Live Earth wasn’t only about music. Fifty short films were commissioned to spread the message about the perils of climate change. US filmmakers Archer$Beck answered the call.
Alongside this summer’s Live Earth, the series of climate crisis concerts held worldwide that played to two billion people on July 7, there was a film festival. Dozens of short films were commissioned and broadcast, either at the concerts themselves, or on various TV channels around the world.
"The goal was to engage a global audience, " said Live Earth founder, Kevin Wall. “And just like the 100 music artists who stepped up to play the concerts, the world’s filmmaking community answered the SOS.”
Among the 50 short films commissioned were some celebrity directors: Madonna, actor Joaquin Pheonix, director Chad Lowe, and Oscar-nominated documentary maker Amy Berg all made short films.
From the UK, the whole Aardman team got involved, London design studio Airside, Big TV, and Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald, among many others, all contributed films. South American, Chinese, Australian and Eastern European directors made films too.
Texas duo Jason Archer and Paul Beck, aka Archer$Beck, made an animated short, Cough, Cold and High Fever. Using their trademark rotoscope technique, bold colours and long, flowing shots, the pair created a dreamlike world to illustrate the perils of global warming.
The film starts with a small boy who falls asleep and dreams of a man who has the planet Earth where his head should be. Earthman goes on a journey, which sees him travel through an increasingly dryer and then desert- like landscape.
This finally floods as the planet heats up and the icecaps melt: penguins, polar bears and giraffes run past in an attempt to escape the rising tide. Rescued by the little boy in a boat Earthman sails off into the sunset, the little boy navigating to the last dry land on Earth – a small island.
There, they are greeted by a man in a contamination suit and the letters S-O-S writ large on the beach. Beck says it was his own concern for the environment that led them to make the film.
“Dilly Gent, who is the commissioner and executive producer of the Live Earth project, approached us,” he says. “I wanted to be involved because being conscious of my environment is something I already practice.
“The challenge for us was working out how to stimulate others to get involved through the animation we create.” The film combines 2D and 3D animation based on live footage, a style Archer$Beck are well known for having worked on the animated feature length A Scanner Darkly, starring Keanu Reeves.
Live action shoot
Jason and I started brainstorming in different locations of the city and then sent out a couple of treatments. Cough, Cold, and High Fever was selected. From there we scripted the video and then created a storyboard for the live action shoot,” says Beck.
“The live action is a great part of the project. That’s when you see the potential of what is being developed,” he adds. Filming took place in several different locations – a tennis court, a pond, a park, a treadmill – so getting the shot right was key says Archer:
“We were looking for specific shots in order to fit the edit as it was important to get the right framing. Each shot needed to feel continuous based on the previous shot.”
After the live action has been filmed, it’s edited and then, says Beck, “we begin rotoscoping”. Rotoscoping is a technique in which animators trace over live-action film, frame-by-frame. Originally done by hand, it’s now done on computers.
“Imagine using Anime Studio to digitally paint each frame of a film at 29.9 frames a second,” says Beck. “The film was a little over four minutes long.”
“Once the live action shoot and edit was done, the clips were brought into Anime Studio,” says Archer. “Then our character was created, based on the video reference. The facial expressions were exaggerated a bit. Additionally the backgrounds were drawn in Flash and imported in the final composite. Motion was applied using After Effects.”
Beck says the most challenging part of the animation was combining the 2D and 3D elements. For example, says Archer: “The smoke scene where there is a forest fire on his head … tracing the smoke as he moved, having it float and fade was a challenge. It took numerous passes to get it down as we wanted both motion and colour.”
“We worked with SuperAlright’s Bryan Beckman and J P Garrigues,” says Beck. “Both of them are talented 3D Maya artists. The trick was to make sure the 3D objects felt like they belonged in a 2D world.”
Archer agrees: “The 3D elements were the real challenges. Usually we would complete the 2D elements then add the particle effects afterwards and play with it until we got it right.”
The end result is a flowing, dreamlike film with few cuts. Long shots are a feature of Archer$Beck’s work, which is often political and campaigning in feel. “The continual shot creates a nice visual flow to the story,” says Beck. “The animation becomes a journey with few breaks.”
A continuous shot feels more fluid,” says Archer, “more like a dream, as if you were hallucinating or intoxicated. “The surreal element is something that we strive for in our work to make the viewer feel he or she is taking a trip or being transported to another place. So whenever possible we avoid sharp edits and cuts as it can take you out of that feeling.”
It was a “unique” project, says Beck. “The final result,” he says, “stands on its own. My only regret is the chorizo tacos we had during that all-nighter. Ayee!”
Live action footage was shot before each frame was digitally painted in Anime Studio. Over 7,000 frames make up the four minute film.
Archer$Beck chose a simple colour palette, so the story would not be overwhelmed and to separate the character's two worlds: the boy's reality and his dream world.
Project: Cough, Cold and High Fever
Client: Live Earth
Filmmakers: Jason Archer and Paul Beck, aka Archer$Beck
Software: Flash, Anime Studio, After Effects, Maya, Final Cut
Contact: www.hornetinc.com , www.superalright.com