Johnny Kelly: Back to the Start

31 August 2011

We’ve got a lot of time for Johnny Kelly, and rightly so. He’s pulled it out of the bag once again with Back to the Start, his new stop-frame animation commissioned by Chipotle Mexican Grill about sustainable farming. It is subtly persuasive in driving home the message about responsible food production/culture, and manages to be a lot more than a glossy ad for a burrito brand; demonstrating his technical mastery, skill as an engaging storyteller and socio-environmental acumen. See the video and read our interview with Johnny here.

Hi Johnny, it’s an ambitious project but you said it’s been one of your favourite jobs. Why is that?

It was a very open brief. Chipotle liked the potential of using animated information graphics to tell a fairly complex story.

It’s very rare to be given the time, budget and relative creative freedom to make a film like this. Short film animation funding and support has dried up in the UK (unlike say the old days of Channel 4 where you used to see Jan Svankmejer on TV at 10pm and have your mind popped), and there isn’t any money to make music promos. So something like stop motion animation, especially with characters like this, is often priced out of the water

How long did it take to complete, and was it a labour of love?

The shoot itself was four weeks, the longest I have ever done. It was definitely some kind of labour. Stop motion can be quite intense when you spend four weeks with people, 10-12 hours a day, in a confined space.

Environmental issues surrounding farming and food production can be quite contentious. What were the challenges of working on this film and subject matter?

Making things like this is part of an ongoing struggle – how to make commercial animation without losing your soul. I remember being a little sceptical of the intentions of this mysterious and giant fast food company until I met with the Chipotle founder. I do think they are sincere about what they are trying to do, and apart from anything else building awareness seems a good idea.

One of the biggest challenges was balancing the tone of the film. It would have been easy to shock people, make it into a spatter film but it isn’t an anti-meat film. Animals are killed on any livestock farm – family or factory – this story is primarily about what kind of life animals have before they are killed.

So the challenge became how to cram all of these themes – animal welfare, industrialised farms, antibiotics, growth hormones, pollution, monoculture , respiratory effects on humans, crop rotation, locally-sourced produce – into something that was roughly two minutes long and didn’t leave you feeling exhausted.

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