(Innovators, changemakers, gamemakers – going places)
AFDA Cape Town alumni, Jonathan Sidego, is the founder and head of production house SDGO, recently winning the MOFILM Cannes 2015 first prize for the ‘She Who Dares’ advert for Lux. Sidego speaks about how he was lured away from a life of astrophysics and mathematics, to storytelling and Silicon Valley.
By Adam Wakefield in www.mediaupdate.co.za
It was towards the end of 2008 that Sidego decided to discontinue his BSc in mathematics and astrophysics at the University of Cape Town, having started it the year before. The reason he walked away was to pursue a passion of his: storytelling.
It was at AFDA, the African Film and Drama Academy, that Sidego pursued storytelling, graduating with BA honours in motion picture, in 2012. However, while Sidego walked away from a technical life academically, he used this knowledge to become a co-founder of Yastic, an SMS-based Internet auctioning start-up that, by its closure in June 2012, had a user base of several thousand people.
After he completed his studies at AFDA, Sidego joined Velocity Films as a creative researcher in December 2012, where he remained until June this year. Having founded SDGO in January, his departure from Velocity Films meant he could focus all his energy on his own enterprises.
“Up until this year, I had satiated those two itches separately; either co-founding start-ups as a technical lead, or making commercials and documentaries,” Sidego explains.
“I realised a year ago that I had the opportunity to combine these skills, working creatively with start-ups while having the background to understand their technical and professional underpinnings.”
Leveraging this, he has been able to create work that “really communicates the spirit of the start-ups”, speaks to their intended audience and uses his experience in advertising to fully combine these two worlds.
Advertising for Sidego is a useful form of storytelling because it is a creative endeavour with a goal, generally to sell a product or a brand. At the end of a project, Sidego feels you soon realise whether you have succeeded in achieving this goal or not. It is this feeling of definite success or failure that Sidego keeps coming back for.
His filming vision is informed by the principles of photography and the 200-odd videos, films, short films, adverts, music videos, and documentaries he watches every week. Sidego wants to be informed enough about what is happening in the industry to know the originality of an idea, the base of his work.
“When making content that’s under five minutes, you often use a shorthand to convey ideas and feelings. You tap into signifiers and cues like music, wardrobe, and colour grade to leverage feelings and thoughts viewers already have around certain topics or aesthetics when approaching your work,” Sidego says.
“For me, music is the most atavistic and pernicious of these, colouring the entire canvas of a piece of work. I spend a lot of time finding the right music for a project.”
Sidego’s pursuit of the perfect marriage between the technical and the artistic led him to Silicon Valley, for two reasons.
The first is the opportunity to work with start-ups, where he can feed his fascination of technology and entrepreneurship in a place synonymous with both. The second reason is to provide solutions to nascent businesses that are increasingly relying on video, where the “stakes have never been higher”, where a well-made crowd-funding video means the difference between thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The interest start-ups have in communicating more directly with consumers has meant that they’ve appreciated working with a creative team who can take them from conceptualising all the way to the finished work that consumers interface with. An agency and production company rolled into one,” Sidego says.
“I’ve been working alongside Bernard Myburgh and Natasha-Jade Chandler, who both have an interdisciplinary skill set and entrepreneurial background, which has been invaluable in being agile and flexible enough to work in this irregular domain with companies from backgrounds as disparate as venture capital firms, phone apps, hedge funds and nutrition products.”
Given Sidego’s love of storytelling and Silicon Valley, it is not surprising that he has several tops spinning simultaneously over the next 12 months. One is a feature-length documentary, The Surrounding Game, about the ancient Chinese board game Go and the community around it. Sidego is the documentary’s executive producer and hopes to see it in film festivals internationally within the next 12 months.
“I’ve also recently started writing a feature documentary that I’ll be shooting over the coming year around the nascent but formidable world of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and the Blockchain. Besides that, I’ll be keeping busy helping start-ups tell their stories.”
At the rate Sidego is going, the most interesting story that he can tell in the next few years might very well be his own.
For more information, connect with Sidego on Twitter.
AFDA Cape Town VFX alumni Jonathan Searle, known to most as Jonno,is flying the throne on the drone with his company Big Bird. Here is his story:
“At the age of 9 my dad, an electrical engineer, brought home a balsa glider kit, which he taught me how to build and fly. From this moment on I’ve been hooked, building all of my own(and others) helicopters and planes during my teen years, and flying pattern and 3d aerobatics at a national level.” says Jonathan.
As I grew older, however, I had to find a more sustainable choice of profession, so I turned to another love of mine, film. I attended AFDA where I got a degree in Motion Picture, specializing in Visual Effects (3D CGI, motion graphics and tracking). After college I worked at SA’s top VFX house, Black Ginger, as a 3d Generalist for 2 years. This also involved a lot of time on international sets as VFX supervisor.
One day in 2011, however, I stumbled across a clip on Youtube of the “Copter Kids” who used a modified RC helicopter to capture amazingly smooth footage, something which, up until this point, I had believed to not be possible.
Quickly catching up with the advancements in the RC and battery fields, I felt certain that I could achieve the same success, so I joined up with Rob Smith (also a former AFDA directing student) to start our own RC cinematography company, Big Bird.
Big Bird started with a rather small loan that we took out to buy the basics that we thought we needed. We thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t.
It took almost a year of back and forth, designing and redesigning, testing, testing and testing some more to finally get footage we were reasonably happy with.
We had got it to a point where the footage was good, but it wasn’t perfect.
If we wanted to get better footage we would have to start designing and building our own rigs. So that’s what we did.
Due to my background in 3D VFX, as well as a lifetime of engineering knowledge from my dad, I managed to pick up using CAD (Solid works) in no time, and very soon we were designing our own rigs and gimbals, making our own carbon fibre, and cutting it and other aluminium parts on our very own CNC machine. The learning curve was steep, but well worth it. The ability to design and manufacture parts proved to be a huge game changer for me, to progress rapidly and finally be able to capture the perfectly smooth footage we had always craved.
The second major obstacle we faced, which followed closely, was the Civil Aviation Authority(CAA) clamping down completely on drone activity in S.A in May 2014. This basically grounded our aerial rigs until October 2016. It was an incredibly frustrating time of dealing with the inherent pace and issues of a government run institution, but we managed to build other custom camera rigs, and rent out the rest of our gear, which thankfully kept us going.
Currently we are one of the few fully legal RPA(drone) operators in South Africa, flying with big cameras, such as RED and Arri Alexa Mini, on what’s considered to be the best drones and gimbals in the world. We’re very proud of where we’ve gotten to, but that’s not to say the issues stop there. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with the latest gear, clients ever-growing expectations, and the CAA’s continued delays in licensing of new rigs. We hope that this will get ironed out over the next few years as the drone industry in S.A continues to grow rapidly.
AFDA Johannesburg alumni, Tyrone Rubin is founder & CEO of SenseVirtual which is leading Africa forward with its mind blowing Virtual Reality experiences and solutions. SenseVirtual has created Virtual Reality applications and content for the Advertising, Property and Education industries. SenseVirtual’s vision is to keep pushing the boundaries of where Virtual Reality can go. Tyrone and his SenseVirtual team head up South Africa’s Virtual Reality community, Virtual Reality SA, which brings Virtual Reality developers together on a regular basis. Tyrone believes that Virtual Reality technology will continue to offer the greatest opportunity for us to create awe inspiring experiences and will have a fortune in store for us in the coming years.
Tyrone has been involved in bringing media and online startups to market. He founded Stribal an online marketplace to connect South African artists with an international audience. He launched HipCloset which is an online fashion marketplace. Tyrone currently also manages JointCreatives which does creative research and presentation work for most of the local production companies as well as some of the world’s top international production companies.
With his love of film he co-founded Picturescope to be a platform for independent filmmakers to get their films produced.
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“Indie game development today feels to me like filmmaking in the 1970’s. This incredible technology has suddenly become accessible, and the market is large enough that you can try new ideas and make experimental work and still find an audience” says Tyron Janse van Vuuren, the innovator behind the new kid on the SA gaming block – Echoplex.
Tyrone graduated from AFDA in 2001 and has made a living working primarily as a creative director but is also a filmmaker, blogger and into game design. “When I was growing up, I was a pretty obsessive computer programmer, and back then it was this really fringe, nerdy thing to do. I don’t code anymore, but I had an idea for a game, and I approached my friend Henk Scheepers – who is an exceptional developer, to work on it with me” explains Tyron. Together, the talented duo created a viable prototype and Echoplex was born.
A first person puzzle game, Echoplex can currently be played on Windows, OS X and Linux. Trapped inside the Echoplex, you are followed by an echo of yourself, who mimics your every move. To escape the Echoplex, you need to outsmart your Echo with the use of strategy and timing. The ingenious thing about a puzzle? You can’t sleep until you’ve cracked it!
Clocking in over 14 months of work on the project thus far, Tyron says: “I had an idea for a very minimalist system of corridors with very dense sound design – environmental sounds and footsteps following behind you. The look and concept of game developed as Henk and I collaborated on the project. We were joined this year by Ronnie Wong Ho Hip, who is responsible for the modelling and animation of the Echo character”.
The Echoplex demo proved to be a crowd favourite at rAge in Johannesburg this year – an annual video gaming, computer,technology and geek culture exhibition. Tech fanatics queued repeatedly in attempt to claim victory over the Echoplex conundrum, but only a handful were successful.
Virtual reality (VR) is a hot topic at present, with extended hype on the future of gaming, entertainment and education. Ultimately, the Echoplex team aims to create a fully immersive experience on VR. Tyron says: “As creators, we need to do a lot of work on creating emotionally expressive experiences in VR. So far, VR is very good at spectacle and thrills, but it’s yet to capture the fullness of the human experience, in the way that filmmaking currently does. VR certainly has the capacity to create emotion – it’s up to us to bring that to life”. According to Tyron, That Dragon Cancer and Thomas Was Alone are doing this increasingly well.
In relation to VR in South Africa, and the potential for VR to flourish in our country, Tyron explains: “Every serious platform for game makers today is international – as soon as your game is on Steam, GOG or Humble Bundle, you’re talking to a global audience. While I think that VR will be popular among those who can afford it in South Africa, I would encourage South African game developers to think global. The world is completely connected now and it’s time for us to step up”.
The Echoplex team have recently launched a Steam Greenlight Campaign, which can be supported here: http://echoplexgame.com/steam. To view the Echoplex trailer, follow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TYmRODYM6c.