by Baird Media

… Ring, ring, why don’t you give me a call?

Ring, ring, the happiest sound of them all

Ring, ring, I stare at the phone on the wall …

Yes, these might be the lyrics from an Abba song from toeka’s days but they aptly describe Dorette Nel’s irritation. Waiting for those elusive calls for the next job – acting, script writing, whatever may come next? It was during one of these patches of waiting for something to happen that a chance conversation resulted in her doing a course in animation.

As with all training, there were assignments. No-one in their wildest dreams, let alone Dorette, thought that a conceptual assignment would – or could – become an award-winning short children’s film.  

Starting at the beginning

The art of writing for animation, says Nel, is very different from script writing, per se, an art at which she excels. She describes it as “visual writing” saying, “if it’s not on paper, it’s not on the screen”. Each character, every detail of the story, from movement and motion, from environment and setting to character, even emotion, are set out.  

Ruby and Roach:  The genesis

Who are Ruby and Roach? Well, other than characters in the film, that is?  

Nel has great difficulty articulating her creative process. She does, however, attribute some of the inspiration to watching her children playing games, creating characters and stories with their toys. One such story involved an elephant. This became her spark of inspiration. Having settled on the slightly flawed elephant, Nel realised that the character needed a friend. From somewhere the notion of a cockroach flew in, not fluffy, but also somewhat flawed and the perfect juxtaposition.

And so, the concept of a pair of flawed, unwanted toys provided the seed for the concept that Nel ultimately pitched as part of the animation course. It was so well received that it was subsequently presented to the National Film and Video Foundation which had funded the training.  

The award of a small grant was the beginning of Ruby and Roach’s journey into life and on to the screen.  

Bringing Ruby and Roach to Life: Finding collaborators

The animation industry in South Africa can be loosely divided into two schools. There is the more commercial animation industry which sees South African companies collaborate on international productions. This is in stark contrast to the independent and art animators. This group consists of a handful of highly creative and skilled individuals. 

Nel notes that animation is an expensive art form in terms of time and skill, which all have a knock-on effect on budget.  Because she was a novice at that point, she sought help from someone who could mentor her, someone with an outstanding record as both an animator and for helping to launch new entrants to the market.  Working with award-winning artist and animator Diek Grobler helped Nel to pull together a team that would work on this project for the next nearly two years.

Journey in iterations

Nel points out that to make an animated film all by yourself is well-nigh impossible.  It would take too long and they need a range of talents and skills.  This makes them studies in collaborations – like with Erentia Bedeker – and iterations – as was the case for the music.  This takes the notion of, “if it’s not on paper, it’s not on the screen” to the next level.   

Having traveled the world and raking in one award after the other, Ruby and Roach proves that even first-time animation studios can put together a team that can produce an amazing product, putting South Africa firmly on the map as an emerging animation powerhouse.

What’s next? Nel has already pitched a new project to the National Film and Video Foundation. We are all eagerly waiting to see what she has up her sleeve.

To contact Dorette Nel, simply send her an email.