Go behind the scenes with Johnny Kelly as he creates more of his distinct characters for Chipotle’s farming future film

The director tells us what had to change from his last film for the restaurant chain, and how the animation merges the importance of delivering a message of sustainability with the craft of stop-motion.

19 November 2021


A new film from the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, in collaboration with Observatory, and produced by Nexus Studios, has made use of Johnny Kelly’s talents to tell the tale of the family-run farms that Chipotle says make up its supply chain. The film follows the son of Pa from Kelly’s original Chipotle film, made ten years ago, as he heads to the big city from his small hometown and farm. The four seasons pass as Pa struggles to keep the farm alive. His son returns to the farm with sustainability and technology from the big city, hoping to reaffirm Chipotle Cultivate Foundation’s ongoing pledge to support the next generation of farmers.

Made up of ten different sets and 82 resin puppets, including 12 sheep, ten cows, 12 pigs, ten chickens, 12 farm helpers, ten characters on campus and 16 audience members, the film is all captured in one fluid camera movement. “As a director – and this isn’t going to win me any comparisons to Ridley Scott — I approached this film a bit like a flow chart,” Kelly tells It’s Nice That. With the camera continuously moving from left to right you have a nice framework to build upon. You can introduce challenges one at a time; flooding fields, polluting neighbours, the cost of land. You can vary how close or far away you are from the characters for emotional intensity. This way, there’s a nice sense of momentum and the story sort of creeps up on you.” The film then shows the technologies at the heart of the campaign; solar panels to provide shade for animals, plots of land dedicated to rewilding, and polytunnels to cover Chipotle’s crop of peppers.

“I draw my storyboards at postage stamp size and I think that shows in the final result. I also feel like, with something so topically dense, visual neatness can help with clearer storytelling,” continues the director, who wrote and directed the film. “Where possible,” he continues, “I like to use a uniform thickness of material (like the fence posts in the cattle field scene or the farmhouse porch), this prevents the visual side from getting overloaded and frees you up to do more with the story and character performances.”

Although Kelly designed the last film himself, this time around he was able “to avail of the amazing art directional skills” of Melanie Climent at Nexus. “She created mood frames for every scene, taking my little chicken scratch sketches to another level,” explains Kelly. “This provided a lot of inspiration for lighting and model-making. She also designed every single character in the film. Picking the right dog from the menu we presented to Chipotle was difficult but they made the right choice! Also, no legs means less strain on the animator.”

GalleryJohnny Kelly: A Future Begins (Copyright © Chipotle, 2021)

Kelly explains to us that Gordon Allen and his team of model makers built ten sets in “record time, during a heatwave.” The design team also had puppet-making twins Nathan and Joshua Flynn at SculptDouble on board to create fully-animatable puppets at various scales alongside their team in Cardiff. With the director of photography Toby Howell, “who had buckets of experience working on things like Chicken Run and Fantastic Mr Fox,” says Kelly, they were able to pull lots of cinematic references together for each shot. “Shifting the mood from scene to scene helped our storytelling. My favourite moment might be the flooded tomato scene, for which they hung a gigantic cloud painting above the set so it would reflect in the water (the water was a sheet of perspex),” narrates the director.

Chipotle wanted the team to feature all the problems facing small ethically-run family farms, “and then contrast it against all the potential solutions enabled through technology and modern farming practices. It was my job to weave all that into some kind of story,” says Kelly. “Nothing could be included unless it was used by an actual Chipotle supplier, and they even consulted farmers on aspects of what we’d written.”

“I’m inspired by all the amazing miniatures projects I see coming out of Clapham Road Studios by the likes of Anna Mantzaris, Parabella, and Becky and Joe, so there was some pent-up ambition when faced with a sequel,” admits Kelly. “Also, when the last Chipotle film finished up, I was in love with stop motion animation and presumed I’d be doing it all the time.” Whilst the last film focused on the welfare of livestock, this film, says Kelly, is more concerned with the welfare of the farmers themselves: “it’s a hard life, mentally and physically demanding, and attracting young farmers to an industry increasingly dominated by gigantic industrialised operations is difficult. It was a hard decision to put the piggies on the bench for this one, but necessary.”

The film will be released digitally from 16 November as the focal point of a fully-integrated, content-centric campaign including the release of Kacey Musgraves’ Fix You on Spotify and QR codes on millions of Chipotle’s recyclable bags through which consumers can watch the full film.

GalleryBehind the Scenes of Johnny Kelly and Nexus Studios: A Future Begins (Copyright © Chipotle, 2021)

GalleryJohnny Kelly and Nexus Studios: A Future Begins (Copyright © Chipotle, 2021)

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Johnny Kelly and Nexus Studios: A Future Begins (Copyright © Chipotle, 2021)

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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