Following the evolution of mankind, from its humble beginnings to its destructive present, Theo W Scott’s deceptively named short Cuties takes its viewers on an eye-opening journey through the cataclysmic achievements of Homo sapiens. Blending a “cute” faux-naive style to capture the horrors of humanity, Scott joins us to discuss how his short was inspired by a historic embroidered artwork and how he hopes his “dumb characters” will have audiences questioning free will.
The evolution of mankind has been a popular subject in short animation, but you’ve taken quite a dark and twisted look into human history. What made you want to tell this story?
I was initially inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. I was looking at the nameless little guys stuck in that battle and wondered where they would end up if the tapestry continued to an endpoint.
Why the name Cuties? Where did that come from?
My partner started calling them “the Cuties”, it really suited their gormlessness and so it stuck.
The film takes its viewers on a journey through war, sacrifice, and strange new worlds. It’s a bleak but surprisingly amusing 5-minutes, what do you hope a viewer takes from the film?
Hopefully questioning free will and their place in time, but if nothing else I’d hope they enjoy dumb characters butchering each other.
Once I realized I could only budget for around 5 minutes, those decisions got a lot easier.
How did you decide which pivotal historic moments to include in the film? Feels like the possibilities here were endless.
The initial animatic had a runtime of 11 minutes. It was mad having to pit moments like the bubonic plague against the LA riots. Once I realized I could only budget for around 5 minutes, those decisions got a lot easier.
There’s a cyclical nature to the short, where we ended up back at the beginning, can you explain to us your decision to have your narrative end in this way?
While sketching I was listening to talks about ‘block universe theory’ and ‘conformal cyclical cosmology’ and what little I understood all seemed to fit Cuties nicely.
We could do with snuggling up beside a rock rather than rushing towards an inevitable conclusion.
If all moments in time coexist simultaneously, it stands that time is cyclical, and if we are doomed to repeat this process we could do with snuggling up beside a rock rather than rushing towards an inevitable conclusion.
And why the pull-out at the end to reveal the screen and games console?
The whole film is centred around whether free will exists, so It seemed like a fun and arbitrary way to try and answer that question. There was actually meant to be a python in that shot, but the snake charmer I found fobbed us off to go to the pub. Hopefully with his snake.
Ok, let’s talk about the aesthetic of Cuties, it’s based around these cute (ah…now I get the title!) blob-like beings, who seem like a rough outline of human form. Why did you choose this character design, instead of something more ‘realistic’?
I’d always heard that a ‘good’ character design needs a distinctive silhouette and colour palette. In this particular case, I believed that doing the exact opposite would be the best choice and would also complement the detailed backgrounds.
These characters are blank canvases, shaped solely by their environment.
Despite the simplicity of the characters, there are some incredible details in the world-building, was it always your intent to have this contrast between some basic and some more complex elements?
Thematically, I wanted the backgrounds to be hand-painted and intricate to imply these characters are blank canvases, shaped solely by their environment. I also just love hand-made backgrounds.
Can you give us some insight into the tools you used to bring Cuties to the screen and how long the production took?
We went from large sheets of paper to ToonBoom, to then comp in Premiere Pro and because every element had to ‘slot together’ the production distracted us for at least a year of lockdown. Luckily the team is tough as boots.
The entire experience made me realize that I need to make friends with animation producers.
At the time, Jess Loveland was at the BFI and was incredibly supportive of the entire production. Just two weeks before I had initially scheduled the release, ADM reached out, and I’m a massive fan of their productions. The entire experience made me realize that I need to make friends with animation producers.
We’re obviously looking forward to Cuties coming online, as it feels like a film perfect for the internet. In the meantime, what have you been working on?
Over the past year, I dedicated my time to developing a mixed media Skateboarding animation. I have some animated tests and artwork on my site. However, due to the funding slate for that short being pulled I’m developing a couple of new ideas and working on illustration gigs to keep the lights on.