It’s extremely easy to be captivated by “The Bigger Picture.” While the story of two opposite siblings is a common one, the experimental animation technique in this short is something you’ve never seen before. Filmmaker Daisy Jacob’s multi-dimensional, larger-than-life, stop-motion paintings amplify ordinary tensions between three family members, transforming this classic tale of good brother/bad brother and electrifying it with whimsy. Emotions brim over in the form of flooded showers, 3D steaming kettles, and anger growing like a beanstalk, and the Gondry-esque results look like magic.
Winner of the Best Animated Film Award at the British Academy Film Awards (aka BAFTA, the British Oscars) and recipient of an Academy Award nomination in 2015, Jacobs’ student-made piece is a triumph of modern animation. As the painted layers of Richard and Nick are swept away in each frame, past traumas, disappointments, joys, and love are still physically present as smudges beneath the new paint. And you can see that this short is a real physical labor of love — the animations were carefully crafted by artists crouching on the ground, standing tiptoe on a chair or moving handmade objects ever so slightly for a millisecond of footage. We’re thrilled to premiere “The Bigger Picture” online today, and, being big fans, we had a lot of questions for Daisy. Read on for our interview with her and a behind-the-scenes video about the making of this innovative film.
What inspired this film’s storyline? Do you have a personal connection to any of the events?
Daisy: “The Bigger Picture” is loosely based on the turmoil in my own family when my grandmother needed constant care. There was a lot of conflict which, I think, is not uncommon. It’s a personal story, but it’s also universal.
How long did this film take to create and how large was your team?
The film took six months to animate and about a year to make, overall, from script writing to post-production. I made it in my second year at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) where I had a crew made up of students from other disciplines, such as cinematography, music, and sound, all working on my film, thus replicating the industry process.
How and when did you start working with this hand-drawn, life-size, stop motion style? What were some of the challenges you faced with this technique?
I had already come up with the life-size technique in my first year at the NFTS — probably because I’ve always painted on a large scale and it just made sense to animate that way as well. For “The Bigger Picture,” I increased the 3D element and that’s when Chris Wilder and I started animating together: he animated the arms, legs and props, and I animated the life-size painted characters. We don’t pre-draw the frames; we start one side of a wall and just paint “straight ahead” across to the other side. Things can go slightly ‘rogue’ in the middle but we try to end on a frame of beauty; it’s about creating a fluid impression of movement, not a mechanical reproduction.
What materials did you use to make this film?
“The Bigger Picture” is my student film and so the budget for materials was very small. All the props came from boot sales, charity shops, and eBay — I had my whole family out there, haggling. Chris and I couldn’t animate the real props, of course, because they were too heavy or too solid. That meant every prop (every last teacup) had to be replicated in lightweight cardboard, and not just once but in multiples. We also had to make multiples of every arm, leg, hand, and foot for each character. We sat in a tiny room at the NFTS for weeks, with Chris making the cardboard multiples and me painting them. It was grindingly dull and quite creepy: we sat in the gloom, surrounded by bin bags of pale, severed limbs. You have to work out everything you need, and make it, and label it, in advance; once you start animating you can’t stop to build another leg. I used acrylic paint for everything — in astounding quantities, particularly once the animating began. Life-size characters, in twenty-five frames a second, take a lot of paint. I kept asking for more money, but it was always for paint, so the school couldn’t really say no! I love paint. I love its colours, squeezing it, daubing it on with a great big paddle brush, flicking in a bit of detail... my painting style is very fast, slap-dash, and unburdened by accuracy. That’s the beauty of animation, really: before anyone can pick an image apart, it’s moved on!
I noticed that the colors are gray and blue based. What was your thinking behind the subdued, cool color palette?
At the time, I’d been looking into Brutalist architecture and I liked the idea of putting my characters in a concrete space where large areas of flat grey could act as a metaphor for the constant presence of death. The cold blue and grey tones are interspersed with brief flashes of warm and vibrant colour, however, so I like to think I offer some hope. Ultimately, it’s a positive film, even if it is about dying.
For such an emotive story, how do you think the British Invasion, surf-esque music influenced the mood of this piece, and why did you choose that style of music? How did you come to collaborate with Super Furry Animals member Huw Bunford?
Sound and music are immensely important; I’d say they are 50% of the film. It is a very emotive story, but I wanted to use quite “chilled” music and unusual, abstract sounds to create an air of detachment. No one likes to feel they are being manipulated and, at the prospect of laid-back, jazzy music, audiences might relax their guard... I listened to a lot of 1960s television soundtracks, especially from London-based “spy series — the sort of music that wants to be sophisticated but is really quite English and a bit awkward, like all those self-conscious teenage dancers in clips from the same era. There’s a sense of not being very adept but having a go anyway, like the efforts of the brothers in the film. I’d send Huw clips of sixties music I liked and he’d send his pieces back with all the qualities I wanted but making it very stylish at the same time. Huw has also made all the music for the new film, The Full Story.
The rumble of Richard’s car is heard in three distinct scenes in this piece — all sort of representing his negative presence and selfishness. I wonder why you chose this object to represent him?
I love the rumble of a 1960s Austin Healey — such a wonderful, throaty sound! Richard’s car is a made-up version of all the things I’d like in a car, but, yes, it does represent him: it’s noisy, attention-seeking, totally impractical, and rather fun. His is not really a negative presence; he tries to help in his own way and he is better company for Mum than his martyred brother, Nick. She is proud of his drive and status and, like society in general, values these far more than Nick’s dull domestic contribution.
You also chose to convey emotion through different objects like the steam of the kettle, the flooding of the shower… were there any ideas for this film that you did not use for one reason or another?
“The Bigger Picture” was a hugely experimental film and we came up with so many ideas and new techniques as we went along that we could never have incorporated them all. It was clear, however, that animation has an extraordinary potential to convey emotion through the characters’ environment — through all the objects and surroundings that are normally inanimate on film. In The Full Story, our new film about divorce, the house keeps pace with the central character’s volatile emotions as home life spirals out of control: when he hears something that shocks him, for example, the entire contents of the full-size living room fly upwards, morph in mid-air, and land as a different space.
In England, I know different accents mean that someone is from a different area of the country. These two are brothers but they seem to have different ways of speaking. Is there a reason behind that?
Richard’s accent is closer to his mother’s Received Pronunciation (RP), whereas Nick has lost his BBC vowels. He speaks nicely but has downwardly converged as a result of mixing with other classes of people and having friends and contact with people in more ordinary walks of life. Probably.
What do you want people to take away from this film?
I’d like people to recognise their own story, and feel their story has been acknowledged and told to others. I hope the film encourages compassion and, ultimately, forgiveness. It’s important to me to have an underlying message. My films deal with serious themes, such as misogyny (Don Justino), class inequality (Tosh), and family breakdown (The Full Story), but I try to tell the stories in an uplifting, enjoyable way.
What are you working on currently? Can we expect any work from you soon?
Chris and I have been making the new film, “The Full Story”, for the last two years and have just finished so we hope it will be in festivals this summer. It’s another life-size hybrid animation, this time about the divorce boom of the 1980s. Forty-something Toby is selling his childhood home, and as he walks through its empty rooms, he is assailed by kaleidoscopic memories of the family unravelling, break-down, divorce, and all the helplessness and rage of being a child. Will he ever know the full story? The film asks why close ties break and loved ones leave. And what do you do when your family’s gone?
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Daisy!
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