When you’re laser focussed on a task it can become easy to lose sight of what it was that first inspired you and the fact that your current obsession was originally born to serve a much more important, yet now neglected goal. If that all sounds a bit esoteric, thankfully the talents at London-based animation studio Animade have distilled those thoughts much more elegantly into beautifully told tale of family and fixation, Tend. Making its way online in conjunction with WeTransfer following a recent unveiling at OFFF Barcelona, I caught up with Directors Tom Judd and Ed Barrett to find out why they made us wait so long for Animade’s first full short film and how it all came together.
Given the impressive amount of work we’ve seen from Animade through the years it’s hard to believe that Tend is actually your first official short – why did it take you so long to put out a studio short?
Tom Judd: We pride ourselves on doing personal work in our downtime, but the one time we previously had enough time to make a short film, we decided to make a game: Ready Steady Bang. Beyond that we’ve always strived to get things out there and showcase our talents, but they’ve always been much shorter-form.
Ed Barrett: Being a relatively small studio means we can’t invest huge amounts in terms of resource and time, because there’s always client projects going on. When we have the time we’ll always focus on passion projects, but inevitably something will come up, so it really is just a matter of working them around other things. This project, however, offered us up some funding and gave us a real incentive to push the boat out. You could say that part of it was just needing a kick up the bum to do it, and this was it!
You’ve indicated that the story development process for Tend was more of a furrowed brow rather than light bulb experience. Did the freedom afforded by this being a non-client brief driven piece prove to be more of a help or a hindrance?
EB: It was probably more of a help to get the ball rolling, as we knew we had to act quickly – very early on we set a deadline of 25th May so we could premiere the film during our talk at OFFF Barcelona 2018. There was obviously pressure in the sense that WeTransfer were being lovely and giving us some funding for the project, as well as pressure from our peers because we had to try and do something decent! I think all of these things helped to engage our brains and put us in a position where we were having to make decisions rather than staring at a blank piece of paper.
TJ: Although it was more of a slow process in terms of defining the story, I’d say the journey was similar to most of the creative pieces that we’ve worked on together. There have been lightbulb moments, but we’ve always strived to really pull back and expose the true essence of the story, and that’s what really took time on this occasion.
EB: It’s how we’ve always worked; come up with something, let it explode, pull it apart and then focus on the core. Which is what I hope we’ve done here.
There’s a captivating simplicity to the staging and restrained use of colour within each scene. What inspired the film’s complementary palettes and how did the aesthetics deployed in Ready Steady Bang come into play here?
EB: After doing the talk and screening at OFFF, we realised how much we had kept Ready Steady Bang in mind. I think we said at the start of the project that it’d be great to look at that aesthetic, which in retrospect I think is lovely and timeless – it still holds up and I love that about it. In the promo videos we made for RSB when you see the Cowboy dancing around on stage in this very long, flat shot, you get a connection without the need for anything overly showy in terms of cuts and big camera moves. So that very heavily influenced these long, drawn-out scenes in Tend. You can kind of see elements of the design rolling through into the characters even though they’ve got a lot more form to them.
We’ve always strived to really pull back and expose the true essence of the story.
TJ: We knew we wanted to make it one step more environment-driven than RSB with the scene setups, so we kept it super simple with just a couple of shape layers to create the hills and the space, and then the triangular trees and a few clouds in the sky. There’s a balancing act of colours and palettes between each of the shots to create those different environments, different times of day. We were trying to get as much of a feeling of relatability as possible whilst stripping everything back, limiting the number of colours and objects used. It was quite a fun game of trying to get as much richness as possible with the fewest components.
Tend was created through a mix of digital, cell and 3D animation techniques – could you provide some insight into how these different processes built upon one another to create the final film?
EB: From the get-go we were talking about mixing animation styles because we like the way that blurs people’s immediate impression of how it was made, and instead works to create, I hope, a kind of new aesthetic. The other thing we had to bear in mind was that we had to produce it very quickly, so we needed to do it in a place that was still within our comfort zone, otherwise we would have fallen over in terms of time. Our response to that was to base it very heavily on something that we knew we could produce relatively quickly, which was After Effects animation, but to blur the lines by using drawn animation for that very problematic area which is hands.
Our team would be animating characters against a backdrop of nothing and then everything was built up around that animation. The hands were drawn over the top of these placeholder ball shapes. Once that was done, we had a very heavy compositing and framing session where we looked at the scenes and put them all into shot.
TJ: The 3D component was very minimal in the end. We had big dreams of what 3D could help us facilitate, but in the end we pretty much just used it for the grass in the meadow. We were thinking about using it on the characters’ bodies but I think it would have limited us in terms of motion, and taken loads of time. We did try a lot of tests in 3D, but didn’t end up using it much in the final piece.
The film’s sound design extends beyond straight foley to function as an essential means of characterisation for the father, daughter and of course fire. How did you achieve that?
EB: It helped having an amazing sound partner called Sounds Like These! They’d already worked with us on a project directed by one of our animators, Frida, called Croak, and what they made immediately resonated with us.
TJ: The music coexists so well with the sound effects, which are also a melody of sorts. They did such a great job because it’s just one harmonious piece of sound that does everything, from being the characters’ voices, to expressing the emotive nature of the scene, to just strengthening the joyous world on screen. Adding those accompanying layers of atmosphere just puts you in a different world altogether.
We were trying to get as much of a feeling of relatability as possible whilst stripping everything back.
EB: …and that was important for this because it’s not a very fast-moving thing, it can’t grab you in that way – instead it’s about putting you in the space, and the sound does just that. We worked to have these very long sequences so you feel you’re there, but the sound elevated that so much.
We didn’t give SLT very much direction. We knew that we didn’t want it overly ‘real worldly’, but at the same time, it needed to be relatable, so that was some wishy washy direction for them! We also knew we wanted there to be elements of music because we thought it would amplify the emotion, but we didn’t want it to be overly predominant – which again is wishy washy – and they did a brilliant job. So testament to them, they really took this in hand.
Tend hit the web as part of WeTransfer’s ongoing WePresent series, how did you come to partner with them?
EB: We were approached by the lovely Rob Alderson from WeTransfer towards the end of last year with a very exciting proposition. They were looking to commission some original content as part of the launch of their new site, WePresent, and asked if we’d be interested in creating something – to which of course we said yes!
TJ: It needed to be ambitious and engaging yet relatable and wide-reaching, but the brief was otherwise fairly open. We leapt at the opportunity to do what we’d always wanted to do as a studio: to make a short film. Working together with Rob was fantastic, as he was really in tune with our vision for the project and helped us over some tricky hurdles when we were initially trying to nail down the narrative.
Will we be seeing more personal pieces from Animade?
TJ: You’re always going to see more personal projects from Animade! We recently did talks at Blend and OFFF about our personal projects and the amount of time we put into them as they’re so important to us. There’s been a scattering of short films, but hopefully we’ll do more shorts in the future.
EB: We’re already thinking about more collaborations in the studio rather than working individually on separate things, so I’m sure more is going to emerge. Fingers crossed, great things could come off the back of this film and that’ll just make us want to do more of it.