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Dr. Tshepo & Kabelo Maaka: “How to inspire people.”

I would inspire people to take care of their health and not leave the responsibility in the hands of the medical practitioners or their medical aid/insurance cover. “Their health is their wealth”, and a healthy individual is able to achieve their goals and dreams, so I would promote messages around preventative health, as by the […]

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I would inspire people to take care of their health and not leave the responsibility in the hands of the medical practitioners or their medical aid/insurance cover. “Their health is their wealth”, and a healthy individual is able to achieve their goals and dreams, so I would promote messages around preventative health, as by the time one goes to the doctor, it is sometimes too late, when one could have avoided certain foodstuffs and adopted exercise, for example, to avoid certain diseases.


I had the pleasure of interviewing filmmakers Kabelo Maaka and Dr Tshepo Maaka. Kabelo Maaka and Dr Tshepo Maaka’s documentary short 3 Teaspoons of Sugar focuses on three individuals who share their experiences living with diabetes. This educational animation had its independent World Premiere on World Diabetes Day on November 14th 2019 and was screened online as part of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

DrT: I grew up in the northern part of South Africa, in the province called Limpopo Province at my grandmother’s house, in a huge corner house with a long passage where 6 siblings and cousins would chase each other every night when playing. My grandparents were well off, educated and hardworking. I was taken to a boarding school at the tender age of 8 and I remained in boarding school with nuns until I matriculated at the top student in the province at the age of 16. Our family is Christian, family that values education, so most people in our family have university qualifications and we have engrained that in our children as well.

Kabelo: I am from Johannesburg, South Africa. I grew up in a fairly quiet suburb as an only child with just my mom — Dr T. I went to an all-girls private school from grade 1 till grade 12. Most school holidays were spent filling my sketchbooks with characters and making up stories for them. The name “Cabblow” is a play on my name Kabelo. It was a nickname I had in high school.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Dr T: I stopped practising anaesthesiology in February 2018 and when my daughter, who had been working on establishing an animation studio, needed help in developing the business, I stepped in as the head of medical Animation and Business Development for the studio and to establish the direction of the studio as a new entrant to the market. This was never my plan.

Kabelo: When my mother was a younger medical doctor most weekends were spent making sure she had an opportunity to rest from long hospital calls, but that was ok for me because I would keep myself entertained by drawing. We used to rent DVDs all the time over the weekend, before rental stores died down. And to be honest, I preferred watching DVDs over going to the cinema because of the “bonus features” section on most animation DVDs. I loved seeing “making of” interviews, deleted scenes and storyboards. For whatever reason I never outgrew my love for animation like most kids do when they grow up. It was through those DVD bonus features that I learned that Animation was created by actual people (not magic) and it was something that I wanted to do. Now I run an animation studio — crazy! I have an Honours degree in Animation and Screenwriting and I also had the wonderful opportunity to attend the International Summer School of Character Animation at Gobelins L’Ecole de L’Image.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Dr T: We created and produced our maiden short animated medical documentary in a period of 6,5 months, and it was officially selected to be screened at Annecy 2020 Online under the Perspective Category. So as a 1st time movie producer, we made it to the top animation festival in the world. How is that for introduction of a studio to the market!! The same short film had a major distribution deal concluded with an international pharmaceutical company.

Kabelo: I think it’s interesting that I started an animation studio with my mother!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Dr T: As a medical practitioner of 26 years and being used to working in emergency situations in theatre, where 4 minutes is all you need to avoid brain damage from a cardiac arrest, I came into animation thinking that production of animation products and contents would be produced at the same speed, but I was wrong. Animation takes time and requires patience from some of us who are used to working in boom-boom-bang situations with immediate results!!

Kabelo: One mistake or mishap I’ve had was during our pitching presentation to get funding for 3 Teaspoons of Sugar. I had the bright idea to use the desktop feature on my phone to do the presentation, but it packed up just as we started presenting, so we had to switch to using my laptop instead. We managed to get through the presentation with positive feedback and 3 Teaspoons was eventually made, but here’s one lesson that I can never overstate from the experience– Always, always, always check your technology waaaay before you do a presentation and even then always keep a backup just in case.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Dr T: We are currently negotiating distribution deals for our short film “3 Teaspoons of Sugar” with 3 different distributors in 3 different countries/regions. We have also developed a spin-off from “3 Teaspoons” called “Dr T’s Nuggets” where we give medical advice/tips on everyday medical issues on social media, starting with COVID-19 during lockdown. Lastly, we are also working on a short film about COVID-19 which we hope to release late this year or early next year.

Kabelo: We’ve also developed a podcast called “The Business of Animation” podcast where we share lessons about the business side of animation. Right now we update the podcast whenever we have free time.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Dr T: Different people bring different perspectives to the entertainment industry, including culture, mannerisms, backgrounds, needs/wants and even problem-solving/innovative skills. Who knew that a black South African medical doctor would be one to produce a film that would make it the top animation Festival in the world!! Knowledge is power and it is easier to create content for different ethnic groups if one understands them. Diversity also allows for the industry to grow and incorporate those that would not have otherwise been included in this industry and helps young upcoming artists to be able to emulate those that look like them if they see them being represented. Diversity allows those that have previously not been included feel noticed and acknowledged for their God-given talents.

Kabelo: Dr T has pretty much summed it up, but I would say this.

  1. Diversity ensures that there isn’t one story being perpetuated about one subject or group of people
  2. Diversity helps people feel seen, understood and validated — especially lessor known groups of people with different perspectives.
  3. Diversity reflects the real world. People are different and that’s normal.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Dr T:

@ Things aren’t always what they seem. I remember during one of our Incubation classes when someone said to us that short films do not make money and that the distribution of films is set and that if we were to play in that distribution system, the creator of animated content would benefits the least, and we found out that was not true, as a pharmaceutical company bought the rights to distribute our short film for USD 11 722.

@ I can be both a medical practitioner and a creative/ producer of a movie. Never in my wildest dreams did I have being a producer of a film as a future prospective job and to find myself at Cabblow Studios has been a pleasant surprise that let me realised that my medical degree is only a stepping stone to many other opportunities.

@ Working with my daughter could be so much fun and invigorating. People always ask my daughter, how working with me has been as I guess people always expect family members not to get along when they work together. It has been so much fun working with her. I have learned so much from her as she has learned from me and we have clearly defined boundaries for our Mom and daughter relationship which are separate from those of being co-founders of a studio. We have created a Mom-and Daughter podcast and we hope to show that consistently with people soon.

@Quoting for animation work or for a short film would be a challenge. My daughter and I had no previous experience with working in a studio before, so we have had to teach ourselves to quote for client work and for our films and I can tell you that there were a lot of tears, errors and sweat at the beginning, trying to benchmark our work again US studios, while also making our work affordable for our country. It is work in progress and I can tell you that after numerous quotations that translated into invoices, we are getting the hang of it!!

@ That animation deals in essence with “big data” or huge content and that we would need faster content transfer systems, i.e. fibre instead of WIFI and big cloud storage facilities. Our systems for our animators have crashed many times during project work and we had to buy external hard drives to store all of our productions and now we are wiser and in negotiations for better systems!!

Kabelo: I’ll just share 3 lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. There is freedom is not having an example to live up to or follow:

The other day I realised that there is no one in the world who can do what we do — the way we do it. Previously, I would feel very bogged down that I didn’t have an example to follow as to how to run an animation business, but I’m realising that it uis actually a real blessing. Our studio is really starting to pick up traction and continuously refines its processes — we can grow without being limited by someone else’s example.

2. You will feel like you don’t know what you are doing often and that’s ok.

At the end of 2019 when we completed “3 Teaspoons of Sugar” and signed a contract for a new 6 episode project with a major pharmaceutical company I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle that project. Then I remembered a conversation I once had about babies either with my mother or with one of my friends. Babies are constantly trying and failing and learning yet no one faults them for failing because everything they do is usually for the first time. It’s the same for people in business — “Life is just a series of doing things for the first time” and you can quote me ☺ ☺.

3. I wish someone told me how hard it would be to wear a business hat and an artist hat at the same time.

You know sometimes I just want to spend the whole day drawing and not look at a spreadsheet, audit report, an invoice or another contract, but on the other hand I love that I’m learning about the business side of things, because this is something that is not taught in film school.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Dr T: My personal working style, takes a page out of being a clinician, i.e to work faster and quicker to ensure that all of my work is done within certain working hours. This then allows me time to rest and to recover at the end of that working day. I avoid working too late into the night so that my next working day is not affected by the late working hours of the previous day. I also plan my days well in advance by writing down “my to-do list” to be done in any particular day. I avoid postponing doing what I need to do today for the following day, so that the following day is not overwhelmed. I try as much as possible to meet my weekly targets, so I review weekly what I have achieved. Lastly, I do take time out in the week to think and to strategize.

Kabelo: I’m looking for these tips myself because I tend to overextend myself and only recognise the stress and overwhelm after the fact. So I suppose my tip would be to learn to recognise the moments when you are starting to feel worn out or weary and don’t push it down, but rather take some kind of small step to remedy that feeling. For me when I start to feel overworked I try to lift my mood with music or funny memes. If that doesn’t work then I know it’s time to rest. One Saturday sleeping in doesn’t hurt every once in a while.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Dr T: I would inspire people to take care of their health and not leave the responsibility in the hands of the medical practitioners or their medical aid/insurance cover. “Their health is their wealth”, and a healthy individual is able to achieve their goals and dreams, so I would promote messages around preventative health, as by the time one goes to the doctor, it is sometimes too late, when one could have avoided certain foodstuffs and adopted exercise, for example, to avoid certain diseases.

Kabelo: Hmm… for me I think I might lean towards a cause that helps educate aspiring artists about the career opportunities in animation. These days I’ve really come to appreciate that film schools and art schools are fantastic for teaching the craft of filmmaking, but are lacking in business education. That’s why I started a podcast called “The Business of Animation Podcast”. I update it whenever I have free time and that’s where I share some of the lessons I’m learning as a working animation professional and business owner.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Dr T: Yes, there is a business mentor of mine I am grateful for, two actually. One advised me to hone in on my skills set, which lie in medicine as I understand the industry very well, so all the businesses including Cabblow Studios, incorporate my skills set and medical interest. The other helped me note the importance of having multiple businesses and multiple income streams as well as taking my businesses global, and now through Cabblow Studios, we are able to go global with our films through distribution of our short film in different global regions.

Kabelo: I would say my mom has been very instrumental — in two ways actually. First as a mother she did not discourage my aspirations to work in animation. She took an interest, encouraged me, watched all the TV shows and films and went on the journey with me. Many of my peers have found that their parents were resistant to their artistic pursuits so I have been very blessed. Secondly as a business partner she is my mentor. Whatever experience and knowledge she has gained I benefit from. It can be tough sometimes to take in the feedback, but it is all part of the growing process.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Dr T: “Live and Let Live” as long as one’s life is not in jeopardy that is the life motto I live with. I avoid as much as possible to entangle myself in other people’s businesses and concentrate on what I need to do in my life to progress and succeed, except in situations where one’s life is in danger, then I always put my clinician’s cap on and intervene to save a life!!

Kabelo: This is a thought that I’ve had for a little while now — “Drawing is just controlled scribbling” — again, you can quote me, haha. In addition to working on Cabblow Studios I am also an Animation teacher and my students call me “Miss K”. I have little cousins and they seem to really like calling me “Miss K” too. Whenever they come over to visit I always make it a point to do some arts and crafts with them to bond and they really enjoy it. As they were drawing and painting and scribbling out their ideas, I was working on my elaborate sketch. Then I realized that there was no difference in what I was doing compared to what they were doing with their art pieces — I just have a bit more control over my scribbles than they do.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Dr T: I definitely would like to have a breakfast with Tyler Perry, for him to guide me on how to do and concentrate on my thing despite not having my content/products in main stream. I will like to find out how he made it so big even when he was snubbed by Hollywood and how he manages his time that allows him to write, direct and produce his own films!!

Kabelo: There are so many artists that I admire and would love to meet so it’s hard to pick one. From a business point of view I would also pick Tyler Perry for the same reasons as Dr T. I would also love to meet Steve Harvey and the YouTuber Evelyn Ngugi — her channel is called “Evelyn from The Internets”. They are both comedians in their own right and I would love to meet them because they are funny so the breakfast would be full of laughs, but they also have been able to stay true to themselves and turn their humour into a business and I would love to learn from them.

How can our readers follow you online?

Dr T: Your readers can follow Cabblow Studios online @cabblowstudios (IG, Youtube and Vimeo) and our website : htttps://tinyurl.com/cabblowstudios and personally on IG and LinkedIn @Dr Tshepo P. Maaka

Kabelo: They can also follow my personal profile @cabblow on Instagram and 3 Teaspoons of Sugar is available to rent or stream on Vimeo on Demand — https://vimeo.com/ondemand/3teaspoonsofsugar/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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