Set in a not-so-distant future world, after total environmental collapse, LA-based Louis Morton’s Floreana is a mesmerising animation in which a new generation of humans are training to mimic animals in a story that explores evolution, climate change, and human-animal relationships. From macaws and elephants to turtles and koi carp, uniformed people train in a facility to better survive in the post-apocalyptic world. Much like a charming 2D side-scroller from an indie game publisher, the scenes pace horizontally throughout this film that shows us the goings-on in the training centre.
Originally hailing from St. Louis in Missouri, Louis originally studied industrial design for his undergrad and worked as a graphic designer for a few years before starting animation. Regarding industrial design, he says: “[I] never quite was able to take off with it as a career, though I did help design the world’s first flip flop shoe book!” Currently working as a graphic artist at Walt Disney Television, he finds that making short animations is a fantastic way to “focus on a limited number of ideas” and that it “allows you to create a world from scratch and set all of the rules, the physics, design and atmosphere.”
“I’m usually motivated by the pure satisfaction of taking an idea that I think is interesting and new and making it real,” Louis tells It’s Nice That. “It’s kind of insane to make a short film outside of a full-time job, so after finishing Floreana, I told myself I wouldn’t do that anymore. But then some ideas I had been kicking around in my head started making a lot more sense and now I think I want to do it again!”
One common theme across Louis’ works, and one that is especially apparent in Floreana, involves a large groups of people whose individual gestures create a symphonic effect. “I’m less interested in developing individual characters, or creating traditional narrative character story arcs,” he says. “I find myself more naturally drawn to creating atmospheres and worlds, where the characters and the environment are intertwined.” Floreana itself originally had a story arc that was scrapped because of time constraints: while two friends were training to become macaws, one of them realised that he wanted to become a fish and not a bird.
The lack of a protagonist or an individual focus in the animation not only makes the work more atmospheric, but also presents a way of thinking about the future in a collective way. The theme of a co-evolution with animals essentially turns these trainees into a group of cyborgs – not a dystopian cyborg form that should be feared but perhaps one that we can aspire to be. Much like Donna Haraway, who also wrote The Companion Species Manifesto about the joint lives of animals and people, Louis takes our currently expanding bandwidths around identity and lays it over the domain of humanity as a whole. This is expressed in Louis’ character design, especially in their clothing. “I wanted the characters to be in these different types of matching uniforms, to match the animal they were training to become, almost like by putting on these clothes, they were already starting to abandon their humanness,” he explains.
The idea for the animation came a long time ago, during Louis’ childhood. “There was a science exhibit I visited as a kid where you could stick your head into different animal heads and see what it was like to see the world through their eyes. A few years ago, I was remembering this exhibit and thinking about how it would be cool to develop a future amusement park where people could experience the world as different animals,” he explains. He developed the idea during a three-month animation workshop in Viborg, Denmark, into its current form.
This experience of viewing the animal dioramas as a child made its way into the visual language of the film. “I didn’t storyboard, but instead designed a bunch of different environments with the idea that a camera would be steadily panning through. This was inspired again by being at the science exhibit and walking by dioramas, along with the design of the classic evolution poster of the chimp evolving into a human while walking from left to right,” he says.
Currently starting pre-production for his next film, which is going to be set in a coal mine in the American Midwest, Louis plans to further experiment with character design and sound design. For Floreana, the sound design was handled by electronic musician Sofie Birch and sound designer Asbjørn Derdau. “When I heard the first sound effects pass, I was laughing big time to hear that they had done all the animal sounds with their own voices,” Louis says. The rest of the sound design creates a melancholic, haunting mood towards the end of the film. It doesn’t seem like the end of Floreana just yet though. “I’m also always tinkering with new ideas for the world of Floreana,” says Louis, “and would love to further develop it someday.”