Simon Robson: “Taking Liberties”

This is what I’m talking about. Or rather, what I already talked about at Offf Barcelona. Simon Robson (Nexus Productions) has created four brilliant animated vignettes for the independent feature film “Taking Liberties,” scheduled to hit UK cinemas on June 8th. (More info on the film site.)

simon.jpg

Clip 1 | Clip 2 | Clip 3 | Clip 4

Even if you don’t agree with the arguments put forth in these animations (and the film), they are excellent examples of how the smart confluence of design, animation, sound design and writing—collectively known as motion graphics—can be leveraged to create compelling messages that are hard to ignore. I call these animated nuggets of information and persuasion “visual essays.” Unlike a simple PSA, visual essays intertwine educational messaging with argumentative thrusts. The result is a potent audio-visual cocktail that can, if brewed properly, alter viewers’ states of mind.

Simon has a proven track record of rocking visual essays. His “What Barry Says” still stands as a shining example of the form four years after it was created. (At least I think it was four years ago.) The new animations showcase some of the same clever juxtapositions of type and iconic imagery present in that seminal piece, but there’s a burgeoning level of sophistication and polish present in all of Simon’s work (both commercial and otherwise) that is inspiring to behold.

Simon graciously agreed to answer some questions for us:

How much input did you have on developing the visual ideas? Did Chris Atkins (the director) hand you thoroughly worked out boards or was it just you and the script?

I spent ages developing the boards from scratch. Chris totally trusted me on the back of “What Barry Says” and gave me an absolute carte blanche. It is this that inspired me to take on the project. We actually wrote the VO scripts together, too. Of course, Chris was the prime mover and Becca Elleson fact-checked all that we wrote. But I finally put my degree in politics to use and helped write the VOs for these vignettes!

The storyboard process was long and arduous. I give myself an incredibly hard time over the level of my ideas. They have to be an A++ or they don’t get in. This meant many weeks of head-scratrching and drinking coffee before the right ideas came out. I actually re-wrote some of the boards as the animation was happening. This didn’t make me any friends. But once I saw some ideas in production, they didn’t work and had to be re-written, kind of how they used to write ‘Friends’!!!

Did you have to split your time working on this project while simultaneously working on other (commercial) projects?

No, fortunately and un-fortunately I didn’t get any pitch wins during this period. This left me incredibly dedicated to this project. I got really too deep into it, in a way. And to kind of answer the next question, I gave my directors fee for this project to production to get more animators / illustrators on it. In short, I got paid nothing. I lived unpaid for 4 months. I still owe my girl £3000. Fortunately, I just got a paid gig here at Nexus, which was a huge relief. Now I can go out and by some trendy clothes and stop living on beans on toast!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine you don’t get paid much for these kinds of projects. What drives you to create things like “What Barry Says” and these new animations?

What drives me? What do I want on my gravestone? “Directed some great ads that sold stuff to people”. Not really. Don’t get me wrong. I really want to do ads, because there is a creative process to be explored (sometimes) and they pay me. But essentially ads are selling things and we’re all a bit too obsessed with buying things, so I’d rather do stuff which I think is important for people to see and take in.

Obviously I’m a bit of a lefty and this comes across in the work I take on, but I’d like my kids (when I have them) to be proud of what I did. Besides, we all learn these crazy skills, don’t we? 3D, 2D, stop-motion, etc. And it would be one MASSIVE shame if we only used them to help sell something as opposed to saying something important. Actually, as a mograph community, with what we know, if we got together in some cohesive movement we could create some amazing marketing for our cause…just a thought.

NOTE: I’m working on getting a full credit list, but I wanted to hurry up and share this stuff with you all as soon as possible.

About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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27 Comments

MilkmanD

Can’t wait to see the film, amazing work.

historyisaweapon

Amazing work, as to be expected from Simon, but I thought I heard the narrator say that no panopticons were ever built. Um, I don’t think that’s true at all. Even if you just google panopticon, you come across numerous photographs of prisons that are clearly panopticons. Besides which, the psychological underpinnings of the panopticon are now, well, almost everywhere.

benjancewicz

Wow. Please let us know when the whole thing is done!!

MHR

Very well done. The fact that the narrative takes a slightly heavier informative rather than persuasive stance (by referencing general historical facts) allows the reader a freer subjectivity, which results in a overall stronger argument for the piece. Kind of correlates with the subject matter – freedom.
Aside from the politics, the overall aesthetic is very well executed and well researched – the transitions are great.

justin

@benjancewicz: The whole film is done; these are just some of the animated segments that Simon directed. It’ll be in UK theaters June 8th. Not sure when (or if) it’s going worldwide.

Davidkamp

Thats incredible! Best thing i saw for a long time.
I really enjoyed the visual simplicity of it, this helps to let the great ideas really shine… great work!
these are the kind of projects id like to be involved as a composer/sounddesigner…

oeuf

Beautifully done pieces! Great design and flow!
Can’t wait to see the film.

Marc B.

Nice to see that simon got some time for work too and isn’t only dreaming of keetra :D

I do like the pieces and especially their contents, wish some of the designs and animations couldve been worked on a little longer. At times they feel a little like animatics but never the less nice job.

Anyone know who the main film is by and directed by? Any trailers?

e-tiq

this is brilliant in all aspects! i would love to see the intire movie

martz

great concept and execution, the motion graphics revolution is coming.

Vincent

One of the best pieces of motion graphics to date, bravo!

Brett

This is probably one of the most important issues to first world countries today. The civil liberties that people have been giving away in the UK has been astounding, and it is good to see people taking a stand against it.

The US is now putting chips in our passports, and that is just one step closer to giving them complete information on a traveler, as well as easy access to someone with the know how to steal that data.

I know this is the kind of content Justin loves and I’m glad to see it on here.

r3awak3n

brilliant. not only the suject is interesting and concerning but the design is very well thought of, detailed and visually pleasing. cant wait to see the movie.

finn mckenty

i’m not really big on mixing politics with design (it seems kind of juvenile and naive to me), but simon does it incredibly well. i think his use of color is the key element: by using a very restrained palette, he’s able to maintain consistency between every scene despite varying the compositions pretty substantially.

nice work, but it’s a shame to see his energy wasted on art- let’s see him apply this to a commercial.
(that was a joke… sort of)

david

good on ya simon. even out of context of a full narrative they are effective, and of course, beautiful.

mutanthands

nicely done simon!

Simon Robson

film website:
http://www.noliberties.com
The website includes theatre listings. The film launches on 8th June in a dozen or so cinemas around the UK. If enough people go and see it in the first days it will get a much wider release. If you’re in the UK on the opening week-end and don’t fancy Spiderman 3 or Oceans 27, give it a shot!

alexcarv

Nice one Simon.
Keep feeding us with good inspiration!
Talk soon – alex

John

All of it is brilliant, but the highlight for me was the intricate ideas like the footsteps at the end of “Surveillance” that turn into one foot and two crutch impacts when the narrator mentions “medical”

I also admire Simon’s sense of social responsibility that we as mographers should all hold.

monovich

so fluid and clever. nice stuff, and meaningful to boot.

rex crowle

Superb work Simon. So many clever transitions and such attention to detail.

And you still manage to find time to come up with new puns based on my name everyday..

KGB

I don’t know about Simon’s work…but he’s pretty hot!

jk jk :)

Seriously though…great stuff Simon.
Its good to see great skills used to convey an important message.
I like the cleverness of the visuals, and the these really capture the essence of the Barry piece that made it one of my favorites.

Out of curiosity how long did it take you to create the whole thing?

Joe Clay

Incredible and incredibly relevant. Excellent color palette as is mentioned. As far as politics and mograph goes, art has always been at the support of and counter to politics. If there is no counter, as this piece provides, no one will realize that we are losing liberty.

To put it plainly, a schematic drawing helps to illustrate what’s going on in a particular piece of machinery. This illustration helps to clearly show what has happened and will continue to happen to our basic rights—rights that were once untouchable.

Simon Robson

Thanks KGB,
I’ve always liked to think so ;)
we started in production right at the beginning of February. We started with 3 illustrators creating work for 3 of the sections. They each worked for a week to two weeks and produced a huge amount of work which was almost all used. Then each section was taken on by one lead animator / compositor who had 5 weeks to complete their section. In reality it became much more of an organic process with support dropping in and out of production as time and people dictated. What I mean by this is that although there was one lead animator on each section, they could find themselves supported by any number of people doign 2D and 3D depending on the day, depending on who was free. Nexus were incredibly giving to the project and their generosity was truely humbling. As for me, i cut my time between storyboarding, designing, re-designing, and helping with animating and compositing where and whenever i could. I wasn’t able to ‘own’ any section as i had to keep an eye on everything. I was director / odd job man!
The fourth section; ‘surveillance’, was totally owned by Cassiano Prado and Mario Sader. They took my boards, and produced design and animation. They worked remotely and i directed them from Nexus.
We finished animation mid-April and then finished the sections in Flame at Absolute post in Soho, who also gave enormously generously to the project. They added detail to certain sections and looked after the overall grade of three out of the four pieces. We delivered around 17th April. So all in all it was 10-11 weeks of mayhem and late nights. But isn’t everything in this industry?

KGB

Damn…thanx for the detailed post!
Good info right there.

Lilian

The mini-interview posted here is so inspiring. I remember wanting to contribute something to society by using what I know to do best–design—back at college. five years into the practice and that sort of slips under–apart from a few love-jobs for arts festival and the like back in good old Melbourne..But VIsual Essays..indeed, is something to be excited about. It’s like Design History, but prettier, and doesn’t make you fall asleep. Big thumbs up for Simon…keep on rockin, mate!

Brett

Aww, crud. I should’ve saved these onto my hard drive. Wanted to watch them again and now I must wait. Definitely would like to see a screening of this somewhere in my area, but I’m sure it’ll get around on DVD or if I am lucky HD on the xbox live marketplace.

Comments are closed.