Compost Creative | Cave of Bones

Compost Creative

Compost Creative created the animation which anchors the recent feature documentary ‘Cave of Bones’, part of Netflix’s Unknown series. A film which has seen global recognition and was no.2 on Netflix’s most watched list.

The animation is a delicate hybrid of hand drawn and 3D animation.
The final look is very unique, with a haunting feel to it where everything is only just visible. Scenes emerge from light or darkness with shapes and characters fading away into texture.
The look is a direct result of the specific brief and was developed carefully with the film’s Director, Mark Mannucci.

Colin Thornton led the team at Compost and explained that “We were approached early on in the schedule to develop a style that avoided the pitfalls of previous attempts to visualise our ancestors.
Everybody was aligned on avoiding photoreal CGI or getting actors into suits and
prosthetics! Animation was the perfect solution.

We were dealing with a mixture of hard scientific data and unknowns, and this needed to be embraced: We knew exactly how Naledi’s skeleton looked but… nobody can be sure if Homo Naledi was super hairy or pretty bald! Eye and skin color is unknown too.

Our challenge was clear but not easy.

We needed to create a style which alluded to features without being too specific and
precise. There needed to be room for the viewer to fill in the gaps. Like trying to conjure a memory from the deep past.

Our 3D skeleton was precise but as we moved up the pipeline we worked into the image. Eating away at layers with textures and compositing processes. We introduced hand drawn layers an cel animation that changed and shifted slightly.
Not always crystal clear but neither is archaeological science.
We’ve created a moving hypothesis essentially!

Another factor in all of this was volume. We knew we had a lot of animation to create and going at it only with only cel wouldn’t work with the budget.
So we worked on static frames initially and eventually landed on a look everyone liked. Then we set about figuring how to have a 3D base but include cel animation in that pipeline.
The result is delicate and tactile – The larger sequences we were tackling were emotional moments- tackling life and death. These weren’t diagrams or explainer graphics so needed to be approached as short stories. There were a lot of storyboards and edits along the way.

The editor, Alex Ricciardi, was incredible – his use of music and timing often driving us to change things and experiment.
We wanted to bring Homo Naledi back to life in a respectful way and also give them a humanity.



Client: Netflix
Production: Story Syndicate
Film Director: Mark Mannucci
Editor: Alex Ricciardi
Animation & Motion Design: Compost Creative
Art direction: Colin Thornton & Neil Wilson
Production co-ordinators: Joseph Young
Animation and motion design supervision: Colin Thornton & Neil Wilson
Animators: Alp Yamanel, Tim Jones, Sean Rubin, Brian Whitmire, Heiley Chiu
CG Artists & motion designers: Ryan Wintle, Assim Kamuka, Tomas Koza, Katleen Kattnig, Nik Maund, Jake Cook
Music: Francesco Le Metre

Instagram Handle:

Instagram: @compostcreative