Encyclopedia Pictura releases a film of pure animated magic to help us feel less alone
An emotional short exploring grief, isolation and environmental collapse, Isaiah Saxon’s new film portrays perseverance above all.
- 26 October 2020
- Lucy Bourton
- Reading Time
- 4 minutes
Despite often working with musicians to promote their latest work, the release of a film directed by Encyclopedia Pictura is a cultural event in and of itself. A group of animation directors which induces intrigue among the industry, its releases always present a carefully plotted narrative, imagined through the highest level of thought and animation technique. It’s most recent, directed by Isaiah Saxon, is one which again combines these factors alongside continuing Encyclopedia Pictura’s love, and therefore feelings of urgent alarm, towards nature.
Soundtracked by a new release from Dirty Projectors (Dave Longstreth of the band is a close friend and collaborator of Isaiah’s), Earth Crisis began by the director finding that this “music opened the floodgates to what I needed to express.” Writing the accompanying narrative just as the pandemic began, the storyline follows a woman and her dog in the arctic wilderness. Partway through the short, however, “her earnest dream unravels into a nightmare, but her spirit to bring life forward proves irrepressible,” Isaiah tells It’s Nice That. Although written back at the beginning of the year, there are parts of Earth Crisis which somehow predict the feelings of concern we continue to have.
Partly, this is because of how truthfully sober the short’s narrative is, built from Isaiah’s own “growing sense that the world was crumbling” and “no longer supportive of hopes and dreams,” following the passing of his father. “I needed a way to share my feelings of grief, isolation, and environmental collapse, but also a sense that we need to persevere to help life succeed in the face of so much death.” The making of Earth Crisis also followed, and intuitively reflects, world events as they unfolded. When spring turned to summer this year Isaiah could barely leave his house due to the heat and wildfires in California. “It felt more and more that this story was something I was living,” he continues. “It also felt more and more worthwhile to work on it 15 hours a day, hoping it could connect to what others are going through this year too.”
This narrative is visualised in a range of techniques fully affirming that, of all the disciplines, animation is definitely the closest to magic. Driven by a clear love and respect for the world around him, small details in Earth Crisis shine as central components. For instance, the sky is almost a living character throughout the short. “Half of any film is the sky, but more often than not, it is neglected,” Isaiah adds. By paying close attention to it, “the abstract forms and colours of weather interacting with light can convey all the emotion of your character, who could otherwise be doing very little,” he explains. Another key detail is the snow, which again seems to play a central role, a factor encouraged by Isaiah’s growing obsession with snow as our climate climbs ever hotter. “Winter itself seems like a fragile concept that is under threat. Snow is so emotional – the purity, the grace, the soft inviting quality of it. It’s a blank slate of possibility, a respite in a chaotic world that overwhelms us with clutter and decay,” he adds.
It’s a level of care Isaiah shares with his close collaborators on the project, also “the smallest, leanest, meanest team I’ve ever assembled,” he tells us. Isaiah was driven by a want to create the simulation of a stop-motion set despite being created remotely. “Of course, this is more labour-intensive, because each and every pose is an act of human labour and art, but I think it feels more alive,” he reasons. Consequently, the team’s “approach to physicality went beyond animation” and involved imposing strict rules on the modelling, lighting, materials, backgrounds and camera movement too. Each of these factors was additionally driven by a mutual want “to achieve the feeling of a diorama,” harking back to the fact that Isaiah’s biggest aesthetic influence “has always been the American Museum of Natural History.”
Working as just a team of three throughout the process, with “a few sharp-shooters” joining for specific missions, Isaiah teamed up firstly with Pavel Mishkin. A Russian animator, who “lives in a small village with horse-drawn carriages,” the director describes him as a “strange genius for expressive balletic movement” which, as Earth Crisis draws to a close, is a technique viewers will find themselves captivated by. This is combined with foregrounds carefully whipped up by Canadian artist Murray Nelson. Also Murray’s first attempt at 3D modelling – “which is insane, but just proves that a brilliant illustrator can become brilliant modeller very quickly,” adds Isaiah – together the distant trio knew the collective feeling they wanted to create, “the rest,” says the animator, “is just banging your head against the computer until it looks right.”
In terms of a viewing experience, Isaiah recommends switching all the lights off to watch Earth Crisis; an unusual request considering the effect of the film is one that makes you feel less alone. Hoping to leave audiences with the feeling that “the grief and isolation they are experiencing is something they can move through,” the short is one of the most astoundingly moving pieces we’ve watched this year, even though not directly related to the dominant news story we are going through. All in all, it acts as a reminder: “That life, which is rightly defined by death and sadness, remains irrepressible.”
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.