My Life Changed
Working with the Steve Sinnott Foundation, an Education For All charity, in December 2015 we successfully crowdfunded a suit of films to raise awareness of the difficulties of accessing education for people in various parts of the world. We made three animated films of some of the personal stories we found, exploring the journeys to change lives through education.
We don’t give up in Haiti
First of the My Life Changed series for the Steve Sinnott Foundation.
We wanted the film to celebrate Haiti, because it is often portrayed as a tragedy, and the spirit and determination of the people are rarely celebrated in our media. So I wanted to include the bright colors and carnival spirit abundant there, as well as the determination illustrated for example in students studying by security light during a power cut.
An important way of understanding people is to engage with their culture, so I wanted to reference Haitian painters, and Haitian music. I have directly referenced the Haitian painter Philome Obin, whose work often makes political comments, in particular the following paintings: Rue 0 (Zero) Du Cap-Haitien, Peasants going to the market, Crossing the stream on donkeys, Toussaint Lourverture, Maison de Odette Lapommeray Acul-du-Nor. I was also influenced by the painting style of Claude Dambreville, who celebrates the ideals of the country.
Haiti has a very important place in history, and as a backdrop to the main theme of the film I wanted to make reference to some of this. So we have tent city, survivors of the earthquake surrounding the statue of Toussaint Lourverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution, with a group of children defiantly making their way to school. In order to understand Billy’s mother, I also made reference to what was happening politically around that time in the street behind her and her baby.
One thing we hadn’t envisaged was the challenge of access. I wasn’t able to directly interview Billy, so I pieced together various parts of his story and the situation of education in Haiti. Some of it I had to record from a mobile phone, so I wove this into the film style, showing the audience that this is like a scrapbook of conversations, there are lots of different aspects to education in Haiti. Thats why it is important to let people speak for themselves and find solutions that work for them.
I spent a couple of weeks studying Haiti, its culture and its incredible history, to make sure that the film reflected Haiti in the best way I could, to find reference material and the backdrop for the story. The opening section, based on sketches of composites of recent photos of Haiti, give a feel of documenting the current situation there. The memory scene illustrating Billy Jean’s story is based on a composite of paintings by Philome Obin, a naive style painter who included political subjects and observations of Haitian life in his work. It references the political events around the time Billy was born. He is more interested in how things can be improved than in the details of his own story, so I have included some of his comments, focusing on the lengths parents go to, to get an education for their children. I used relevant photo journalism as a basis for researching the content of each shot.
Second of the My Life Changed series for the Steve Sinnott Foundation.
We tried to overcome the problem of access by using WhatsApp to interview Isata, but it was a little impersonal, and difficult to get to the bottom of things. However we succeeded and wrote the story between us which Isata recorded on Whats App and sent to me. It has a classic Hero’s Journey structure so I called it Isata’s Journey.
Again it was important to have some of this as a backdrop to Isata, as it would have had a big influence on her, the civil war was raging around her as a child, and her response was to want to work for human rights. (The woman Isata is aspiring to is reference to Wangari Maathi) referring to the context helps to understand the deeper motivations of a person.
As inspiration for the visuals I looked at William Kentridge (South African animator) and Gibril Bangura (painter from Sierra Leon), two very different styles! Kentridge makes an interesting observation about using other people’s stories as material for a film, he calls it “an appropriation of other people’s distress” but the hours spent making an image makes it become a compassionate act, “there is a sympathy towards that subject embodied in the labour of the drawing” and I used hand drawing for that reason. Bangura on the other hand talks about his paintings spreading happiness, an escape from the darkness and a belief in a bright future, so I used bright colors to separate the scenes. I used relevant photo journalism as a basis for researching the content of each shot.
Equal access to education in Nepal
Third of the My Life Changed series for the Steve Sinnott Foundation.
Finding the story
The story that we wanted to tell from Nepal was from the children that find it hardest to access education in there. These children don’t get to learn English, and of the people we found with a similar story, language was still a barrier. I did lots of research on the internet, finding stories told by people and charities that were in Nepal, who wanted to let the world know what challenges there were for children. From this I pieced together a story that seemed to encompass the main things that children face accessing education in Nepal. I then found people in Nepal through online freelancing networks to give me feedback on the story to check that it was a fair representation. The feedback was that it was accurate, but the way I was telling it didn’t fit the culture, so I changed the wording to reflect this. Then found a Freelancer in Nepal to do the voice over.
The image references are from a mixture of images I found online of Nepal. After looking at all these images I made up the visual for each scene from my imagination. Each scene is planned to incorporate what I have learned in my research, so some information comes from the voice over and some information comes from the image.
If you listen very carefully you can hear Cicadas, and these were actually recorded in a similar part of Nepal that the story originated from. (Recorded by Colin Hunter and found through Sound Cloud).
The technique of animation I’ll call ‘scratched cell’. Basically I take a piece of clear acetate and scratch the image into it, then rub oil paint into the scratches, then wipe the oil paint off with a cloth leaving texture lines in the picture to represent the clothing and so on. Each image is scanned into the computer where I can alter and add the colours, and make animation from the images and parts of images, mostly using dissolving sequences, combined with animated sequences.