Award-winning doc Bloomers is a digital animation sequenced on knickers

The hypnotic and offbeat short that's up for Best Short Film at this year's British Animation Awards.

The word bloomers has amusing, old-fashioned connotations, like the subject of a saucy seaside postcard.

The film Bloomers though is a much more thoughtful work of art, hypnotic and surreal in a manner best described as Lynch meets Aardman. And that's before how you learn how it was made.

The short incorporates the materiality of garment manufacturing by combining more than 14,000 drawings printed onto fabrics, including actual pairs of knickers, made by the workers at the Headen & Quarmby lingerie factory in Manchester.

Those workers also generously supplied the yards of material required, as well as their faces and voices as they recount the history of Headen & Quarmby, the UK garment manufacturing industry, and British family traditions of making in the sewing room environment. 

The score meanwhile is performed by the musicians of renowned Austrian music ensemble Klangforum Wien, who play a traditional sewing machine and a pair of dressmaking scissors as part of their instrumental repertoire.

"Klangforum Wien initiated the project; they wanted to make work around the ideas of the Economy for the Common Good, an economic model devised by Christian Felber," says Samantha. "They commissioned 10 animation directors and 10 contemporary orchestral music composers from all around Europe, and all were female.

"Tricky Women helped organise the animation directors and I was thrilled to be selected after going to Vienna to pitch my idea. I wanted to encapsulate the central ideas of the Economy for the Common Good, but to give a potential example of how using those central ideas can be used in real life.

"Choosing to work with documentary and using the authentic material that the factory uses seemed like a good fit."

The short is now available online for free viewing, after a year of touring the festival circuit, picking up various awards and nominations along the way. Its latest nod is from next week's British Animation Awards, where it's up for Best Short Film.

"I think that if you use animation in the documentary genre then you should bring some element to it that live action can’t," Samantha says. "I wasn’t interested in photo realism because I could have easily filmed the factory.

"Instead we used a black and white line drawing with a limited colour palette, reminiscent of a ‘toile de jouy’ style, referencing the history of European fabric manufacturing.

"The images were all based on my sketchbook drawings of the factory workers, which I drew as I chatted to them and learned about their working lives."

While you can see bodies in the sketch above, the actual animation itself depicts each worker with only a head and hands, no torso.

"I wanted to have the audience focus on the tasks the factory workers were doing and I had lots of drawings of hands, which became a recurring motif.

"In all my drawings the women were looking intently at their hands, which as an artist is something that really resonates with me. I also had a lot of very busy and complex imagery (machinery, furniture, fabric, architectural details) of the factory interior and I wanted to simplify and clarify the production processes.

"The interviews made clear that once the hand-made work was reintroduced to the UK factory (rather than being designed on a computer and then made abroad), the heart and soul of the company was restored."

Such a motif obviously stands out, but Bloomers is also unique in being animated on actual bloomers. How hard was it to sequence the film on silk, I ask Samantha.

"Ha! Harder than I thought it would be," she replies. "So the process was that I hand animated the 10 minute film digitally, using TVPaint. I then exported the images as jpeg sequences which I had printed onto a special thermal paper which I could then use to heat bed print the 80 metres of crepe de chine fabric given to us by the factory.

"Once that was all hand printed (it took days because all the fabric needed to be pre-heat shrunk first) then I shot the fabric under a rostrum camera, using Dragonframe to register the images. That was all the image stabilising that I did, in order not to make the animation look too smooth and digital.

"I wanted to retain the analogue sense of the fabric imperfections and slight wonkiness that happens when you have slippery fabric under a camera.

"I also had several sequences printed on different fabric, when the interviewees were discussing pros and cons of various fabrics (like silk or lace). I changed the fabric type that the animation was printed on, and they also behaved a bit differently under the camera."

The film does indeed have an analogue feel, until a crisply digital finale caps off proceedings, zooming out onto a pair of knickers against heavenly white.

"By zooming out at the end I wanted to make clear the relationship between this little story we had seen played out on fabric, and the actual physical objects of the knickers themselves.

"Hopefully the audience at the end has a better sense of all the work that has gone into making the knickers. Maybe they will check the label on their own knickers and see where they were made, and think about who made them.

"By using knickers as the subject you have something inherently amusing, unthreatening and potentially whimsical. I wanted to make it clear that even when you choose to buy something so simple and (maybe) unimportant, you make a political decision that effects peoples’ lives.

"We often think that we can’t make a difference to the world’s problems, but really we can make micro-differences every day."

Related: Where to watch this year's Best Animated Oscar nominees and winners

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...