Today’s #WC is a Kabelo Maaka, a phenomenal creative and business woman. Here’s her story.
How old are you?
I am 24. Turning 25 in September 🙂
Where are you from?
I am South African. I was born in Johannesburg, but my family is originally from Limpopo.
What did you study and where did you study?
So the formal name for my degree is Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Motion Picture Medium. I studied at a film school called AFDA. I did my undergrad in Cape Town and my post-grad at their Johannesburg campus. I went to AFDA specifically for animation, but because it is a film degree I also took classes in: film editing, sound design, script writing, music performance, film producing.
When I was in my fourth year I got the opportunity to attend Gobelins L’Ecole de L’Image in Paris, France. It is one of the best (if not the best) animation schools in the world. I attended their character animation summer school where I was taught by Disney veterans and people who worked on blockbuster feature films. That was surreal. It really changed my perspective on how animation could be taught! My experience studying animation at AFDA was quite disappointing. The other subjects were decent, but the animation course was poorly run and poorly supported when I was there, so being at Gobelins was a refreshing change of pace. I felt like I found people who took animation just as seriously as I did.
I also learnt a lot from using YouTube tutorials, online classes, animation books and emailing other artists that I admired online.
What are you currently doing for work?
Right now I wear a lot of different hats, but all within animation. This is the work I do:
- Creative Director & Lead Animator
- 2D Animation & Pre-production Lecturer
- Animation Teacher & Mentor
- Animation Director
- Concept Artist
- Story boarder
As a Creative Director and a Lead Animator I work for my company Cabblow Studios. I founded my studio in 2017 after graduating with my honours degree. We are an animation and illustration studio focused on creating original short and long form projects, commissioned work and medical animation. Medical Animation is our unique service offering, where we use animation for the medical industry – hospitals, doctors, medical aids & pharmaceuticals etc… This is a unique partnership that I have with my mother – Dr Tshepo P. Maaka. She is a medical doctor of 25 years experience. She oversees the aspects of business development and the medical content and I oversee all the creative aspects like: storytelling and animation style. Because we are a growing studio we have to share the work between us, but it is a good learning experience.
What have been some of your biggest achievements in your career?
I feel like I only just started my career so I’m still trying to rack up my achievements, but I think I can list a few:
- Starting my company straight after university (I’m glad I took the plunge)
- Studying animation in France (it has opened a lot of doors to be associated with such an acclaimed school)
- I just finished one year as an Animation Lecturer in Feb 2019, so that’s cool!
- Getting to speak at The Cape Town International Animation Festival (and meeting so many of my industry peers for the first time)
- Getting my first Medical Animation client towards the end of last year!
- Creating my Gobelins Vlog Series (I get a lot of comments on YouTube and Instagram from people who say they appreciate the insight I gave them into the summer school program. A lot of people also ask for advice and encouragement because applying can seem so intimidating).
- Gaining confidence in my art style and my way of creating animation (It’s an ongoing journey, but I’m in such a good place with that)
At what age did you know that you wanted to be an animator and which things in your life do you think influenced your choice?
I knew I wanted to be in animation from a very young age, but I didn’t know that the job title was called “Animator”. Like many others I loved animation growing up, but what I loved more than the movies and the shows was the behind the scenes on DVD releases. Because my mother was a single parent with a very demanding job we weren’t able to go out to the cinema to see movies very often, but what we did do consistently was rent out DVDs every Friday afternoon after school. My favourite part about DVDs was the behind the scenes where the animators show you their process. The director takes you through the deleted scenes and some DVDs even had demonstrations on how to draw the characters in the film. That was truly where I first learnt that animation was not just magic, but something that was created by people. I was 11 when I started saying that I wanted to be a “cartoonist”. That later became animator when I got to high school.
I think the other major influence was that I grew up as an only child. I always had to find ways to entertain myself when there weren’t any other kids around, which was often. I spent most of my time drawing and coming up with stories based on the characters that I drew – especially during school holidays. I enjoyed drawing and improving my drawing skills, but I also enjoyed creating my own characters. Although animated films have big teams, animators actually have to spend a lot of time working alone so I think I have a bit of an advantage because I’ve been doing that for most of my childhood.
What are your favourite animations?
Always a difficult question for an animator, but I think my favourites are:
Mulan – I really relate to Mulan as a character
The Prince of Egypt – just an exquisite film
As Told by Ginger & The Wild Thornberrys – SOLO. FEMALE. PROTAGONISTS & Nostalgia!!
Tarzan (the original 1999 release, not the recent live-action remake) – the animation & the musical storytelling.
I also really love Kubo & The Two Strings by Laika animation and I really enjoyed the recent Spiderman movie by Sony Animation. I actually got to meet one of the directors of the film – Peter Ramsey – and I congratulated him on the Oscar win at the Cape Town animation festival – so that was cool!
Who are some of the people who inspire you in your career?
From a business point of view. I’m inspired by independent artists online and prominent Christian figures. There are too many to name so here is the top 4:
- My mom – she is so hardworking, determined and very creative, even though she comes from a medical background. My mom inspires me to be driven, relentless, confident and to leverage my connections! She also mentors me as I grow as a businesswoman.
- Fran Meneses (Frannerd) – YouTuber, Illustrator, Online Store owner. I admire her drive, her vulnerability in her work and her creativity. She is such a helpful resource and she takes risks, but still lives a simple life.
- Jason Brubaker – Independent comic book creator who left Dreamworks animation to pursue a career in self-published comics. He is open about how his faith affects his work and about his strategy for sustaining himself and his family with his work.
- Lately Steve Harvey – the man is funny and real and his story is unexpectedly inspirational.
As an animator or artist, I’m mostly inspired by the actual finished work of an animation or illustration and not necessarily the person behind it. If I’m really inspired by a particular piece of animation I’ll look for the person who created it and probably follow their work online to learn from them.
What is medical animation and how did you get into it? When did you realise that medicine and animation could work, especially for you?
Also see my answer in question 3.
My mom was the one who thought of it. She was frustrated with patients who didn’t seem to understand their medical aid cover or the procedure they were undergoing at the hospital. So she said we should combine our skills and try to solve the communication gap between patients and medical practitioners. From there Medical Animation was born. For me it’s about storytelling and communication and connecting people through animated film. So whether it’s medical animation or just regular animation it’s all the same to me. Plus all I want to be is helpful person and medical animation allows me to do that. We’ve been researching and working on Medical Animation since mid-2017.
What’s the one major piece of advice that you share with your first years and think that every 18 year old wanting to pursue a career in animation should know?
I asked my students and apparently they say I always tell them to rest, read the brief & not to be hard on themselves. I tell them to rest because animation can be very grueling even in a university context. I tell them to “read the brief” because understanding a client or a director’s instructions is a vital skill in this industry. Finally I tell them not be hard on themselves because it is very easy to fall into comparison in this line of work. This is advice that I have to tell myself as well. Apparently I always says #SorryNotSorry a lot as well. I am not apologetic when it comes to challenging them with the tasks that I give and I am not apologetic about my convictions as an artist.
I think the advice that every 18 year old should know when pursuing animation is that it is time consuming, not everyone will understand it, it can be very difficult at times, but very rewarding. Go in to animation with the determination to learn this thing no matter what!
What are some of the misconceptions that people have of young black girls working in your industry?
I’m not sure if I’ve ever encountered a misconception specifically related to young black girls working in the industry because there are so few of them in South Africa. There is a misconception though, that girls don’t watch animation or they only watch female-skewed shows. This is very untrue. Ben-10 was one of my favourite shows growing up.
As a story-teller, what inspires and motivates you?
As a storyteller I am inspired by people. I think people are peculiar and it’s either funny, saddening, inspiring or infuriating. I want to tell stories about all the people I observe in my everyday life. From the most outrageous to the most mundane.
Motivation is a hard one. I think I’m motivated by the need to be helpful or by a sense of frustration over a certain topic.
Where are some of the places people can go (physical and online) to learn more about the world of animation?
Books: The Animator’s Survival Kit, The Illusion of Life, Drawn to Life and “Art of” books
YouTube: The tutorials are endless, but I recommend animation tutorials by Toniko Pontoja & Howard Wimshurst.
What are some of the worst things about a job in animation?
The long working hours.
Ignorance about animation. Sometimes the nature of my work is misunderstood and so people might see what I do as frivolous or easy because they are ignorant to the intricacies of working in animation.
The overwhelming amount of ideas and inspiration and the apparent lack of time to execute them.
What are some of the biggest animation trends at the moment and how do you keep up with them?
Recently I’ve seen an increase in original animated content for video on demand services like Netflix, Hulu & Amazon Prime. I think it’s because these kinds of platforms need to appeal to a world wide market and they are doing it by providing as many niche options as possible. It’s exciting because they are hungry for original animated content, which is a great opportunity for anyone looking to find a market for their animated productions! I keep up with animation trends through news sites like – Cartoon Brew, Animation World Network and animation news blogs. In South Africa I’ve seen that more students are seeing animation as a viable career option and they are attending animation schools around the country.
You recently spoke at the Cape Town International Animation Festival (CTIAF) Yay!! Can you share a little bit of what you shared and some of the most exciting things you learned while there?
I shared about my journey getting into animation and my experience studying animation in South Africa. I also shared some thoughts comparing the experience studying in South Africa as compared to studying in France. I also got to showcase some of my medical animation work.
One of the most exciting things was getting to use the giant 32 inch Wacom Cintiq display drawing tablet. It’s a massive screen that artists and animators use to draw directly on screen in any compatible drawing or animation software. That was fun!
Biggest lesson I learned while being at the festival was that I am a peer in this industry too. I got to attending dinner parties with other speakers and industry players and for the first time I felt like I was a peer. I felt like I was “let into the circle”. I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing yet, but for now I’m taking it as a good thing. Even in my own small way I am starting to make an impact in the industry.
Which is your favourite platform to share your work?
Definitely social media. I think it’s the most accessible way to start building your own audience.
My favourite are: YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr & Webtoons. I enjoy Instagram for sharing pages from my sketchbook especially during the Inktober challenge in October. YouTube is great for sharing my animations and vlog series. I use Tumblr to host my portfolio. I don’t actively post on Tumblr. I use mostly to follow blogs that inspire me or share little tips and tricks relating to animation. Webtoons is a webcomic platform that I’ve been looking into to share a future comic idea that I have in mind.
I would love to share my work in other places as well like: an online store, at festivals, cinemas & gallery exhibitions – so that’s what I need to keep working on.
In one of your videos you mention your struggles with self-doubt. What are some of the ways you overcome self-doubt on a daily basis?
When I’m teaching I really have no time to doubt myself because I have to provide educational value to my students so I just run with my ideas – even when I’m not sure if they will work out. When I have clients I go with the idea that excites me the most and that benefits from my strengths in drawing & storytelling. I struggle the most with self-doubt in personal projects. I’m always wondering whether it’s even worth it to pursue some of my personal ideas. I’m still not sure how to overcome this. I should probably pray more and act anyway.
Where can people find and follow your work?
@cabblow – Personal profile that features my personal work and sketches
@cabblowstudio – studio profile
Cabblow Studios on YouTube
Art By Cabblow on Facebook (although I could be more active on there)