Where the Buffalo Roam creates a narrative-led, five-part animated docuseries
Titled Being Human Is, the production company briefed a handful of illustrators to animate each episode – including Oddfellows, Emiliano Ponzi, Tracy J Lee, Leonard Dupond and Keith Negley.
- Ayla Angelos
- 20 January 2021
Why focus on one animation, when you can have many? Android’s docuseries Being Human Is sees production company Where the Buffalo Roam (WTBR) compile stories from musicians, athletes, filmmakers among others as they bring their ideas to life through a compilation of moving image. Directed by Nico Carbonaro and Tuesday McGowan, the series sees a host of illustrative styles come together from the likes of Portland-based Oddfellows, Milan-based Emiliano Ponzi, San Fransisco-based Tracy J Lee, Lille-based Leonard Dupond and Washington-based Keith Negley.
Bound through a journalistic approach, Being Human Is takes inspiration from radio, like This American Life. As such, WTBR employed radio producers to construct the episode’s audio format, where each story contrasts heavily from one another. This meant each story had an illustrator to match, equating to a medley of styles and aesthetics involved.
The first example is Oddfellow’s animation which, titled On Silent Ice, is the debut episode of Being Human Is. It follows the story of Anthony Rumolo who founded the deaf hockey league for players in Canada and, by using Live Transcribe on his Android phone, how he can have real-time conversations. “For such an action-packed hockey story – with more shots and cuts than two other episodes combined – we relied on them to capture the action of authentic hockey play but with a surrealistic cinematic eye,” says Nico of the reasons why Oddfellows was an apt choice for this episode. “Shots from underneath the ice, then drone shots from above the rink, a player surrounded by nothing but eyes, macro shots of pucks mixed with details of skates became part Wes Anderson, part Jodorowsky.”
The flat, cut-and-past illustrative style is symbolic of a Grand Budapest Hotel aesthetic, where depth in perspective is achieved through layers alongside the tasteful and low positioned camera angles. Fabian Molina, creative director at Oddfellows, says: “When we initially got brought on I was curious to see how cinematic we could take these. Anthony’s story was our first assignment. When WTBR came to us they had a rough boardomatic that had the foundation of the story and suggested camera angles, but a lot of the movement with a seen hadn’t been blocked or timed out. That was step one – to plan out the action, performances, and give reason or motivation for every transition used. It was only after that first rough animation pass were we able to begin designing.” The result of this episode is a 50-frame animation that’s graphic, dynamic, and filled with blue tones and gritty textures to replicate the ice.
GalleryWhere the Buffalo Roam: Being Human Is. Episode 1: On Silent Ice by Oddfellows. (Copyright © Where the Buffalo Roam, 2020)
The second episode, Na Cor, is animated by Tracy J Lee and tells the story of a Brazilian art teacher named Mariluce who shows children how to paint with their imaginations. Tracy, a designer and illustrator from San Fransisco, was briefed on the project for the particular way in which she sees the world: “She is able to look layers deep into her subject matter, crafting illustrations that create a bridge between reality and fantasy,” says Tuesday of her reasons for pairing Tracy with this episode. “Each of her drawings allows us to fly into dream worlds, featuring textures of watercolour and pastel that seem to leap off the page.” Tracy’s contribution is fluid and colourful, reminiscent of a childlike land that really has no limits – a true interpretation of an equally as imaginative story that paints a vibrant world not too dissimilar from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro or surrealist illustrator Gianni De Conno. “What I love most about this sequence is that we see the transition between reality and magic,” says Tracy. “The subtle touch of humanity captured through Mariluce’s silhouette is so simple yet strangely powerful, and it is this emotional tension that I’m especially drawn to when creating art.”
Episode three sees illustrator and children’s book author Keith Negley visualise the story of a blind blues musician touring across the USA, titled Ramblin’ Man. Meanwhile, episode four by Leonard Dupon titled The Magic Makers illustrates the story of a group of Nigerian teenagers who make sci-fi films; then the series closes on episode five, where Emiliano Ponzi creates bold, textured illustrations on the story of Elyze, a British chef who lost her sight but still remains determined to continue her work in the kitchen. All of which is encapsulated by an opening title sequence crafted by Estonian illustrator Eiko Ojala. “After naming the series Being Human Is, we set out to craft an opening title sequence that looked nothing like the episodes would, while still retaining a hand-crafted feel,” says Nico. Proceeding with paper, the result is a cutout diorama of an imagined global skyline. “The illustration itself is dense, with so much going on, but that is by design. Our hope was that upon each viewing of the episode, the viewer could discover something new in the opening title sequence animation.”
Head here watch all of the episodes from the wonderful Being Human Is docuseries.
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.