The Blue Zoo Shorts program offers everyone in the studio an equal opportunity to pitch their idea for a short film, based on a brief put together by the Exec Team. Once all ideas have been pitched, the studio votes on the best idea and the winner goes into production!
Last year we became a B Corp certified business, which holds us accountable to building an animation studio with the highest social and environmental goals. Since our animations focus on joyful and comedic content, we’re further empowered by our B Corp certification to make animated content that changes lives for the better. As a result, this year we wanted to focus our latest BZ Shorts film on the topic of preventing violence against women and girls. The Exec Team looked at a range of charities, as well as asking the wider studio for suggestions, and the decision was made to reach out to Beyond Equality, a charity dedicated to preventing gender based violence, and offered to make a pro-bono film to raise awareness of them and the work they do with young men.
This blog post will record the progress of the latest BZ Shorts film and will be updated as production happens. Keep checking back for the latest updates on the film!
With the Blue Zoo short film ‘Sinking Feeling’ having premiered the previous month, the Exec Team began thinking about the next short.
As the previous short was created to raise awareness for PAPYRUS Charity for Prevention of Young Suicide, we again wanted to continue to use our platform for social good. The idea was to work with a charity that endeavours to end gender-based violence, particularly violence against women and girls. The main question that arose was whether to work on helping the survivors of gender-based violence, or to work on preventing the violence in the first place. The team were in agreement that it made sense to tackle the root of the problem, namely the thoughts and behaviours behind such violence. This led to us reaching out to Beyond Equality about producing a pro-bono film for them.
BZ Co-founder, Tom Box, and Head of People & Talent, Paulene Hamilton, spent the month working with Beyond Equality to distil the core message into a brief for a one-minute short film. During the process, Tom and Paulene met with the charity on multiple occasions to better their own understanding of the film’s aim before trying to convey this to the studio. This included recording an interview with them to ensure no information or nuances were missed out. The team at Beyond Equality were keen to focus on the idea of the ‘Man Box’ otherwise known as the ‘Armour of Masculinity’; this is the idea that boys feel pressured to perform only a certain set of character traits of masculinity. Here’s a TED talk referred to by the team from Tony Porter, CEO of US-based charity ‘A Call to Men’.
Once the team and charity had finalised a brief that communicated Beyond Equality’s message and mission, it was sent out to the studio and submissions were opened!
Pitch submissions closed in mid-January, and the studio took to voting for which of the pitches they thought was best. After the studio vote had closed, Tom and Paulene met with Beyond Equality again to share the studio’s voting results and to get their input on which would be most effective. While the studio’s voting was taken into account, the charity had the final say as they understood the nuances of the topic and what would best fit their needs. The winning pitch was submitted by BZ Storyboard Artist, Alex Davy!
Alex’s pitch was inspired by the concept of the ‘Man Box’. Alex was further motivated by how the charity work with and talk to young boys and get them thinking about how they view women and what it is to be a man - a cause that’s especially close to her heart following the birth of her daughter, Robin.
Storyboard Intern, Maria Miranzo, and her mentor, Storyboard Artist, Rahul Dasgupta, kick off pre-production by forming the storyboards for the short.
Vis Dev Intern, Sophie Linney, and her mentor, Art Director, Joe Kinch, begin design work on the two main characters and environments. Pencil sketches of the characters and environments, such as the school playground, are completed to enable further exploration. Alongside this, the colour palette and style are developed to bring the characters and backgrounds to life. One of the key elements being refined at this stage is the look and texture of the armour worn by the male characters.
Animation Director, Dane Winn, begins work on the animatic. Modelling Intern, Emily Hargrave, and Modeller, Sophie Jameson, begin modelling the two main characters.
The animatic is complete, as well as design and modelling being finished on the lead female character, Jess. With these now completed, sets for the short are now in progress and are being designed.
Animation Intern, Lucie Thomas, and Lead Creative and Senior Animator, Sam Potter, have also begun initial blocking and animation, as well as completing the first pass.
Modelling has been completed, with the finishing touches being added on shaders. Art Director, Joe Kinch, is working on the colour script to get the balance right.
The team is halfway through animation, and Lighting & Compositing Intern, Emma O’Hara, and her mentor, Lighting & Compositing Artist, Jack McEntire, have also begun work on lighting for the short.
The film was starting to look nearly there and finished. There was one final problem, the ending didn’t feel right yet.
Without giving too much away, the ending originally saw the female character forgive the male character for his behaviour in a small way. This didn’t sit right with the team as they didn’t want to imply that by doing the bare minimum, apologising, the boy still “gets the girl” in the end.
The team approached this problem by focusing on the end result; when this film is shown in schools to encourage young people (especially boys) to question how they interact with their peers. When the team thought from that perspective, they realised an ending which would allow for more nuance in understanding between the characters. We hope we’ve struck the right balance and we can’t wait for you to see the film finished!
Emma continued to work with Senior Lighting and Compositing Artist, Francesca Pesce, on the final technical issues and achieved a stylized final grading.
Art Director on Armour, Joe Kinch, said, “We wanted Armour to fit the tone of the subject matter. We didn't want any garish or over the top colour palettes to distract from what the story was trying to tell. The characters had to jump from the screen but also be relatable, which was a challenge in itself.”
“What we feel like we have achieved is making the armour feel heavy and uncomfortable. By having the characters react to wearing it, but also giving it a more tactile and dirtier shader to really pop from the screen. We want the audience to be aware of its existence, even though in real life this armour is simply metaphorical.”
“Black strokes were used throughout to add an almost childlike and innocent touch to the film. As when you're younger you doodle on books and write little messages in class, we felt it added that slight charm the piece needed to relate to the target audience of teens / young adults.”
“Depth of field was also utilised in shots to make the view of James all that more isolated and claustrophobic. The helmet not only is heavy and overbearing, but it impairs his vision and makes him focus on what's right in front of him rather than seeing the big picture and seeing how his actions affect others. So using a shallow depth of field helps us as an audience focus on what only we need to relate to, but be able to see James' perspective.”
Jump to... October 2022 when Armour is released!
Super proud to share that Armour is now up on Beyond Equality's YouTube Channel!
The 18th #BZShorts film is officially live!
From the beginning, the brief was to create a film which aims to address the armour of masculinity from the root of the cause, where young men and boys are taught unequal principles of behaviour and attitudes. If the short could communicate to young men and boys that they can help change the world and make male viewers feel empowered rather than alienated or accused, this film would be a success.
We reached out to Beyond Equality to offer to make a pro-bono film for them to amplify their message. Beyond Equality is a UK charity disrupting harmful norms and creating possibilities for positive change, working with men and boys towards gender equality.
Congratulations to the Armour team for creating a film that delivers the intended message with the empathy this story deserves.We hope you enjoy Armour! 💡
Watch the full film: https://youtu.be/aG5hdyHSGuw
Directed by Alex Davy
Art Direction Joe Kinch, Anim Direction by Dane Winn
Production managers Toni Cunningham & Lizzie Hicks
Design Intern Sophie Linney
Storyboard Intern Maria Miranzo, mentored by Rahul Dasgupta
Modelling Sophie Jameson, Emily Hargrave
Animation Sam Potter, Charlotte Binnie-Thompson, Lucie Thomas
LRC Jack McEntire, Francesca Pesce, Emma O'Hara
CG Sup Arthur Tibbett
Music by WMP