Namibian-born independent television producer and director Linda de Jager has been privileged to experience the natural beauty of Africa for a great majority of her life. Seeing more of the world only enhanced her appreciation for wide open spaces and wildlife in abundance. Now living in Johannesburg and having recently participated in an undercover investigation into the inner workings of rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park drawing on a recruitment pool in Mozambique, de Jager used her experiences in Namibia as inspiration to develop the first two 26-minute episodes of animated series /Gasa, which aims to create conservation awareness and spread the message: ‘protect what you love’.
The /Gasa character is a San superhero who travels to remote communities in Namibia telling traditional stories about animals with his imaginary lizard companion, ‘Mr Gecko’. “My point of departure remains that if you can merely rekindle the love of nature and animals already manifested in traditional stories – you can start a conversation about why it is important to ‘protect what you love,’” explains de Jager.
Connecting through comics
While on her travels to remote areas investigating the illegal wildlife trade, de Jager realised she wanted to be part of a constructive conversation with the youth of these communities. She remembers: “I asked myself: how do you reach the hearts and minds of children who have nothing and need to poach to feed themselves? The answer was comics and animation.”
The show is a stepping stone on the way to developing the story into a series of comics, as de Jager believes the medium is an effective one for reaching her desired audience and affecting real change. De Jager has seen this first hand through the experience of Pascal ‘Freehand’ Ricky Nzoni and Pitshou Mampa, two close friends from the Congo whose lives were changed through exposure to comics at a young age. The duo went on to become key illustrators for a comic book about Nelson Mandela and were therefore a good fit to come on board in the creation of /Gasa. “I knew from the outset that I wanted to work with them to give the series an authentic African feel,” says de Jager. Nzoni would take on the role as key animator and illustrator and Mampa as supporting illustrator.
/Gasa is aimed at African children of all ages, but has garnered a broader appeal than initially anticipated. “I wanted the project to be raw, childlike, naïve – and unpretentious – to speak directly to remote communities who may not be exposed to complicated visuals like children in the city. But now it just generally seems to appeal to a cross section of children,” de Jager remarks.
A truly African feel
Portraying a genuine and relatable Africa in the series involved a lot of research. The traditional stories which feature in the series were passed on to de Jager from Christiaan Fourie, an acquaintance who had grown up on a farm and had heard many of the stories first hand. Once a script was developed Tienie and Daniël du Plessis sourced a visual library of photos and created an initial storyboard which correlated to the script and was developed into a focused storyboard for the project. “Photo references were important because I wanted the relevant trees and animals to look like the real thing – as this is essentially edutainment,” says de Jager.
De Jager also relied on her relationship with self-taught animator Nzoni, who was able to uniquely contribute subtle African touches, like the position of the hands during cultural greetings, to the narrative. Together they were able to bring the story to life on screen. “I think the biggest challenge was understanding the environment in which the story takes place. The /Gasa character lives in the real environment and meets people from existing tribes or villages, so we had to do a lot of research to make sure the audience could relate to the visuals,” comments Nzoni. “An animator needs to live inside his own animation before even starting, allowing himself to feel the story before bringing it to life.”
/Gasa was created using two animation techniques; frame by frame animation and cut-out animation. These were executed by Nzoni using different Adobe software for specific processes: Adobe Flash for the main animation and illustration; Adobe Photoshop for background painting; and Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects for post and editing. Paul Riekert of One FMusic created the underscore and sound effects for the production.
Self-funded by de Jager in its early stages, /Gasa soon thereafter garnered support from various sources including The Pupkewitz Foundation and the FNB trust in Namibia, which supplied some development funding; The Namibian Film Commission which funded the translations into five Namibian languages; the Legal Assistance Centre’s LEAD wildlife crime Advocacy Project in Namibia which screened the project in remote communities; the Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia; Namibian cultural experts Richard Shitwa and Samuel Bibombe; and Spoor and Fischer Trademark Patents and Copyright Specialists. The two-part series is currently being aired on Air Namibia international flights and will appear on Namibian commercial free-to-air television station One Africa Namibia in 2016. De Jager plans to create further episodes of /Gasa which feature other African countries, and to engage with more grassroots organisations with direct access and existing relationships in remote communities in Africa.
De Jager concludes: “Perhaps we are so disconnected from nature that we cannot see what we stand to lose on the African continent if we do not fight for our wildlife and our last wildernesses, but /Gasa does.”