it weren’t for those comic books, my imagination would be monochrome with a splash of emptiness”. Mthae also explains that there is a very big need in South Africa for SFX specifically the music industry in order for bands and artist to stay relevant to the ever-changing audiences.

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 14.25.54

At Turbulent Pictures we believe that we can bring imaginations to life across various industries ranging from advertising, live performance arts, music, TV production, theatre, films and many more. It’s a mashup of industries using SFX to enhance the story being told!

Checkout some more local examples of music videos with SFX:

Anti-Aging VFX

Visual Effect Techniques That Will Blow Your Mind

Visual effects are the future and they can even turn the ugliest duckling into a swan – quite literally actually – allow us to give you a glimpse of some of these VFX techniques…

Celebrities have struggled for years to keep those pretty appearances with their plastic surgery secrets, detox, botox and even brotox? Yes, these are scary words and very intimidating! Horrors await when it goes wrong and the pressure is on when it’s a success. But… what if there was an easier way, a more painless way. How dare I say that? Well, to tell the truth, we’ve been developing a little fountain of youth in our backyard and the results speak for themselves. I introduce to you: The one, the only – the Digital Facelift!

Digital Facelift1. Anti-Aging VFX

The Marvel’s X-Men movies are legendary and their cast, especially Prof. Xavier and villain Magneto, are solid characters in the franchise. With these extraordinary characters also comes great risk where substitute actors are being used to represent the characters in their prime. This is a great example of how you can turn back the clock 25 years, not only do you keep the actors, their popularity and a happy fan base but you also show-off the superhuman strength of visual effects. These shots can’t always be shot on green-screen, instead the use of powerful software and tons of research on the ageing process helps make it just as powerful as Wolverine’s healing abilities.

Anti-Aging VFX
Before visual effects
Anti-Aging VFX
After visual effects


2. The Instant Weight Loss Effect

The heading can be quite misleading, and some would think we’re trying to sell another type of miracle diet. Sorry folks, this was not our intent. In the visual effects business we like to push boundaries, break out of our boxes (with a shield if possible) and think of bizarre things to do! In this case why not shrink Captain America down to a skinny loser. This is a very handy technique; you actually shoot a scene with both the actor and his skinny counterpart, then you do a digital head replacement with CGI. It takes a bit of acting from the cast, since half the time they speak down to Chris Evans’ chin and not his face, getting the angle perfect and believable for the shot. This type of VFX technique is time consuming but very effective.

Real Steve before VFX
Real Steve before VFX
Skinny Steve after VFX
Skinny Steve after VFX


 3. Shrinking Characters with Camera Shots and Green-Screen

The green-screen has always been a winner. With The Hobbit’s making director Peter Jackson used a different technique this time around in shrinking the hobbits. Gandalf the wizard would be shot against a green background with the camera very close, making him look very tall and the hobbits would be shot simultaneously on their set. Both images would be overlapped and the green background removed and voila! This visual effects technique is a lot quicker than the previous one.

The Hobbit Green-Screen Set
The Hobbit Green-Screen Set


4. I’ll be a Monkey’s Uncle

Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ makers did not monkey around when they produced the new blockbuster. This is a complete digital make-over, using actors only as guides to help the visual effect software locate accurate and natural movement as well as facial expressions. Afterwards they replace the actors with digital characters.

Actor in Real Time
Actor in Real Time
3D Model
3D Model
Digital Character - Final Image
Digital Character – Final Image


5. Realistic Zombies

The Walking Dead has a lot to live up to in terms of making their blood and gore scenes look great. With this type of series it is better to ensure that the makeup and prosthesis being used look very realistic and convincing, this is touched up afterwards with layers of visual effects.

See the video below showing how these effects work:


These are only a few visual effect techniques that are being used in today’s movies. Visual effects keep on evolving and boundaries are being pushed daily to give viewers the most realistic VFX experience possible. Here at Turbulent Pictures our main focus is visual effects, it’s our passion, life’s work and we are very good at it. Give us a shot and you will not only be amazed with our team’s talents – you won’t believe your eyes! Can you afford not to work with the best in the business?