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SHY THE SUN is a small team of creatives that packs a punch mighter than some big studios. This unique team of collaborators now represented by Strange Beast & Passion pictures, have such a candid thread that ties them together and their passion in their work shows throughout all their one-of-a-kind projects. ADA is much thrilled to introduce you to one of Africa’s best motion design studios.

Photo: Linsey Levendall, Ree Treweek, Middle: Jannes Hendrikz, Nina Pfeiffer

Shy the sun is made up of Nina who was born to parents who painted, and over her college years studying visual communication, arrived with a passionate thirst and is now a producer. Jannes, is a completely self- taught artist. Having dropped out of school because of his deep dislike for learning institutions (reasons remain his secret) found his natural interest for moving pictures and now experiments on various projects and music videos. Ree grew up on a farm, was sent to boarding school and studied fine arts in Durban where she focused on street art. She went traveling for two yrs and found inspiration in Indonesian craft and architecture and stories. Ree has since then returned to Cape Town where she has spent the last 7 years creating new worlds.

How did you all meet?

Jannes and Ree where introduced a few years back by Markus Smit when they collaborated on a music video for one of Markus’s tracks called Ringo, leading up to the three of them founding The Blackheart Gang in 2005. After their second film, The Tale of How, they got incredible response globally and started to get commercial interest. Jannes and Nina were friends of friends from high-school days and knew of each other, but their paths eventually joined when Jannes and Ree were looking for a producer and Nina wanted to move to Cape Town. The three of us soon realized that we’ve got the same vision and passion to start something amazing, and not long after Shy the Sun was found on 3 September 2007 and we’ve been happy ever after. Sea Orchestra was the piece that initiated the start of Shy the Sun. Beginning of 2009 Stanley Segal and Linsey Levendall (Bison) joined our team, both playing fundamental roles in the existence of Shy the Sun.

What is Shy the Sun all about?

Shy the Sun exists in quite an eccentric way. Initially people found it tricky to understand how we work, as it was quite unconventional to what people were used to. Shy the Sun can be explained in a similar way as a production house; Jannes and Ree directing and Nina producing. What makes Shy the Sun different is that we’re involved in a project from beginning to end. We usually take a script and develop it to perfection, finding the best ways & teams to execute it and then doing so. I would say that our honest & loyal interest in a project and a personal closeness to all the characters, the story & end-vision makes it very difficult to distance ourselves from any process that form part of it, making us hands-on involved all the way. Shy the Sun is not about taking on any project and getting it out as soon as possible, it is about crafting things to perfection and not going for anything less.

Which festivals have you been invited to attend / been speakers at?

In the last 2 years, we’ve been to:

Playgrounds Festival, Netherlands, 2010

Pictoplasma, Berlin, 2010

F5 Festival, New York, 2009

Design Indaba, Cape Town, 2009

CutOut Festival, Mexico, 2009

Clermont Ferrand Film Festival, France, 2009


You just finished 2 stereoscope branding spots “Believe in Magic” for M-Net Tv Channel.Both spots have this tongue-in-cheek narratives and are executed beautifully. Share with us a little more of your process and execution of the spots.

When Ogilvy Johannesburg gave Shy the Sun a call with regards to the two scripts they developed for Mnet, they asked us to see how we can possibly make it come to life. After sending us the scripts, we explored various options to produce these pieces. Initially we explored going purely CG or a combination of CG and live action, but both would have been way too expensive, time consuming and therefore creatively limiting. We wanted to make the best pieces ever, as well as use new ways in doing so, which made us explore the option of using miniature sets. At this point we rang up Steven Saunders, a set designer, exploring if and how these miniature sets can be built, and Blackginger in terms of the technicalities involved in shooting a miniature set & adding the characters in CG, in addition all to be done in stereoscopic. Blackginger was the obvious choice to get to work on these projects, not only because we have a great relationship with them, but they also have a vast technical knowledge & an exceptionally skilled team.

I love a whole lot of your projects but one I revel in most is the Harmonix “The Beatles: Rock Band” in which you pull off some unbelievable characters & animation in the second part of it. How did this project fall on your laps and how long did you take to execute Ree Treweek’s CG characters?

The project was directed by Pete Candeland and produced by Passion Pictures; our involvement was in the actual character designs seen in the latter part of the spot. As both Pete and Shy the Sun are represented by Passion Pictures we’ve had a few projects where we involved together with him, having Ree usually design the characters. The Beatles Rock Band was one of them that realized. After receiving the brief, Ree initially developed quite a lot of rough characters from which they chose the final ones to develop further. After the selection was made she coloured and added more detail and supplied write-ups explaining exactly how each one character performs and what musical instrument they play or rather represent. At this point we handed them over to Pete and Passion’s production team to translate into 3D and take them further.

As one of the most noted studios in Africa with a focus on commercial work, you gain advantage by continuing to surprise audiences with your impressive work, always giving more and more. Does being in South Africa set you apart?

As Passion Pictures and Strangebeast represent us in the UK, Europe and USA, we’re contending on a global level, which automatically sets us apart as we have to work so much harder to get recognized and be involved on a competitive level worldwide. In addition I also believe that being born in South Africa have given us the benefit of coming out of a hybrid community with lots of creative input. Even though it is academically rooted in a European and American context, we have the edge of African practicality that gives us a different approach. Our nature and passion for what we do are the main drive force behind us constantly challenging ourselves and wanting to push the bar no matter where we would be residing in the world. For every new project we get briefed on we think of how we can take it to the next level, aiming to gain experience and further our technical knowledge which majorly influences our conceptual and creative borders. I always feel that due to our honest approach to our work that people automatically respond positively as we’ve got nothing to hide or prove, what you see is really what we want to offer.

Your great design & animation projects elevate one’s experience and have this magical sense about them, almost peering through the sense of a child’s eye. See: Bakers “Precious Biscuits” This is not usually evident in a lot of work we get to see in the continent. What’s your formula to keep clients wide open to these ideas and thinking?

Our difference is certainly what I believe intrigue potential clients in the first place. Our industry’s current consumer mind-space makes us believe we should deliver what people expect of you, so we tend to forget what we really have to offer from within. I’m sure a few clients might look at our work and not be keen to use us at all, just because they feel it’s too fantastical and crazy, but then again this is just as much an appealing force to some. All of us still have the child’s eye in us, but most of us just ignore it and pretend to be all grown-up, which is boring. Audiences are in need to see something out of the ordinary compared to the monotonous product driven images and messages they get bombarded with. People are emotional creatures and by creating characters fulfilling the roles of actors you reflect the viewer on a personal level. It allows for the audience and the commercial to carry each other, creating a much more intimate experience. We’ve been fortunate up until now with clients that come to us because of our different approach, and this is always a good starting point as they’re more open from the get-go. Conceptually we’ve always been in a good place with clients, I think even for them they look forward to see what we come up with next. With animation being a tricky medium to work in, referring specifically to the story only coming together at the end, I would more say that the challenging aspect is the production process. You have to make sure they’re constantly informed and kept in the loop of the different phases of production to take it to final stage.

Any words of advice for young creatives, individuals and small independent studios such as yourselves wanting to produce rich quality work?

Do what you enjoy, do your best, be honest and pay attention to people’s needs.

Massive thanks Shy the Sun!