Technically speaking with FirstPencil

Executive Producer Brenda Wilson and Director Justine Calverley teamed up just under 5 years ago to make FirstPencil Facebook page official. Soon after Producer and Production Manager Lebogang Mabuela came on board as an equal third partner, and the rest, as they say, is herstory. After catching up with this all-female production company about a few of the technically more difficult boards they’ve recently tackled, we weren’t strong enough to resist and got stuck with this earworm, which we’ll now share with you…

If there’s something strange in your storyboard,
Who you gonna call? FirstPencil!
If there’s something weird and it don’t look good,
Who you gonna call? FirstPencil!

We Skyped Justine, surrounded by unpacked boxes and bubble wrap in her recently purchased home, and her Producer Brenda, who was safely tucked away behind her producer desk in the office. Side note; a three-way Skype session sounds a lot sexier than it is. But once we got past the: ‘What was that?’ ‘You’re frozen’ ‘Who said that?’ ‘We’ll call you back now’ ‘We’ve lost Brenda’ we got the dirt on some of FirstPencil’s more demanding commercials.

How on Google Earth did they do that?

Siemens ‘FABRIC’

The Mission for Siemens:
Showcase how underlying data of African cities can help transform those cities into the smart cities of the future. Demonstrate by using the data to design unique fabrics for each city. Then design garments from those fabrics. Produce a fashion show. Direct and produce the video content. *Faints* More info here.

iDidTht: This was one helluva brief gang! Justine, what was your approach to getting this off the ground?
Justine: I spent a lot of time on Google Earth looking at cities and finding the visually interesting parts. We needed to find the overarching stories for each city, for instance, Nairobi is the tech-hub of Africa, in Lagos the traffic is unreal and the population density is incredible and Joburg is this modern melting pot. As soon as we knew the areas we were targeting, we could start finding the data and the best way to do that was to find layered maps. Nairobi is interesting because there were a lot of maps around flooding and water, whereas Lagos had a lot of info around traffic. Once we had all that data, we could create the fabrics.

iDidTht: Yoh, that seems so above and beyond of what a director usually does.
Justine: Haha! *Blank stare* No, honestly it was a joy of a job, but I could not have done it without my team.
Brenda: The thing is, nobody had ever really done something like this before so it was wonderful to be the first. And now that we’ve done it a few times we have invented a system that at the time wasn’t there. We worked on this for three and a half months to the actual event, which was the live fashion show.

Investec ‘Behind the Data’ Documentary

The Mission for Investec:
Create short film. Convince Humans that computers can’t fully take over banking. Interview 15 data scientists from across the globe. Figure out the science of data, or is it the data of science? Bring storyline together so Humans understand.

OMO ‘Imani’ (Director’s Cut)

The Mission for OMO:
Direct an ad with 30 kids, THIRTY!

iDidTht: But, but, how?!
Justine: Haha, I didn’t introduce myself as the director because I realised that was not going to work, so I told them that I was the teacher and it seemed to do the trick.
iDidTht: Genius!

To choose just a few pieces of work that Justine has directed over the last 5 years is almost impossible because there is so damn much of it. We had to literally check twice that she was indeed the director behind all the commercials on the FirstPencil site. So please, when you’re in a WiFi zone, do yourself a flavour and check out this truckload of ads by FirstPencil.

iDidTht: You completed a degree in stop motion animation, how do you think that has helped you as a director?
Justine: It teaches you a lot of discipline and attention to detail. You’re creating an entire world, not just putting up a camera and shooting around things. When you start storyboarding and shot-listing in animation there is no room for error and you can’t overshoot because every single second takes hours to shoot. It’s a combination of discipline and attention to detail.

iDidTht: This Nando’s ad you did was pretty awesome stop motion!

Justine: Thanks, but you can’t say I am a stop motion animator and then show the Nandos ad. That was mostly in-camera trickery, although I used a lot of techniques from stop motion to pull it off. There are a couple of examples in my reel, the Coca-Cola ad, for instance, is stop motion animation.

iDidTht: Jeepers, you did all of that? How long did it take?
Justine: Yes, haha. It took about a week’s worth of cutting stuff up in the evenings and then it took an evening to shoot. The irony is when I left AFDA nobody would give me a job as a stop motion animator and then as soon as I became a live motion director somehow people wanted to give me jobs as a stop motion animator too. Now we probably end up doing at least one stop motion job a year.

There’s no denying that Justine thrives on spending her time unlocking the answers to those challenging scripts, from working with data, live events to children and stop motion animation – she might not have unpacked her boxes yet, but she’ll sure unpack your ad’s technical challenges, amiright?! Okay, okay, you get the point, now let’s bring it back full circle…

If you’re all alone, pick up the phone and call

View FirstPencil

Contact FirstPencil

View their profile on iDidTht

Producer: Brenda Wilson
082 923 5762

Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

*This content may not be reproduced or used in any part without the prior written consent of iDidTht. Reprints must credit iDidTht ( as the original publisher of this editorial piece and include a link to this site.

This Editorial is paid for by FirstPencil. Want our studio to create content that puts your agency/company/kickass ad you made in bright lights for the whole industry to see? View or editorial packages or contact and we’ll make it happen! #Boom