Social anxiety manifests on melty plasticine faces in Sam Gainsborough’s Facing It

The multi award-winning film uses a hybrid of claymation, pixelation and live action to paint a visceral portrait of internal struggle.

31 January 2020


Facing It is set in a familiar scene: a pub buzzing with chatter, seemingly happy friends meeting for a pint, but in the corner sits our lonely protagonist. Holding fort at a corner table, waiting for his parents to arrive, the main character attempts and fails to appear casual and confident to make small talk with strangers. Yet his face shows how he really feels, tethered by his own social anxiety. To tell this story in a visceral yet surrealist way, director Sam Gainsborough has employed a hybrid process combining claymation heads on live action footage and pixelation, wherein the characters’ emotions manifest in the texture of their plasticine faces.

Sam says he wanted to create a film that resonated with people who struggle with anxiety, or often feel isolated from others. “[It’s] about a character who struggles to interact with other people,” he tells It’s Nice That. “The main character is someone who has learned to repress his emotions. If he feels sad or angry, his skin physically restricts him from showing these emotions. This means his skin is constantly swirling and transforming, meaning he can never be truly comfortable in his own skin.”

The more he tries to connect with others, “the more everything goes wrong for him,” continues Sam, and his most raw reactions manifest physically on his face. “Ultimately, we set out to make something that conveys those internal feelings that are too difficult to describe with words.”

The characters’ faces are unnerving in their extreme expressions, made ever more surreal when hands reach round from the back of their heads to muffle their own utterances, or even pull sections off their own face in distressing depictions of anger. Each face has been animated frame by frame in claymation, and the use of this tactile medium at such a scale – the heads being larger than life size, and hence the drips and cracks being highly detailed – explores mental issues in a uniquely palpable way.


Sam Gainsborough: Facing It

“The main character’s claymation mask melts and distorts as he struggles to control his anxious feelings and the rest of the pub’s overtly happy masks seem to become more flamboyant and vibrant as the evening escalates,” Sam describes. Meanwhile, his parents’ dry, cracked faces represent how they’ve learned to repress their emotions for so long that “their faces have become solid, rocklike masks,” he explains. “If they feel anything, their faces crack and crumble. This is where our main character is headed if he doesn’t change his ways.”

Throughout, the film’s dialogue is warped and unintelligible, an aspect that was important to Sam in its universality. “I really wanted to speak to people from everywhere and anywhere and it would have been a shame if we created any barriers. We experimented with dialogue in the film, but we were trying to create a universal visual language for the feelings we were trying to convey. It almost felt like if we were to use dialogue, we wouldn’t be fully exploring what we could achieve with the animation technique.” So Sam worked with sound designer Adam Woodhams, who created a surreal broken language for all the characters to speak. “It was important to me that this film could play all over the world.”

Not one to stick to a single technique, Sam recently worked with Tate Britain to digitally “graffiti” and animate William Blake’s paintings across the London streets he once trod, for a campaign launching the gallery’s exhibition dedicated to the poet.

GallerySam Gainsborough: Facing It

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Sam Gainsborough: Facing It

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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