‘Feral’: The Art of the Oscar-Nominated Shorts

In this special Cartoon Brew series, we asked the five nominees of the 2013 Best Animated Short Academy Award to discuss the artwork of their films. Today we begin this exclusive look at the short contenders with Feral, an independent film directed by Daniel Sousa.

(Click on any of the images for a closer view. Explore the artwork of the other 2013 Oscar animated short nominees: Possessions, Mr. Hublot, Get A Horse! and Room on the Broom.)

Daniel Sousa: “Initially, the film was going to tell the story of Kasper Hauser, a boy who had been locked in a dark room for his whole childhood, without human contact. He escaped when he was a teenager, and was found in the center of town holding a mysterious letter that read: “I want to be a horse-rider, like my father.” The riddle fascinated me, so the first few designs are illustrations of that story. This one is a simple watercolor study.”

Daniel Sousa: “I also tried pen-and-ink and playing around with transparencies, thinking of the boy as a hollow receptacle of information, soaking in the chaos of the new-found civilization, allowing it to flow through him.”

Daniel Sousa: “As my research into the subject progressed, I gradually moved away from the specific story of Kasper Hauser and started exploring just the idea of an isolated child, trapped in his own mind, naked and fragile. This is a look test done in acrylics on board.”

Daniel Sousa: “I started to feel that the boy needed to be more savage, untamed, aggressive. So I tried a very loose painterly approach, allowing the brush-strokes to be more expressive, and removing the facial features since they gave the character a very cartoony and overly sentimental look. Without facial features the boy looked more mysterious, like a blank slate, without personality. He felt ghostly and more animalistic. You couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and that was crucial for the story.”

Daniel Sousa: “Following this line of thinking, I started to build the world around the boy, using broad shapes and silhouettes, blocks of shadow and light. I started to feel that I was finally capturing the wight and physicality that the story required. At this stage, the hunter character was not yet fully developed, so here he is shown as a fisherman, or a farmer.”

Daniel Sousa: “Then I started to refine the color palette of the film, desaturating the extremes but staying within an earthy, harmonized spectrum, and using strong contrasts of light and shadow. The world around the boy needed to feel cold and oppressive, so a saturated color space no longer made sense. Here the man is still a fisherman, holding a net, but his look is already very close to the final version. The cityscapes were informed by my memories of Lisbon, a patchwork of shingled rooftops and plastered walls.”

Explore the artwork of the other 2013 Oscar animated short nominees:
Possessions
Mr. Hublot
Get A Horse!
Room on the Broom

  • Tim Stevens

    Aesthetically it was one of the strongest entrants this year in a field that was very good.
    Does anyone know how much of this was produced by hand and scanned versus how much was produced in computer? The compositing is digital but, the actual artwork looks like it could have been done in Photoshop or maybe TV Paint? I have used mixes of Digicel, After Effects and Photoshop to get more painterly looks but it can be a pain. A lot of people speak very highly of TV Paint and its ability to do more painterly effects as well.
    Back in the day (I feel old just saying that) films like this had to be done on frosted cells that would accept a medium like oil pastel (example: The Man Who Planted Trees) and you were more or less limited to the standard 2 or 3 levels plus a BG. Multi plane camera moves were almost impossible to do unless you had a very specialized camera stand or were very good at running a bi-pack film setup with in camera mattes.

  • Petyodog

    Looks beautiful. Best of luck!

  • http://www.animatorisland.com/ JK Riki

    “Aesthetically it was one of the strongest entrants this year in a field that was very good.”

    Definitely agree with the first part, definitely disagree with the second. I thought this year was the overall weakest in recent memory. Most of the shorts were either extremely cliche or rather average in execution. There were no unique standouts, and none blew away any others. It felt like a decidedly un-Oscar grouping this go around, and seemed more like the top contenders for a local film festival instead. (Minus the fact that one happened to have Mickey in it, obviously.)

    Also if anyone watched the “Shorts HD Presents” presentation in theaters of all the shorts, what was up with that ostrich and giraffe? What a mess! Terrible animation, extraordinarily dull poses, and dialogue that ranged from boring to cringe worthy. Last year they had the two directors of the previous year’s winning short, and they talked about ANIMATION and the process. What a huge letdown this year in terms of “hosts” for the shorts!

    • http://the-animatorium.blogspot.com/ Natalie Belton

      At least it wasn’t Seth MacFarlane hosting again. But yeah, those animals got on my nerves a lot, especially the unfunny ‘laying an egg joke’ and ‘Thumper has Parkinson’s’ disease.’

  • Jamie Iles

    It’s great to see the evolution of an idea take shape and have the opportunity to learn more about the individual choices made in bringing a story to life. I look forward to seeing and reading more about the film, and learning more about the other nominees. Looks beautiful and the best of luck!

  • Inkan1969

    I found the artistic style of this short the most visually interesting of the five. I was particularly struck by the idea that the boy would take the texture of any object he touches, I guess to symbolize an outside influence overtaking him.

    But I found the story cliched. He was just another boy raised by wolves. The boy did not do anything I did not expect such a boy to do. I couldn’t make an emotional connection to the boy.

    A curious thing happened at the Oscar screening I went to. Of the five shorts, this was the only short that no one in the audience applauded. But I couldn’t say why.

    • http://the-animatorium.blogspot.com/ Natalie Belton

      I also admired the short for the reason you mentioned, and its subject matter. But I also found it hard to emotionally connect to things on screen. Everyone was silent after this short at the screening I attended as well. Feral was certainly the darkest of the five shorts, maybe the audience simply wasn’t expecting something like it?

  • DReview

    Very inspiring how Daniel Sousa made this. I actually watched it many times before it was announced in the Oscars.

    Daniel… if you’re reading this, Congratulations!

  • Peter DiDonato

    As for the whole “cliched storylines” thing, I don’t care. So many people on here are so negative. “Worst year overall” and blah blah. Can’t you guys put down your complaint notebooks and enjoy the art?

    • JK Riki

      I think you can be critical and still enjoy what you’re being critical of. Animation is important to a lot of animators (and enthusiasts) and we’d just like to see the best and brightest take center stage in a time when a huge number of people who absolutely never pay attention to animation actually slightly maybe a TINY bit pay a little attention. Gotta hook them while we have them! :)

      • Trenton Thompson

        I think those who don’t create animation have no business being super critical of it. Having an opinion is fine, but if you guys are so adamant about the poor quality of animation out there, why not show us how it’s done? Otherwise, fine – have your opinions, but know that your opinions are not objective. Be a little more open-minded. People putting their hard work into creating things that you consider mediocre isn’t a sin, it just wasn’t your kind of thing. Saying an animated film is bad is always a subjective opinion.

  • JK Riki

    Oh heavens no, I thought the last two years were quite lovely. A lot of terrific, brilliant shorts in 2012 and 2013. It is not an “every year is getting worse” type comment by me, merely that this year WAS truly a disappointment by comparison. No pessimism here, just my thought on it.

  • Trenton Thompson

    If it were that easy to create something all audiences would enjoy, it’d be a whole different industry. You can’t get mad at someone for creating something only some people find uninteresting – others seemed to enjoy it, obviously, or it wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did.