LIVING & DYING WELL
Passing Conversations is an animation that brings to life everyday inanimate objects going through various stages of dying; it is shown in a light-hearted and playful manner to encourage a more positive approach to a somewhat taboo subject. I was honoured that this animation won the NHS England Award in the RSA Student Design Awards 2018/19, for the brief Living and Dying Well, sponsored by NHS England.
I felt that the best way to start this project was to see how people interpret the idea of death and the associations that they have surrounding it. So, I asked a range of different people to write a word that they associate with death. All of the responses were generally quite depressing, showing that the subject of death mainly has negative connotations. This simple task allowed me to gain an insight into peoples feelings towards death, which, in turn, helped me see why the subject is often avoided. My aim was to find a way to overcome these negative connotations and engage an audience in a subject that they do not want to talk about because it is a sad topic. I felt that I could achieve this by shining a more positive light on the subject by showing death through more innocent eyes to provide a new perspective.
In order for the animation to be accessible to a broad target audience, I didn't want to exclude children; rather I wanted to embrace the idea that children need to be just as aware of death as adults. Parents often feel the need to shield their children from sensitive or upsetting events, meaning that kids do not always have a proper understanding of the concept of death. However, if a child does not receive proper support during bereavement this can have a significant negative effect on their childhood, which can even continue into adulthood.
Therefore, I wanted this animation to be designed specifically to be appropriate for children, but also be mature enough to be appreciated by adults. I thought that the best way to reach out to children, as well as adults, would be to approach this serious subject in a more comical and fun way helping them engage more in the topic. So, I decided that my animation needed to be open, honest and light-hearted, portrayed in a simple way so that it’s not too difficult for a younger audience to understand.
After exploring potential ideas for my animation, I eventually approached the idea of animating objects by personifying them. My idea was to illustrate an array of objects ‘experiencing’ death or serious illnesses in alternative ways, as death is always unique depending on the circumstances and external factors involved in the process, so everyone experiences it differently. I decided against using human characters as I wanted to avoid taking the narration too literally, but to approach it from a new perspective to make people think differently about it. Also, using neutral objects instead of human figures can be less intimidating, as people may feel scared watching something too real, which they don’t want to see or hear.
I felt that using simpler visuals makes the message easier to process and can be presented in a more approachable, positive light. In addition, I wanted the storyline to be applicable to everyone, without excluding any cultures, genders, or age groups, as death applies to each and every one of us.
I started working on this concept by brainstorming an array of objects which could be related to death in an abstract way. I also tried to cover all of the key elements that I had previously categorised as being important to represent within my animation; the different types of death, the groups of people you experience death with and the emotions experienced with death.
After selecting the most appropriate objects from my brainstorming session, I organised them into a storyboard to be coherent with the given narration. Then, I drew out each of the scenes from my storyboard in Photoshop, keeping all of the layers separated and labelled accordingly to keep the process of animating more organised. Following this, I imported each Photoshop file into After Effects and worked with compositions to keep my workspace less cluttered, with colour coordinated layers to help quickly identify where each layer was. By keeping everything efficiently organised the process of animating was a lot quicker and more straightforward.
The overall movement of the animation is fairly limited as I did not want too much going on to confuse or distract the viewer from the overall message. Furthermore, I wanted the main focus of the animation to be the expressions and emotions, meaning that I paid most attention to making these as expressive as possible throughout.
To bring light to such a dark subject, I decided to steer away from stereotypical depressing and gloomy colours, which, as proven by my primary research, are common associations with death. I felt that serious or sombre videos may leave people feeling helpless and sad, making them avoid the topic of death even more.
I therefore decided to give each scene a bright, colourful backdrop. On top of these I overlaid different textures throughout to add more depth to the feel of the animation. I also used textured brushes to draw the illustrations to avoid a flat appearance. I drew the characters to be typically sweet-looking, and added as much emotion as I could within their expressions to make them more relatable and expressive.