Marc Craste is a partner in StudioAKA. He is the recipient of two Baftas, the Cartoon D’or and a D&AD Pencil among others, and once came within spitting distance of an Oscar. He is currently working on his first feature.
Here he talks to D&AD about the creation of large, intimidating worlds and the small characters that inhabit them.
There are many challenges in commercials, the greatest of which is conveying information that is engaging, entertaining and memorable, in a very short space of time.
The commercial work we do at StudioAKA often features voiceless characters, and as a result there is a reliance on other visual elements to fill the gaps and help tell the story. All the information on the screen counts. Oddly enough, when making a short film free of commercial considerations, the first thing we did was populate it with silent characters. Jojo in the Stars confirmed the importance of design and staging in the telling of a story, proving that the setting can often be as much a part of conveying the narrative as the character’s performance, especially when those characters are severely limited in what they can express.
I suspect this is truer of animation than live action. A real face with its infinite subtleties can absorb an audience and tell them all they need to know. It’s not so easy with animated characters, which often need help from whatever else is filling the screen. Sometimes the character and the world they inhabit become so inextricably linked it’s hard to differentiate between the two when looking for what was most successful. Jojo is an example where the world was integral to the story.
Characters don’t necessarily need to elicit a sympathetic response in order for a story to work. Sometimes they can just drive it along with the brute force of their actions. For the BBC Sport Winter Olympics, the original script concerned the exploits of an Inuit warrior and his quest to retrieve five stones stolen by an evil bear spirit, the intention being that to find each stone he utilises skills associated with different winter sports. A tight squeeze in 40 seconds, so we instead had the hero utilize all five sports to navigate through various dangers on his way to retrieving just the one stolen stone.
Simplifying the story in this fashion gave us the time to focus on what was most important for the client, the portrayal of the sports in a dynamic and exciting fashion. A particular challenge was that the most popular winter sport had to form the climax of the quest, and the most popular by far turned out to be curling. Not perhaps the first choice for devising an action-packed, dramatic end sequence. It was from this requirement that we took the thieving bear and placed him deep within a glacier, simply to allow our hero to smash it to pieces with his curling stone.
After all these years it’s still a magical thing to bring a drawing or a puppet to life, but to do it and enthrall people with a story well told is always the ambition, if not the whole point.
For more on storytelling see Inspired by Storytelling