Lesego Vorster is a South African animator and designer who is currently studying at the renowned French animation school, Gobelins. He was the first South African to be accepted to the school which only takes a selected number of new students per year. The Daily Vox team spoke him about his animation and design journey.
Vorster has been drawing from a young age, something that he picked up from his uncle. However, it was only when he was much older that he knew he wanted to be an animator.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be an animator until I saw one of the first making of’s. I think it was Tarzan because I didn’t know humans make that and I wasn’t young when I found it. I was probably 20 when I found out animation is made by humans so the next logical step after I’ve been drawing so much was I want to see my drawing move. Once I started I never let go.”
“I can’t honestly say but it’s the fact that part of me knew that this was drawn but I don’t know how. And you know the fact that you could see from even kids from a young age can say it’s not real but why do I like it so much. So I guess what drew me to it was the fantastic stories that were being told. For example with Tarzan again that couldn’t be done with live action even though as a child you can tell this is human voices but this is not a human acting.”
Being the first South African student as Gobelins, Vorster says it is very important for his journey.
“I don’t think for me the journey is about going to the best studios. Of course I want to go to the Pixar and Disney and what not, but personally I think my reason is I want to teach better back home in South Africa and Africa at large; to show kids there is a future in this thing and that you get to travel and have fun and be paid for it. So in that sense it taught me how to be a better student and a better teacher because the whole thing is go back home and teach better.”
Vorster says while he does think he is paving the way for other design students from South Africa to come to Gobelins, he just hopes that there will be more South Africans, Africans, and black people who will apply to get into the school.
As for the personal importance, Vorster says it’s everything.
“I am the only black person, I am the only African person in my class, and I represent a lot more than I am. It’s impossible for anyone to expect me to represent the whole of black people but I do, especially now at Gobelins.”
The experience of studying in Paris has been an amazing one for Vorster.
“It’s like a sabbatical. I’m not a young man. I’m not 22. I’m turning 30 this year. So it’s like a sabbatical: time away that I needed to hone my skills. So I guess it’s different for everyone. If I was younger I would have been like whoo party all the time but it’s not like that.”
Being in the environment has changed his work especially in terms of the quality.
“My main passion in this industry is design and animation. I was good but I didn’t know the fundamentals. This was something I learnt by coming here. I got better by going back, my emptying the back and learning the fundamentals again so that was very important seeing the younger kids, always animating practising just like it’s their life.”
Artists and their creative processes are very important. For Vorster, however, his process depends on who he is creating for.
“If the animation is for a client, I follow the design they want. There will be creative freedom but they have an idea of what they want. If I do designs for myself it starts with a reference. With proper references of what inspired me to do this character. Say it’s a character of a mama who inspired me to do this character: even if it’s not a picture. It’s starts with good reference especially for design. For animation it’s a whole other process. But it’s also heavily reliant on reference.”
At the moment Vorster is finishing up his final graduation project with his team. While mum on the details, Vorster says the project is about two brothers. The project is also his favourite thing he has created but Vorster says this changes with each project.
“That changes everyday… After that it will be something else. I think that’s a good thing – it has to be always changing because if I reach a point where I’m like the best then I’m not learning anything.”
Vorster’s main goal is to teach others the skills he has learnt and more importantly increase representation.
“In terms of themes in my work, I want to represent people that look like me in my work. So show people who look like me that hey, there’s black characters that are being shown. It’s expected that the main character in a film will be Caucasian. My current drive is to have films that show other races, other nationalities of people as the main driving force of the movies.”
He acknowledges the pivotal role that the movie, Black Panther has played in this project.
“It wasn’t the world’s best movie but it showed a world that black people can relate because that’s how our world looks. It’s black people like that everywhere. That’s the reason why Black Panther was such an important movie. It had protagonist and antagonist and the whole cast is people of colour and it can work and it can make money. My goals aligns to that.”
“That’s the trap we’re always working to make content but we don’t have a lot of time to watch content.”
As for his advice for aspiring designers and animators, Vorster says: “Firstly, I would say do research as to what you want to do. I was almost a teacher for three years and a lot of kids were like, oh I want to be an animator and then they get there and it smacks them in the face because it’s not what they expected. Find out what this thing is and if you want to do it you just have to keep drawing. You have to have an imagination because you’re looking to create a world where the things those kids are dreaming will be manifested into.”
Vorster also believes it will be the youth who will be the key to taking design and animation further and that’s why he wants to teach.
“I think my generation have been tainted and it’s difficult to differentiate between our work and their work and the most pure voices are the kids. They can take it even further. That’s why I’m not aiming for the future. My goal is to teach those kids so they can aim for the big studios if they want.”
Advices to the little ones: “Just keep drawing, keep reading, keep wanting. Know that you want it. Do your research.”
As for his future endeavours, Vorster says it is still uncertain.
“Whatever happens even if I get a job, I want to come home first and set up a relationship of always being home first. But right now I don’t know where the future leads. Right now all that is in my head is I need to finish the film. Once the film is finish then I can free up some space and say okay future what do you hold.”
More of Lesego’s work can be found here.