Invisible Monsters and Tomato Soup documents 20 people’s weird pandemic dreams

Directed by Marcie LaCerte, Stevie Borrello and Meghan McDonough, The New Yorker animation captures an array of weird and wonderful dreams from lockdown.

18 March 2021


Motion graphics designer Marcie LaCerte has a background in journalism, and it shows. Using her experience in the industry, she's learnt to tailor her work to whatever story she's working on, a skill that's now translated to her motion graphics work. Recently, the New York-based animator created a new short for The New Yorker. Titled Invisible Monsters and Tomato Soup, the five-and-a-half minute short sees 20 people share their vivid Covid-19 dreams.

Marcie began working on the film last spring with her friends Meghan McDonough and Stevie Borrello, both video journalists who worked with Marcie at the media company Quartz. Meghan was the first to bring up the idea having read a few articles about people having “weird pandemic dreams”. Herself and Stevie spent the summer of 2020 collecting interviews and writing a script before handing over the creative reigns to Marcie, who started on the visuals. “I made a storyboard first, then once I’d settled on a style I started animating,” she tells It's Nice That.

At first, Marcie wanted to create the animation using only the printing and scanning process. But upon accepting “my scanner is terrible and slow” she had to think of another idea, instead, using a sketchy pencil tool on her iPad. Working on the film for the next few months on evenings and weekends, the film was finally finished come January 2021. Collaborating closely with composer Hinako Omori, Marcie’s accessible and playful visuals are elevated by her sound effects.

“I wanted the characters to look simple and relatable since dreams are often strange and unrelatable,” she adds. When it came to the overarching narrative of the short however, the choice wasn’t so simple. Initially, the creators went into production thinking the film would express society’s collective unconscious going through this moment in history, capturing this unique and intangible period. Funny and arbitrary symbols arose from the interviews demonstrating this – lizards, K-pop celebrities and the apocalypse cropping up in the midst. “But more importantly,” says Marcie, “we found that a lot of people were dreaming about intimacy in direct response to stress. The discovery shaped the narrative arc, and the narrative arc shaped the way I decided to colour and illustrate our film.”


Invisible Monsters and Tomato Soup (Copyright © Marcie LaCerte, Stevie Borrello and Meghan McDonough, 2021)

The animator decided on three colour palettes, uniting them with a “deep Jungian red” hinting the psychological undertones of the research. Marcie decided on this colour early on when designing the frames for one of the central dreams; a dream about BDSM in a Chinese wet market. Such wet markets were a hot topic especially at the time due to the rising pandemic, but the interviewee’s attachment to the pandemic was the opposite of fear. “Our interviewee, who is from China, spoke to her nostalgia and affection for wet markets in a way that American media left completely unaddressed,” says Marcie. “I felt for her ambivalence (I experience it too as a second-generation Chinese-American) and wanted this film to intentionally reference Chinese motifs and cultural signifiers.” Hence the film’s use of red refers to the colour's prominence in Chinese lanterns, landscape paintings and clothing.

Psychology is a common theme in Marcie’s work. She tends to combine it with elements of surrealism and comedy but overall, she doesn’t think of her work as bearing much of a style. With that in mind, Marcie is inspired by a bunch of disparate references from Youtube seamstresses, anything that makes her feel spiritual about the internet, and unhinged performances by older women in film and TV. “The unhinged quality is very important,” she underlines, and mentions Jessica Walter in Arrested Development, Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer, Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari not to mention, and above all, Bette Davis.

All these references collide and merge together in Marcie’s unique form of visual storytelling. Smoothly transitioning from dreams, the highly engaging animation descends into the surreal nature of dreams. In this case featuring half-human-half-giraffes, fires, demons, radioactive lizards, orgies, sourdough sweatshops, oil-filled oceans, comforting grandmas and of course, invisible monsters and tomato soup. Currently, Marcie is working on a few different short film ideas which she hopes to squeeze into 2021. “Otherwise, I’m just trying to make enough money to survive in NYC, which is an act that takes up the vast majority of my life and brainpower!”

GalleryInvisible Monsters and Tomato Soup (Copyright © Marcie LaCerte, Stevie Borrello and Meghan McDonough, 2021)

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About the Author

Jynann Ong

Jynann joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. She went freelance in 2022.

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