The phrase "Your child has a brain tumor" is something you never want to hear. Of course, any type of cancer diagnosis is awful, but it feels so absolutely unfair when it’s a child, who has yet to experience all the opportunities life has to offer.
So when we were approached by LA based Agency RPA on behalf of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and was asked if we could bring a smile to some children facing a cancer diagnosis, our answer was a resounding "YES!". What followed was a very emotive passion project where we threw everything we could at the screen to make some kids and their families feel a bit better about what they’re going through.
RPA came up with the fantastic concept of creating films revolving around the ”Imaginary Friend,” and if you’re anything like us, you may have dabbled with fictional characters at some point in your past! Twenty of the finest animation companies in the world got involved to make films about the various treatments these children will have to experience on their journey through to recovery. These include – getting diagnosed, MRIs, chemo, surgery, hospital stays and going back to school among many others – all difficult experiences for kids to face and surely times where a helping hand is needed. The aim of each film is to give children confidence and courage by explaining in simple terms what to expect from treatment and all that follows, and provide a positive voice to keep their spirits up in what has to be a dark time for not only them, but their families as well.
Trunk’s director Layla Atkinson and producer Richard Barnett’s film deals with Radiation therapy, a baffling procedure at first glance. An initial script from RPA was expanded and developed with the help of Trunk director Jock Mooney, to create one that is full of fun. Set in a child’s bedroom at night, a time when a young child may feel particularly vulnerable and alone, the helpful imaginary friends appear. We meet Walter, a suave secret agent character (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and his gluttonous sidekick Gus (Jane Horrocks). The pair go on to explain the process of radiation therapy whilst touring the bedroom in all forms of animation and puppetry! Trunk wanted to create a film that had real warmth and that could inspire a can-do attitude. The team wanted kids to see the film and feel like they could make something similar in their own bedrooms. So out came the craft box. Followed by LOADS of help!
In retrospect making this film was no mean feat! Layla says “In the time we had, and as a passion project, I don’t think we could have made this much harder for ourselves if we’d tried! We built the child’s bedroom on the ground floor of the studio, and then used a mixture of replacements, puppetry, and then some nicely comped 2D animation. Using replacements in a set means you first animate the characters, then print them out, then cut them out by hand (so they retain all their lovely little edges and character) and then finally get them on the wall and shoot each frame moving across set! A lot of people were involved in the cutting out of over one and a half thousand frames!”
One of the most amazing things about making the film was the amount of time and the generosity of so many companies and people that got involved and helped out. It has truly been inspiring. It started with the amazing performances of Julian Rhind-Tutt and Jane Horrocks, who were such a pleasure to work with and whose performances created great opportunities for the animators. Who in turn drew snappy, well timed movement, in such a short space of time. The amazing James Cropper Paper provided us with such beautifully textured paper to give our characters some depth, and hordes of friends and family took up the scissors to help with cutting out each frame. The incredible DOP Pete Ellmore, who lit the set beautifully for the mix of stop motion and live action techniques, worked with the small but mighty crew of Jono Yates and Ollie Craig. Using top quality equipment loaned to us by Take 2 Films, Clapham Road Studios and Panalux. The film literally couldn’t have happened without their support. The shoot lasted a gruelling seven days, over which the team wrangled with thousands of pieces of artwork, props, a model car and an unruly bunch of ping pong balls. Our compositor Rok Predin then had the daunting task of pulling everything together, ironing out small mistakes, adding lasers, and making all those frames stand up and be counted! With composer Daniel Pemberton taking time out from scoring Ridley Scott’s new feature to give our film a soundtrack, and the team at Fonic bringing every action to life with a beautifully crafted sound bed and mix, the film was given depth and beauty.
The finished short is a beautiful and informative tour de force. The painstaking hand crafted approach ensured it felt real and accessible to its audience, and the generosity of so many wonderful people made this film into a community effort. A community that wanted to look after those in their time of need.
Producer Richard Barnett notes, ”It was such a pleasure and an honour to be a part of this whole campaign, and we really hope that for years to come the amazing people at the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation can carry on bringing a light, and sense of hope, to all those families in their time of need.”