Short Fairtrade Animation – From Concept to Delivery

The DVD for the Fairtrade Foundation (UK) has just been completed, which will be going out to hundreds of schools to encourage pupils and teachers to sign up and get certified as ‘Fairtrade schools’. As part of this comprehensive resource, we’ve produced an animation to explain how the process works and dispel some of the more common misconceptions surrounding Fairtrade. Your portfolio has a much better chance of being on top if you can design one type of concept artist really well.

Here’s how the film was put together, from concept to delivery:

July ’08

Whilst filming in a school for our forthcoming Fairtrade schools DVD, we get talking about how to tackle some of the common errors that people make when describing Fairtrade. Many schoolchildren, when asked to describe Fairtrade, use phrases such ‘as giving to charity’ and seem to have little or no understanding about trade prices, fair deals or social premiums. In an offhand comment, I mention the possibility of putting together a short animation to explain the issues.

I should have learnt by now that offhand comments always get taken seriously!

Aug ’08

The thoughts about doing an animation have now turned into concrete reality…

Sept ’08

A start is made on pulling a script together. Looking around at other animations for some inspiration, I start thinking about the characters that might front the piece. It becomes clear that all on the team are favouring bananas – they’re well-known as a Fairtrade product and the issues involved in growing them highlight a number of key points that we want to get across. Plus there’s plenty of available archive footage and they lend themselves well to being animated.

Over the next couple of months, the main area to work on is the script. It takes several drafts to start honing in on the style and delivery that we want. The difficulty is getting a balance between information and watchability – there are several things to get across, but I need to avoid it being an information monologue – it’s got to be fun and engaging to watch as well. Lynette from the Fairtrade Foundation is taking key responsibility for the script development, whilst I’m advising on how it will be delivered and help to edit and trim it down to keep it to length and make sure that the planned sequences are feasible to animate and edit.

Dec ’08

The script is taking form. We’ve decided to keep it to three key scenes, one in a market stall on a set of scales to introduce the characters and bring in the idea of unfair trade and hint at the misconception of Fairtrade as charity. There will be two bananas as presenters, one as a Fairtrade banana explaining to the other non-Fairtrade banana about how it works.

The bananas then jump onto a worksurface, with a tv screen in the background, allowing us to cut in and out of archive footage as the process is explained. Finally, they arrive in a supermarket where all the bananas are Fairtrade, talking about consumer power and choice and how things can be taken further.

With the script looking close to the final thing, I’m starting to sketch out some ideas for the look and feel of the bananas

Jan ’08

At last – storyboard time!

The script is looking good, so this is the key time to draw out the key scenes. This is always a useful step, and particularly for animation, where I don’t want to be wasting time having to redo lots of steps. I want to be precise and know where the story is going and how to tell this visually. Having a sketched out storyboard helps me work out what ‘shots’ will cut together and where the script might need changes. It also helps to think how the story can be developed visually without the need for words and where to put breaks in the script.

Having a banana to look at whilst sketching out the frames was useful, in order to get banana angles right! At this stage, our main protagonist was “Ben the banana”, so I gave him some cool sunglasses to watch over me whilst I worked! Unfortunately, soon after this shot was taken and the storyboard finished, the first of the “Ben’s” experienced the end of the line – my lunch!

Jan / Feb ’08

With the script signed off, design outlines for the bananas and the storyboard pretty much in place we book in a date to record the voices, start collating all the available archive footage and take the initial shots that we will cut into the animation. We also book in a shoot at our local Sainsbury’s to film and photograph the Fairtrade bananas here. By this stage, I’ve made some changes to the characters – Ben has now become Bernadette and her non-Fairtrade sidekick is now Carlos. Cue fluttering eyelashes and Latin pencil moustache!

As you can see from the shots below, there was quite tight similarity between the storyboard images and the framing and set-up for the live shots that we would finally mix in to the animation.
Location shot

Audio is recorded at the end of the month, shots in Sainsbury’s added in and the archive footage captured into the edit suite ready to pull together Supermarket bananas

Feb ’08

Now for the fun techie bit. I’ve adapted a couple of existing vector images for the bananas (vector images allow you to scale in and out of the picture, without losing quality – unlike raster images (such as digital photos) that have a limit on the resolution. Too much zooming in and raster images become grainy and pixelated).

Taking these into After Effects and then adding in mouths, eyes, sunglasses and eyebrows, these are then step animated frame by frame, overlying these onto the pictures I’d already taken shots of. The audio is imported and then synchronised up with the mouths. Each layer (banana, mouth, eyes etc) is kept independent in relation to time, but linked in terms of space / position, allowing animation of each to happen independently but without losing on-screen orientation. Makes sense? Sorry – getting too technical now!

The archive material is then matched to the on-screen television by corner-pinning and then the process of rendering out each scene and compiling these together begins, with tweaks to the audio edits and addition of music and title graphics.

Mar ’08

The film is ready and goes to Fairtrade for approval. A few tweaks here and there to tighten up the story and make it flow better are made, credits added and then it’s ready to go!

The film is exported to the final DVD, where it joins a further 90 minutes worth of material going out to schools.

Here’s a link to the final film – post a comment and tell us what you think!

Phil Knox is the co-founder of Purple Flame Media Ltd who specialise in developing world, NGO and corporate social responsibility related projects.

Go to the Purple Flame blog to read more from the Purple Flame team or their website to see their latest films.

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