Animating The Crises
By Lucca Benney
Animator of The Crisis of Civilization
The animations in the film are a way of striking a balance between metaphoric images and clear explanations of some of the more complicated parts of Nafeez’s thesis. They are like the third character of the film, the other two being Nafeez Ahmed’s interview and the stock footage which makes up most of the images. Together all three hopefully combine in a way that will capture the audiences imagination whilst interrogating the complexities of modern society in an accessible way. It was very exciting to be involved in a project in which I was illustrating the problems with capitalism and contemporary Western ideologies that motivate me to take action in my life, and creating imagery which will hopefully inspire others too.
My main aim with the animations was to represent Nafeez’s words as much as possible so that it would make sense without listening to it. I felt that in contrast to the stock footage it had to be almost obvious. However, the two also had to compliment each other and so it was important to create imaginative and vivid images that really would be characters in their own right. In a film like this the animations are sometimes more real than the rest of footage (except the interview) and I wanted the audience to feel grounded whenever it came back to them.
Throughout the whole process I was experimenting with techniques and there are lots of sequences that ended up discarded and forgotten. This is partly because there was not much time to prepare, we just launched straight into it and suddenly we were making a feature film – and also that this was my first big animation project. I had to get out of my usual mindset when drawing or painting where I can be more fluid and subtle, instead thinking through each sequence meticulously. Firstly, what words and ideas are we communicating? Can it be turned into a short narrative, and are there specific figures/words that need to be brought out of the speech? I would work with Dean to come up with a concept, often creating a character that would personify an element of the crises.
The next part was breaking it down, working out which bits were going to move and creating story boards which usually changed halfway through animating when I realised it wouldn’t work out in reality like I’d imagined. Sometimes, like in the Carbon Credits sequence and the last shot, there was some subtle background movement (the smoke from the factory) which I would do with paint or pencil. In the foreground the movement was usually with cut-outs (the business man waving his carbon credit tickets).
This way I could re-do the backgrounds but didn’t have to re-make the main figures if it went wrong. It also created a specific style for most of the animations which was simple and child-like in some respects but could have quite a lot of detail on the figures themselves. There are however different styles which bring to life different sections, and I was definitely influenced by the archive films that Dean and I both spent hours watching.
The black and white sequences in International Terrorism were created specifically for that section, using only white paper cut into lots of different smaller shapes which could merge together to create the illusion of movement. I was inspired by the early animations of Lotte Reiniger.
All the stop-frame animating was done by hand with paper, paint, scissors, blue-tack, a light, a camera and a dark room. The photos were then put onto the computer where Dean sped them up to get the timings right, and most importantly coloured them creating really vivid images. Using cut out characters mixed with painted backgrounds was a technique I had experimented with in the music video Dean and I created for The Sound Of Rum earlier in 2010, which was the first time both of us had tried any animation.
Sitting in a dark room for months, doing nothing else but meticulous cutting out and millimeter movements, is not something I had done before and it sent me stir crazy at times. I started to see everything in reality as an animation, not in fluid movements but like a series of photographs. It is important do things outside in the world too and not get too cut off from what is really going on on your doorstep. I’ve illustrated the ‘crises’ and it’s time to take action!
Lucca Benney‘s work on The Crisis Of Civilization has been her first involvement with a feature film.