Animation studio Animade has released its first short film Tend, beautifully telling the tale of a father and daughter’s relationship and the distractions that threaten to undermine it. With no dialogue, the film relies entirely on its charming characters, scenery and atmospheric sound design to keep viewers hooked – which the It’s Nice That team wholeheartedly was throughout – as the story unfolds.
The film follows a father and daughter’s life in the wilderness, where time is hinged on the dwindling and rekindling of a log fire near their hut. As the father becomes increasingly obsessed with the fire, their peaceful daily routine unravels as he begins to lose sight of the more important task of spending time with his daughter. This, co-writer and co-director Ed Barrett explains, is a metaphor for modern day fatherhood. “For us, the premise is distraction,” he tells It’s Nice That, “being lured away from what really matters by devices that beg our attention.” Ed and Tom Judd, fellow co-writer and director, drew on their experiences as fathers of young children for the film.
Drawing on learnings from previous projects such as Animade’s Ready Steady games for iOS and Android, the duo aimed to use specific animation techniques and aspects of the characters to amplify emotion. “We looked to the promo films for the Ready Steady games, where we’d use long, stage-like shots in which the characters’ subtle actions are fully on display,” Ed explains. “We feel this immerses the audience in the world as we watch the action slowly play out, rather than using numerous cuts and camera moves to zero in on the precise bit of action we want the audience to look at.”
The film’s pared-back aesthetic is therefore tailored to complement these discreet nuances of character and action. “The scenery is constructed from the simplest of forms: triangle trees, a few mountains and a couple of clouds here and there,” says Tom. “The colours are constructed from four atmospheric tones, fire, sky, light and shadow, and the four colours that form the characters’ palette. We knew the fidelity and subtlety of the character acting needed to be partnered with colour and sound that didn’t overpower, but amplified its emotive notes.” Sounds Like These created the sounds and music for Tend with a similar approach.
Scale was also used as a device to build character and narrative. “There was something really fun about Father being enormous and Daughter being so small,” Ed says. “This also played into the storytelling; with her tiny stature, the audience might almost forget the child is even there until the last, very crucial scene when she coerces her father into seeing what he’s doing to their lives.”
Simplicity is often a rod for a creative’s back, and the challenge for Ed, Tom and the Animade team was to create something captivating amid these many constraints. The success of the story, Tom says, depends entirely on the character acting, but luckily it worked. “We had nowhere to hide in these slow and steady scenes. And we couldn’t just chuck in a line of dialogue, although it did cross our minds! Yes, the music and scenery do their bit to amplify and solidify the story but with bad acting the characters would quickly lose the audience’s attention. One of the biggest concerns during the writing process was that in order to explain the intangible motivation that drives the story, it was important to convey the father’s deepest, innermost thoughts.”
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