Bodyform’s new animation-led film Wombstories opens up vital conversations
Created by AMV BBDO with director Nisha Ganatra, the film sees a handful of animators tackle the brief together, including Kate Isobel Scott, Haein Kim, Laura Jayne Hodkin, Roos Matter and Salla Lehmus.
- 8 July 2020
- Ayla Angelos
- Reading Time
- 6 minutes
Wombs. They’re a complex thing. We love them and hate them; they can bring us joy, life and pleasure, but they can also bring great pain and sadness. A new film called Wombstories – created by creative agency AMV BBDO for Bodyform (the brand behind the #Bloodnormal and Viva La Vulva campaigns) – uses a diverse mix of animation styles to tell a wide range of stories about wombs.
Directed by Nisha Ganatra, with creative direction by Nadja Lossott and Nicholas Hulley from AMV BBDO, the short film brings together a hugely talented group of women animators from across the globe, including Laura Jayne Hodkin, Carine Khalife, Salla Lehmus, Kate Isobel Scott, Haein Kim, Roos Mattaar, Annie Wong and Nella Addy. All of whom worked with a brief to create their own individual, handmade part of the film, with the result spanning a whole host of diverse narratives.
The film touches on longing for children, endometriosis, the pain of birth, miscarriage, “clockwork” periods, agonising or badly timed periods, menopause, and first cycles – leaving us with a healthy reminder that each and every story is normal. In a device reminiscent of Pixar’s Inside Out, we see an animated world centred within the womb that seems to observe and control life outside – something that really came together with the help of such a varied group of animators.
“We thought, what if we bring it to life and anthropomorphise them,” Nadja and Nicholas tell It’s Nice That. “The idea of each person having a little womb-dweller, controlling the outside experience felt like such a wonderful space to play in. We were excited by creating beautiful little organic worlds that told the outside story but on a deeper, more emotionally visceral level, rather than a logical one. It was like you had a second seat of power that rules your life and takes you on this rollercoaster ride of emotions. And we could look into a window into a secret life of wombs. We knew it could be magical.”
The creative duo created what they describe as a “visual bible” for the project; they wrote and rewrote the script; and asked women a set of questions to see what stories would resonate. Then, they were lucky enough to get Nisha involved as the film’s director. From there, it’s very much a story of collaboration, with 12 animation directors brought in to work on their section, with Elise Butt editing, Framestore working with those animation directors, with Sam Ashwell at 750mph across the sound, and many more people involved across every aspect of the project. “It was an epic undertaking for us all to bring the little film to life in the way we know it now,” say Nadja and Nicholas.
“We went out of our way on this film to select artists who worked in different ways, and who produced uniquely interesting work – especially types that you may not expect in a typical commercial or brand film,” says Framestore’s creative director Sharon Lock. “There is a lot of animation work out there that is quite generic, or fits a trend, so we spent huge amounts of time up front carefully selecting styles and viewing the work of artists to see how they worked with storytelling and emotion.”
As such, Framestore worked with various artists across the globe which, as Sharon explains, presented its own challenges in terms of delivery schedules and operating through the lockdown. A variety of techniques and mediums – those that didn’t “fit to a regular VFX/post/animation schedule” – meant that communication was key throughout the process, as was hour-long meetings trying to describe the “movement of plasticine boobs”, she says, to prep what they might look like on shoot (a reference to Kate Isobel Scott’s sections of the film). “The womb dweller has a dancing sequence in her lingerie (spoiler alert) at the end of my animation part and it was vital to get those boobs looking the best they could,” Kate explains, adding that “it’s amusing when someone like my brother who is into corporate business asks me what I’ve been working on.”
Additionally, each artist compiled their parts independently and hadn’t seen anyone else's work before theirs was complete. “Things like the same brand colour palettes were given to everyone,” says Sharon, “but each story needed to stand out against the other, so they had to look and feel different.” This, plus the fact that they needed to make sure that all artist storylines, details and emotion were “on track”, meant that a close working relationship with Nick and Nadya was vital.
Sharon’s role was to maintain both differences and consistencies, and she also designed and oversaw the VFX aspect of the “uterine universe”, which is the element that binds all of the storylines together. Framestore is used to working digitally, either with 2D or 3D, so when tasked with a more handmade process, things started to get a little more experimental. An example of this hand-made approach can be seen in the Kate’s contribution. Tasked with creating a ten-second animation, which “sounds easy at first”, Kate says she embarked on her part by hand and used stop motion with 12 frames a second which, as it turns out, was a “little time-consuming”, especially when her only and “number one” assistant is her boyfriend. “I definitely am a little mad, yet I jumped at the opportunity, as I am a big fan of their previous film Viva la Vulva.”
Working from the Hague at the time, alongside her agency Everyone Agency, Kate’s brief evolved around a Parisian-style apartment with a “womb-like essence”. Her brief was to represent the menopause, which is why the “place catches fire to symbolise a hot flush”. Moving erratically from the character reading a magazine on the sofa to “waving out” flames within the space of five seconds, this part of the film is a somewhat stressful scene that shows the ups and downs that many women experience. She adds on the matter: “I knew immediately that this was something I’d love to make, as the team was all seemed super excited and was open to ideas. I also like the fact that I was representing the menopause, as I had seen my mum go through this not that long ago.”
Much of the work produced for this film comes from personal experiences. Kate refers to her part as a “dream job”, explaining how it wasn’t just the outcome that she loved but also everyone’s enthusiasm and excitement about being part of it. “My favourite part was seeing the first edit with the music,” she says. “All of a sudden everything came together and all these little bits made sense. I didn’t think I would find the film so emotional when I was working on it, as obviously I had seen it from the start. However, the final outcome gets me and I am so happy to have been able to contribute to something that encourages conversations about the love and hate of wombs.”
Speaking about the film as a whole, Nadja and Nick reflect: “Our North Star was telling the emotional truth, that sometimes periods or being a woman can actually be pretty shit. We wanted to show different complex narratives of people’s experiences through life, because so many topics were underrepresented and never even seen. Both powerful ones and fragile ones.”