Egg is an animation about attempting – and failing – to take control of something you are afraid of
Animator and director Martina Scarpelli talks us through her critically-acclaimed 12-minute short Egg, a highly personal reimagining of a woman who has to eat an egg, but doesn’t want to.
- 12 December 2019
- Jyni Ong
- Reading Time
- 4 minutes
Beautiful, refined and enigmatic, Egg is an animated film about a woman who has to eat an egg, but doesn’t want to. Crafted in undulating black and white lines and dense blocks of negative space, the poignant film delves into themes of anxiety and control. “It’s a story about taking control over something you are afraid of, and then failing,” says the film’s director Martina Scarpelli on her highly acclaimed 12-minute short. “It’s also a film about victory.”
Born and raised in Italy, the animator studied at Brera Fine Art Academy in Milan where she delved into painting, drawing and expanded her interest in art history, aesthetics and linguistics. Soon after, she enrolled in a second bachelor’s degree, this time, studying animation at the Experimental Centre of Cinematography in Turin. “Yet, in spite of two bachelor’s, a couple of professional workshops and two films, I wake up almost every day, 50 per cent excited and 50 per cent terrified,” says Martina. “I’ve learnt that it’s a good place to be.” Though she’d never been a big follower of animation, it was “the pure satisfaction of seeing something that [she’d] imagined being done” that drew her to the medium.
“To be honest,” Martina continues, “when I entered the animation department at the Experimental Centre of Cinematography, I had no idea what to expect and definitely did not know what I was doing.” In spite of this, throughout the degree, she worked tirelessly to overcome the challenges involved in the labour-intensive process and, slowly, started to realise her vision of storytelling. She first started the script for Egg back in 2013 when scriptwriter Les Mills and director Joanna Quinn led a workshop during her studies. They asked the class to write 500 words about a turning point in their lives, and in this session, the concept for Egg was born.
“I felt uncomfortable reading it to others,” says Martina on the highly personal text, “so that first draft of the film was very abstract.” And three years later, after redrafting, reworking and stylising the work, she finally made the film. “I always wanted the film to be extremely clean and slightly disgusting,” she says of the film’s aesthetics. The story never really changed – it is still uncanny and quite disturbing, but it became more personal, less serious, and a bit silly.”
At first, the protagonist’s voice was in Italian, Martina’s mother tongue. But listening back to the voiceover, she realised “it felt too dramatic,” and opted to translate the monologue to English which made it lighter, “the rhythm better and the sentences shorter.” Seeking consult in scriptwriter Hans Frederick Jacobsen, Martina reworked the voiceover until the very last day of editing, experimenting with wordplay and in turn, the overall tone of the film. “Egg is not overtly factual,” adds the animator and director. “Animation is fiction, it’s constructed,” she emphasises, and in this vein, Martina draws out the relationship between viewer and protagonist to provide a vivid picture of the main character’s mental journey.
“In her mind, her addiction is sexual, tense, even attractive,” adds Martina. “I don’t know how you define a documentary but I’m happy to see people sacrificing their need for realism for the sake of the story and engaging with the film.” That being said, “nothing is untrue in Egg” and Martina’s artistic interpretation of her experiences only adds to the visceral qualities of the story. Subsequently, Martina spent a lot of time “obsessively cleaning the film.” She wanted it to be sharp, reflective of the need for perfection “which many people with anorexia feel they need to embody.” Despite the stark white sterility, Martina also wanted to inject a sense of the sensual and the tangible, to connect with the fears. “I knew I was going in a weird direction, but I liked it,” she says of this juxtaposition between discomfort and tactility.
Influenced in part by Greek-Roman iconography and the ancient belief that food brings pleasure with touch and not taste, Martina also looked to the visual motifs of gluttony, denoted by a woman with a long neck in classicism. In fact, the whole film is brimming with symbolism – the claustrophobic cube, the body as a living symbol of the universe, the clean and controlled linework throughout – so with this detail in mind, it’s no surprise the film took three years to make. Predominantly hand drawn frame-by-frame using a digital tablet, the stunningly emotive film was animated by Lars Hemmingsen with sound design by Amos Cappuccio, Andrea Martignoni and Sofie Birch.
On the ultimate message of the film, Martina says: “Optimism is crucial. Relapses are part of the process. Relapses taught me balance and measure. I now know when to stop. Yes still, sometimes I don’t. Relapses taught me forgiveness as well.”
About the Author
Jyni 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. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.