By Desi Tzoneva

Sunrise Productions' Producer Phil Cunningham recollects reading an article about George Washington Carver, a slave who earned his freedom and later became a famous scientist. In a poor situation, he looked at a peanut and asked the Creator to unlock its potential and went on to discover over 300 applications for the peanut, which he wrote about.

“I think most of us have a peanut in our hand waiting to be unlocked. One of our peanuts is Jungle Beat, and we are enjoying unlocking its potential through keeping true to its foundation of quality and fun.” So says Cunningham about Sunrise Productions' creation and production of Jungle Beat, an internationally acclaimed and award winning animated series.Image

From a South African perspective, a fairly wide approach has been adopted to branding Jungle Beat. The first step was to produce a high-quality animation series that established worldwide credibility through multiple territory deals as well as festival appearances and awards. “Jungle Beat delivered better than we could have hoped, and has now been broadcast in over 100 countries and won some great international awards,” Cunningham says. The next step was to build the licensing and merchandising side of the brand. Rather than adopt a random shot-gun approach to the international scene, it seemed better to start in one territory with a coherent strategy, where each 'element' of the campaign 'talked to the other'.Image

“There is nowhere better to start than at home, so we set out to build long-term, loyal relationships with partners who we felt shared our brand DNA. Our approach is wide in terms of the spread in South Africa, but I think this is key to build the critical mass needed to create the tipping point. For example, if we only played in the clothing space in isolation to the others, I don't believe we would get the same results – 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts',” he says. Image

Examples of Sunrise Productions' South African relationships in branding include: Woolworths, for a Jungle Beat clothing brand; NuMetro, to screen premieres of new episodes on big screen family releases; Pearsons Publishing, for the publication of an activity- and story-book; South African Airways, which will show the series as part of its in-flight entertainment; MWEB, which will create a network that crosses between mobile devices and computers; M-Net; Egg Marketing; and direct Jungle Beat initiatives. Image

The show started out as a once-off short, to test the waters of computer generated (CG) animation. The first episode, 'Always Take the Weather With You,' was deliberately tricky in that it incorporated fur; hair; and water - all tricky things to pull off well in CG. The result was a short that received a great response, and based on this, it was decided that more episodes would be made.

Animation was chosen out of the desire to tell stories that entertain and inspire people around the world, as it is the most accessible medium for story telling. Some of the advantages of animation on a creative level include the ability to exercise full control of the entire frame, which almost means that the sky's the limit – budget permitting, of course. Another benefit is that animation has a remarkable ability to transcend age, race, and cultural barriers unlike other entertainment media.

Jungle Beat has won several awards at some of the world's premiere animation festivals. These include:
- The main prize for Best Animation at South Africa's Own African Eye Animation Festival;
- The Best Film Award from the Children's Jury at the Zagreb Animation Festival;
-The Audience Award in Sao Paolo and winning second place in Rio de Janeiro at the Anima Mundi International Animation Festival;
- The show also won the main prize at the Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival;
- In Canada, it won the Camerio Audience Award at the Carousel International du Film de Rimouski Festival;
- The National Film Board of Canada Award for Best Animated short at the Freeze Frame International Film Festival;
- The first episode of Jungle Beat won the Jica Enfants Competition at the Annecy International Film Festival;
- Won second place as judged by the Children’s Official Jury of the Chicago International Children's Film Festival;
- In San Francisco California, the Best Actor prize was awarded to the Giraffe Character at the Wysiwyg Festival; there the show also won Best Sound Design;
- This year, Jungle Beat won the Audience Award at the Newport Beach California Film Festival.

The main challenges so far have been the need to adopt a learn-as-you-go approach; as well as navigate the sometimes challenging animation pipelines and the TV broadcast industry.

In terms of future plans, Cunningham says that it would be interesting to branch out into mainstream live action production. In addition to Jungle Beat Season Two, which is currently in production, Sunrise Productions is planning on a total of 52 episodes of the series, as well as a Jungle Beat feature film. The Lion of Judah was recently completed as a co-production with Animated Family Films and Character Matters animation studio, and will be Africa's first CGI feature animation to be released internationally. In addition, there are talks around the family restaurant business; for instance a partnership with The Village Mall being planned for Cape Town. Also, a strong relationship has been established with the Holiday Club, which has been licensed to use Jungle Beat's Tortoise character as the company’s mascot. So let’s keep an eye on these peanuts as their potential continues to be unlocked further!