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Pitch & Produce | AZANIA RISES: African Talent Unites for Futuristic Tech Film with Real-time Software

Dr. Farayi Chinyanga – Director / Animator

Farayi Chinyanga

Formation Animation was founded in 2017 by Dr. Farayi Chinyanga in Johannesburg South Africa. The intention of the company was to create world-class animated content with a distinctly African flavor. The hope was to help redefine and expand the scope of ‘African’ animation, and in the process create content that is truly special.

Formation Animations flagship project – Azania Rises is a science fiction epic, set in the near future created by a collaboration of talented African artists who have pooled their skills and resources for this animated series. The team employed the iClone Ecosystem in their production with help from Character Creator 3 and Unreal Engine.

” Reallusion software has automated the mundane to  make way for the exceptional. ”

Dr. Farayi Chinyanga – Director / Animator

Q: Welcome Farayi, and congratulations for your outstanding work in the Reallusion Pitch & Produce Program! Kindly share with us the beginning of AZANIA RISES, along with the background of the film.

Formation Animations flagship project – Azania Rises is an epic science fiction animation series set in the near future. Azania Rises asks the question ‘What would a fully realized African look like, and how would it come about?’ And then goes about answering this question in spectacular fashion.

At the beginning of the year, it was just myself and the animator, however as the year progressed more and more people were inspired by the work and joined the team. We ensured that the creative team was as diverse a possible so that every aspect of the series showcased the rich and wonderful diversity that exists on the African continent. Azania Rises has a lot of surprises in store for its viewership, so stay tuned.

Q: This cooperative project consists of The Formation, Pressure Cooker Studios, Sound & Motion Studios and more, in a wide range of collaborations. Please provide insight on the multitude of fields, skills and talents that have come together for this project.

Oh yes, this has been quite unexpected but very welcome. From the beginning of the project, we wanted to ensure that The Azania Rises Series could compete with anything produced by the big studios like Disney, Pixar, or Sony. This lead to us reaching out to various award-winning companies and professionals to help us realize our dream. A major challenge, of course, is that as a startup we could not afford their services, however, this turned out not to be a problem. They were all so intrigued by the project and the progress we had made thus far that offered their services gratis until a streaming service picked up our animation and gave us a budget to produce more. This was an incredible boost for the production team as it came as a validation that we were on the right track.

Music plays a central role in Azania Rises. While it is not a musical per se, we wanted to ensure that the diversity of African sound and rhythm was featured prominently in the series. As a result, we have to build a team of academics and musicians that are composing an original score for the entire series. Azania Rises will be original in more ways than one.  At the beginning of 2020, we had a team of 2 individuals. This number has grown to close to 20 professionals working in areas such as Animation, Music composition, and scoring, Sound design, Scriptwriting and would design, and finally social media. 

Q: Azaria Rises touches on the theme of a technological, futuristic Africa; which fits perfectly as your team has chosen to use real-time software applications that are now paving the way of the future. Can you share with us your workflow and why you chose to use real-time software?

I start by designing the characters in Character Creator 3. Once I am satisfied with the character design I immediately send the model into iClone 7. From there I can start setting up the way he/she moves through a combination of pre-recorded mo-cap moves from the Reallusion market as well as Mixamo. I find that this saves a lot of time. I adjust and tweak the movements where I see fit. I also set up the camera as well as its movements in iClone.

Thanks to the free Unreal Live Link capability between iClone and Unreal Engine I then import my character directly into Unreal Engine , and use its tools to build the environment around my character. I also import props as well as the camera setup.

Q: The team employs Character Creator 3 with SkinGen to create all your characters. followed by iClone animation, and Live Link into Unreal Engine. What are the benefits and advantages of using these tools compared to other applications?

Designing our characters in CC3 saves a massive amount of time that would normally be used to sculpt and model features in other 3D programs that would make each character unique. The awesome SkinGen plugin pushes the realism of the character design, which is what we are going for, allowing for designing intricate skin details right down to the subsurface of the skin.

” I haven’t found a 3D software program or plugin that replicates the amount of skin detail you customize for your character that Character Creator and SkinGen does! “

Dr. Farayi Chinyanga – Director / Animator

Animating in iClone is intuitive and easy so what’s great about the Unreal Live Link workflow is how I can focus on doing all the character animation in iClone, which is then picked up in Unreal Engine in real-time. It allows me to make tweaks to the animation pretty quickly and on-the-go. It also allows me to then take advantage of Unreal’s VFX capabilities and post-processing volumes and really start to push the cinematic feel of what we’re trying to create.

Q: After receiving your Pitch & Produce grant with Reallusion. What is the next step for Azaria Rises, and when can the community look forward to seeing the final film?

Well, the grant will go into the purchase of a new computer which will greatly assist the animation process. We have found that our current machine was really struggling to make full use of the potential of both Unreal and Reallusion software. The new machine will resolve that. 

As to the next steps, we are going to continue working on episode 1of Azania Rises which has been broken down into ten, 2-3 minute clip (some of which are already available for viewing on our YouTube channel). By the time we have completed episode 1, we are confident that one of the numerous streaming services will have picked up the animation. Episode 1 should be complete by  June 2021… however, we will be posting the 3-minute clips every 2 months or so.

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