The making of Tend

Editor’s note: In this Motionographer Guest Post, we’re excited to bring you some insight from Tom Judd and Ed Barrett of Animade regarding the making of their recent film, Tend.

This year we produced something that we’ve always wanted to as a studio: a short film.

We pride ourselves on encouraging passion projects at Animade, and both of us enjoyed making short films for our MAs, but since then we never found the opportunity.

So when WeTransfer got in touch to say they’d like us to make an animation for their new site, WePresent, we realised this was our big chance – and we leapt at it.

Together we devised a storyline and script, and when it came to animation production time the entire team got on board (as well as a few fantastic freelancers). There was an amazing sense of team spirit during those months as we each picked away at individual scenes and little details that would all be brought together in one collaborative whole.

In the beginning, perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project was the very loose brief. Having few limitations allows for incredible creative free reign, but it can also make finding a starting point tricky, so we tried to set a framework for ourselves.

From quite early on we were drawn to the idea of a film about ‘the best thing in the world’; what it would do, how it would affect people’s lives and what stories could revolve around it.

We thought it would be this singular entity that characters come to, gather round, worship – you can get anything from it, and it does anything for you.

It was like a magical, genie-like entity that rang of technology and consumerism. In those early days when we were chatting about what we wanted the film to be about, we always had the core theme of distraction, but it got pulled in different directions. As we developed the idea it became about constantly consuming and asking, what’s the price to pay for having this thing that’s always giving you what you want?

We built the story up into something quite complex, but as we began to strip more and more things away, turning that story in our heads, it became easier to tell.

The film’s narrative follows the daily routine of a father and daughter who live in the wilderness. On the first day, we’re seeing everything working as it should do; life is beautiful, relaxed and calm, and the pair get what they need from their surrounding environment without taking too much.

We see how their small campfire helps build their relationship – allowing warmth and light for them to play games, providing cooked food – and we learn that the father is drawn to the fire as part of his instinct to protect his daughter. It’s almost like another dependant, as he feeds his daughter a sausage and then feeds the fire with a log in turn.

But mid-way through the film, we begin to notice a growing unease as the father’s attention is increasingly focused on the fire and away from his daughter.

We felt that this was a relatable angle to the story, as it’s human nature to get distracted by things that we think are very important at the time – sometimes to the detriment of our relationships. In modern life this could be to do with phones, or work… or making films!

But having this turning point presented a problem when we were developing the storyboard. We wanted to put the characters in humorous positions to begin with, however, tonally it would feel wrong to have a character that’s kind of ‘comic relief’ and then have them go and do something really dramatic – it wouldn’t feel right. So the idea is that the humour comes from the way the characters interact with their environment.

We were really playful with the way the father and daughter go about their day collecting wood, water and food. Because he’s a giant, the father can strip the trees with one sweep of his huge hands. Showing a sense of sustainability and balance with the environment, he then passes this bouquet of tree down to his daughter, who plucks out the seeds and plants them.

We had a lot of fun conversations about how they might hunt for food too, like ‘jotto blotting’: flapping a net to attract and transfix these hare-like creatures, before the father leaps to catch them.

As we were sculpting the personalities of these characters, we needed to ensure they would connect with the audience, so adding humour really helped with that. We didn’t want the father to seem mean or uncaring, so we made the first part all about the joy and benefits that the fire brings to their relationship – in turn enabling people to empathise with the father’s misguided fixation with the flames.

This project was personal in the sense that it had been an ambition of ours to make a short film at Animade, but it’s also personal on an emotional level. We both have young children and our relationships with them informed a great deal of the narrative.

I think more than anything the film is us saying to ourselves, just don’t ever let it get out of hand. There’s always going to be other things that you need to focus on to a degree, but when it comes down to it you can’t ignore what’s fundamentally the most important thing.

But we hope you can watch it and get other things from it, too. Our ideas for the narrative evolved as we went along, and some of those residual metaphors are still there. We’ve spoken to people who have looked at it in relation to mental health or addiction for example, because the story rings true with those issues as well.

And that’s something we’re really happy about, because we didn’t want to railroad the meaning completely in one direction. We hope that people interpret it in their own way, and walk away from it on their own terms.

Thank you for watching and we hope you enjoy!

Be sure to check out Animade’s site for more info and a behind the scenes look at the making of Tend.

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About the author

Joe Donaldson

Joe Donaldson is a director, designer, and animator who worked on Motionograpgher from 2014-2020. Previously, he was an art director at Buck. Over the past decade, he's lived and worked in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles and has directed work for clients such as Apple, Google, Instagram, The New York Times, Unicef, Etsy, and The New Yorker. In addition to his creative work, in 2018 he started Holdframe. He's now working as a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design and when not teaching he can be found spending time with his family or out running.