Searchlight: Ivo Sousa & Kwok Fung Lam

There’s more to the the Mill than just a pretty post-production house – there’s a hive of directorial creativity beavering away in their new London premises in Windmill Street. For instance Mill+ directors Ivo Sousa and Kwok Fung Lam talk with us here about their animated film for kids’ eco clothes range The Fableists

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It’s a great narrative – appealing to kids as well as being a marketing yarn (ha) for The Fableists eco-children’s clothes collection. Who wrote the story and did it change much throughout the process of making the film?

Ivo Sousa – The writing was by Jack & Josh from Brothers and Sisters. We really enjoyed the rhythm and content of the narrative and based our visual interpretation as close as possible to it. The very few tweaks were only due to timings and flow of visual and narrative.

Kwok Fung Lam – The script was epic (ha ha!) and although we did trim some of it down, the story essentially remained the same really. We wanted to create something that tied in with the idea of the protagonist following this piece of thread, going on an adventure with something unexpected happening at every turn. We decided early on that the transitions for many of the scenes would make the journey feel constant and reflect the character’s sense of discovery.

As the animators of the film can you please talk us through the visual development of the piece and how you decided on the look and feel of the character?

IS + KFL – We were looking to create a rebellious female character, who would be fun to animate and we would connect with. After sketches, colour tests and style frames our character was born and the world around her grew.

We started by looking at the body of work by the illustrators who Matt Cooper (Fableists founder) commissioned for his range of t-shirts. We knew we wanted to stick to using big bold colours and shapes. The use of negative space stemmed from the fact that we decided the girl was definitely going to be wearing a white t-shirt. The early concept sketches we presented had a lot more white space in the background than the final film.

As we started to refine the character further and bring in the colours, the negative space just seemed to work and became a really original way to show off the character and the clothing she was wearing. As Brothers & Sisters and Matt were really keen on those we knew we could get some interesting transitions if we played around with the white surroundings.

As this was based in a child-like world, within a child’s mind, we wanted to create a sense of discovery at every corner, obscured by the layer of white background, popping into the main stage with the progression of the animation. Stripping back all the unnecessary elements was important, focusing only on the way the child perceived each scenario.

After the initial character sketches were approved, Charles Bigeast (Mill+ designer) worked his magic developing the dog and other characters and backgrounds. At the same time, Ivo and I drew up style frames for each section of the film, working out camera angles and compositions.

Technically was it difficult to execute? Please tell us about the animation process and what this involved. Late nights obviously but we’d love to know what kit you used, and did you work in a linear fashion from beginning to end?

IS –  The big challenge was to hook every shot, creating a sense of fluidity and giving each scene its own independent feel and as much personality as possible to each shot. Transporting a child to a fantastic world and mirroring this into the animation. Technically there were different approaches such as the use of flash, 2D and 3D which needed to be combined seamlessly. Some shots were more straight forward than others, but the most important thing was to make sure the techniques wouldn’t overtake the general look.

KFL – We started thumbnailing out scenes and transitions for each part of the story. That way we could discuss and decide quickly if we both liked the sequence or not. We made an animatic with the storyboards timed out to a guide VO read. We then started blocking out camera moves and laying out shots.

Although some weren’t planned out as well as they could have been we made sure they worked in the edit. We then started animating the characters frame by frame at the rough stage, making sure the timings worked with the camera. After that each was painstakingly redrawn again, but this time a lot cleaner and coloured up. The shots with a 3D camera move and exaggerated perspective were the most challenging. We started animating the big action shots first and picked up the shorter, smaller, shots along the way.

Did you work to an already recorded voice over by Jennifer Saunders?

IS + KFL – We had to record a reading version of the script for timing the shots, but once we received the recorded Jennifer Saunders version, it just made such a big difference. It was amazing to have her involved as she brings
such charm and energy to the piece.

How did the collaboration work – any disagreements and challenges?

IS – It was great to work alongside the agency and Matt as one team – it just made the whole process so collaborative and a really positive experience all round.

Anything else you’d like to share?

IS – We really enjoy being involved in projects which are fun yet challenging but most importantly for a good cause. We had a lot of laughs working on this one and hope such an opportunity comes our way again!

KFL – This film is just the tip of the ice-burg, it lightly touches on the process and the issue of environments, sustainability the people that work in clothes factories. It’s worth delving further into the brand to really understand how that all works, as we only had a short amount of time to tell our story. Through creating this film I have taken more of an interest in how and where my clothes are made, and especially the fact that in some cases my own children might be wearing clothes made by children in squalid conditions, that just seems so wrong.

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