Headspace – A Vibrant South African Animated Adventure

“At the heart of our vision for Luma Animation and for Headspace, is the notion that everyone deserves to be the hero of their own story, not forgetting that, ultimately, we rely on the support of friends and collaborators to triumph,” says Paul Meyer and Gerhard Painter, who directed this vibrant South African CGI Sci-Fi action-adventure from a screenplay they co-wrote with Daniel Buckland and Ronald Henry.

“Our extremely talented South African animation team worked tirelessly through the pandemic, contributing to our goal of creative and technical excellence,” says Meyer and Painter, who heads Luma, an internationally acclaimed animation studio based in Johannesburg.

“Over the past twenty years, we always believed that South Africa had the depth of talent and skills to deliver a world-class animation feature, we just needed the right partners.  We found those partners and Headspace is the result. As young adults, we were exposed to the very best animation available from Pixar and Disney, films like Lion King, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo. This was our inspiration as we sought to create films of the same quality in South Africa, thereby, adding our fresh voices to the global animation marketplace.” 

L to R – Actor Zak Hendrikz with Co-directors Paul Meyer and Gerhard Painter

“Our vision for South Africa’s latest animation feature, Headspace, speaks to our innate passion for absolute technical and creative excellence.  We stay informed of the latest developments, and we’re inspired by technological innovation.  It was our dream to make an action-packed, delightful, funny, and family-orientated 3-D animation film celebrating South African talent.”

In Headspace, a freak accident sends the Space Protection Force and their microscopic spaceship inside 14-year-old Norman’s brain. They can see what he sees and hear what he hears.  The nanosized crime-fighting aliens must enlist Norman’s help to save Earth from Zolthard, an evil intergalactic villain who has taken control of Principal Witherington. Norman and the aliens, together with his friends from school must go to great lengths to conceal the presence of alien life at their high school, all the while fighting the galactic struggle between good and evil. After all, Zolthard still has a school to run, and Norman still has a life to live and homework to hand in!

Directors’ statement

It’s a huge triumph to deliver a world-class film.

In 2017, we saw a film that was said to be 50% complete.  The film, which would become Headspace, had been developed by another animation studio, but owing to unforeseen circumstances, never completed.

Together with our producing partners, we took on the project.  Every gigabyte of data that existed was transferred using every means necessary – be that new software or just simple TLC – to bring the original template of the film back to life. 

We were inspired by the range of characters and the storyline had a clear trajectory.  The film arrived like Moses in a basket, and we nurtured it.   After doing our due diligence, we rebuilt the film from scratch, making changes to improve it and ensuring that all the animation elements were top-notch.  We also harnessed the new developments in animation technology, post 2017, to further enhance the appearance of the film. 

From a technical point of view, our biggest challenge was to extract all the assets we required and plug them into our updated pipeline to modernise them.  We used our experience on commercials to improve the tone – updating shaders and texturing, improving meshes for better definition, and lighting to enhance the settings.  We had to render efficiently but with enhancements, changing much of the film.  This taught us to be brutal in our approach, keeping only what was valuable and cutting and changing the rest.

Headspace is about a group of school kids who must fight off an invasion of nano-sized aliens. One of them, an egomaniacal tyrant with an army of droids, has ganged up with the school principal to invade the planet. Meanwhile, our school kid heroes form an alliance with the good aliens to combat the threat.  It’s a universal story of becoming a hero against all odds.  It was easy for us to fall in love with the concept and, for more than four years, we lived and breathed this film.

From the start, we recognised the potential in the script by Daniel Buckland and Ron Henry. Blue aliens, intergalactic warfare, a bunch of school kids, and the battleground of a school were all brilliant sequences to design and refine until we were happy.

The original Norman character was someone we have seen often before.  Our aim was to make him unique.   By playing up his awkwardness, he became more relatable and someone audiences could embrace as an unlikely hero.  He is just an average kid with real flaws, who is coming to terms with growing up.

What we accomplished with Headspace emphasizes the remarkable breadth and depth of South Africa. 

Luma Studio produces world-class animation and VFX, specialising in creating compelling characters and bringing them to life telling entertaining stories. From its initial offering of TV commercials, the company has grown to deliver content for film and TV both locally and internationally, as well as creating its own animated series and a variety of interactive content. The founders’ passion for what they do is evident in the quality of Luma’s work.

Dumi Gumbi and Cati Weinek of commercial film studio The Ergo Company are the producers.