African “Junkimation” Movie in the Can

In the October 2002 issue of Animation Magazine, we introduced you to a remarkable and inspirational feature film project being produced in Zimbabwe. Sunrise Prods. now informs us that The Legend of the Sky Kingdom has been completed and is now ready for release.

One person’s trash is another person’s animated feature. That’s not to say that director Roger Hawkins’ The Legend of Sky Kingdom is garbage, it’s just made from it. This epic adventure fantasy from Zimbabwe is being promoted as the world’s first "Junkamation" movie. All sets and characters in the 35mm stop motion animation film are made entirely from bits and pieces plucked from the rubbish pile.

In the story, three orphan slaves make a daring escape from an underground city and an evil emperor to undertake a fantastic and dangerous quest for the fabled Sky Kingdom. Their salvation is almost metaphorical of the new life the filmmakers gave to items doomed to rust away in a landfill.

Where Hollywood is just known for recycling plots, Africa is a place where everything is transformed by skilled craftsmen into useful items and beautiful pieces of art. For that reason, Junkamation is being touted as a uniquely African art form. In the case of this groundbreaking project, 600 meters of rope coiled on wire and topped with 220 floor mops become the Monkey Forest. Sixty ice-cube trays painted brown to look like chocolate bars form the base of the tempting Decision Hill. An array of broken computers, vacuum cleaners, typewriters, stoves and other appliances make up the Jungle of Confusion.

Characters are crafted in a similar fashion. Old tea cups become heads, tarnished spoons form hands and lost buttons are reborn as expressive eyes. "Sometimes they almost seemed real," says director of animation Brent Dawes. "They wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do — they did their own thing. The most remarkable thing was that when this happened, it looked even better on screen than I had planned!" The Legend of Sky Kingdom was a painstaking, three-year labor of love for producers Phil and Jacqui Cunningham and their crew of 15 young artists, animators and technicians. The husband-and-wife team self-financed the film from money earned running an agricultural commodity trading business.

"If we had known what we were letting ourselves in for, we would probably never have begun this project," says Phil. "We really had no idea of the scope and complexity of the challenges we would have to overcome to complete the movie successfully. But once we had started, there was no turning back."

While no release date has been set for The Legend of Sky Kingdom, producers anticipate a great deal of interest from U.S. audiences, given the popularity of African art and culture. And we do love a little trash with our culture.

Animation Magazine Online will tell you how you can see The Legend of Sky Kingdom as information becomes available.