It’s coming towards the end of a tempestuous year. We’ve all faced a lot and the residual feelings left over from each turbulent event have left an odd mood in the air. Although it feels impossible to pin down exactly what our shared emotional disposition is, illustrator Polly Nor with animator Andy Baker have managed to capture it in their latest film How Have You Been?
Produced by WePresent, the short film tells the story of Rae, a woman alone in lockdown facing no human interaction whatsoever, alongside the disappointment of missing the delivery man drop off her parcel and observantly watching the idyllic couple (dog and all!) across the road. Upon finding a devilish creature in her vegetable box, Rae finds comfort in looking after the creature, soon to find out that she’s signed up for more than she bargained for.
Polly’s engaging script and salient illustration, bolstered by Andy Barker’s confidently subtle but dynamic animation, has resulted in a film that is touching, funny and astonishingly visceral – herded by the astonishing use of sound, or rather silence. Perfectly capturing the quiet felt in lockdown, the film seems eerily familiar; with silence almost becoming an entirely another character, only interrupted by sounds such as the fridge, that before now we never knew could be so noisey. A true feat of contemporary social commentary, How Have You Been? connects to the viewer on both an intimate and national level, absolutely smashing it out the park in its recounting of “love, loss and loneliness in isolation,” as the London-based illustrator tells us.
“I started writing this story at the beginning lockdown, when the reality of the pandemic was really starting to sink in,” Polly recalls, “and people's worlds were be being turned upside down, from those losing friends and loved ones, to relationships being pulled apart by travel restrictions and social distancing measures.” As is the case with lots of Polly and Andy’s work, the film is left somewhat open for interpretation; from a fairly literal dance with the devil to letting out the devil within, and finding the support you needed in doing so. “We want the viewer to take from it whatever resonates with them most,” Polly adds, whether you interpret the story as allowing yourself to be vulnerable to your own demons, or finding contentment in nurturing.
For Polly however, the devilish slug is symbolic of Rae’s loneliness and craving for companionship, explaining that “I see the demon character as part of Raes inner psyche, a manifestation of her grief and heartbreak.” It is only after embracing the demon and the chaos it’s created – “eating all her food, drinking all her booze and ashing cigarettes all over her floor” – and begins to dance when “she's finally able to set it free.” Interestingly, for the dance scene Polly tells us “I spent hours watching all of the Soul Train dance recordings I could find from the 70s on Youtube, trying to find the movement references that fit what I had in mind for the scene!”
On top of Polly’s thematic, emotional and aesthetic success of the film, it is also a technical marvel, rife with rich attention to detail that gives us a greater insight into Rae’s character. “While drawing the background designs I had to take time to consider 'Who is Rae? What does she keep on her shelves?'” Polly explains. Giving further clues to Rae’s story, Polly added a “decaying bunch of lilies in her kitchen, the childhood drawings and photos stuck to her fridge, and the corona mask hanging next to her bags and belts in her bedroom,” which she notes as some of her favourite details to add.
Due to the film’s creation beginning towards the start of lockdown, the illustrator also took inspiration from the moment she was in, wanting to include recognisable landmarks such as the pile of dirty dishes and unpaid bills. Using her own home as reference for the household objects and furniture, as well as adding to the narrative, Polly tells us “I spent a lot of time in early lockdown looking out my window, noticing the people living on my road that usually I wouldn’t have paid much attention too.” This is certainly indicative of the feelings many have had during lockdown, paying attention to things they had not done previously, and re-evaluating what they want to be attentive to.
The development of How Have You Been? was different to what Polly has done previously, finding it a “more thought-out process” than her typical illustrative work. “I’m used to working on one-off drawings which tend to spill out of me pretty quickly, usually I can move from idea to finished piece within just a few days to a week,” Polly tells us. A contrast to the reality of How Have You Been?, which involved “budgeting, planning, writing, story-boarding and developing even before it got to the actual designing, animation and sound.” Giving more time and energy into the smaller details, Polly comments that “nothing beats watching a seed of an idea into a fully formed film, with a great team of talented creatives,” refining every individual component of the film's individual elements.
Previously working with Andy on Chelou’s Halfway To Nowhere music video, Polly was excited to finally realise their intention of collaborating on a narrative project, alongside a great team of talented creatives, telling us “I hope we get the chance to work on more in the future” – we hope so too.
GalleryPolly Nor, Andy Baker: How Have You Been?
Polly Nor, Andy Baker: How Have You Been? (Copyright © Polly Nor, Andy Baker, 2020)
About the Author
Hailing from the West Midlands, and having originally joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020, Harry is a freelance writer and designer – running his own independent practice, as well as being one-half of the Studio Ground Floor.