18 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

Irish Film and Television Network




Production Interviews

“Foyle holds a special place in my heart;” BAFTA nominee Kris Kelly discusses Wind and the Shadow ahead of its premiere at Foyle Film Festival
17 Nov 2023 : Nathan Griffin, Luke Shanahan
Niamh Algar and Catherine Clinch in Wind And The Shadow
We spoke with Northern Irish director Kris Kelly about his beautifully hand-painted short animation, Wind and the Shadow, ahead of its premiere at Foyle Film Festival this Sunday.

Wind and the Shadow delicately explores the emotional and physical impact childhood illness and its treatments have on a six-year-old girl, her mother, and the moment they first talk about it.

The film is competing in Foyle’s Oscar and BAFTA-qualifying Light In Motion Competition, and will feature in the Animation Short Film Programme 2 on Sunday, November 19th at 1pm at the Nerve Centre in Derry.

Kelly is “filled with both excitement and nervousness” ahead of this weekend’s Foyle Film Festival, as his return to the Derry-based festival will be a special occasion for the filmmaker.

“Foyle holds a special place in my heart because it was where my first film, ‘Here to Fall’ screened. It was this festival that enabled me to qualify for the BAFTA Awards, ultimately leading to my nomination in 2013—a career-changing moment,” Kelly tells IFTN. “I owe a great deal to Foyle, and I'm thrilled to return.”

Wind and the Shadow, which stars a wonderful acting duo of IFTA winners, Niamh Algar (Calm with Horses) and Catherine Clinch (An Cailín Ciúin), is produced by Vicki Rock for EnterYes and Brian J. Falconer for Out of Orbit.

Speaking about the film, Catherine Clinch described the short film as “beautiful” when talking to IFTN: I'm really glad to be a part of this project.” Niamh Algar spoke of how “unbelievably proud” she is “to be a part of this gorgeous short”.

 “I hope it gets all the love and support it deserves. The artist team involved are exceptional and my mind is blown by how moving this animation depicts such raw and honest human emotion,” Algar explained. The BFI funded short marks Out of Orbit’s first animated venture.

IFTN discussed the project with Kris ahead of the festival to find out more about the delicate origins of the story, the incredible craft (and patience) involved in hand-painting each frame, and interweaving the actor’s performances into the animation process.

IFTN: How did the project come about initially?

Kris: “The story was inspired by several family members who faced incredibly challenging circumstances. One such event was relatively recent, involving my niece, while another occurred years ago with another young family member. I had been thinking of their experiences, and about how nature was frequently used to symbolize challenging or abstract topics, how games and play were both used as distraction and communication, but ultimately I was profoundly inspired by their strength, their love and I wanted to create a story inspired by them. 

“In 2018, the BFI introduced a short animation fund, opening up opportunities for applications. I discussed this with my partner at Enter Yes, Vicki Rock. Despite our extensive experience in film and animation, we recognized the sensitivity of the subject and our aspirations for the film. We aimed to collaborate with a producer who could elevate our project. This decision led us to approach Oscar-Nominated Producer Brian Falconer from Out of Orbit. Brian, a long-time friend of the studio, and his business partner Jon Beer, with whom we had prior professional collaborations, were trusted collaborators. Together, we prepared an application for the BFI.”

IFTN: This project was hand-painted frame by frame, and took 3.5 years to complete. Could you walk us through the artistry that was involved in this project?

Kris: “Once we all agreed on the script, I embarked on the visual development phase, dedicating several months to illustrating and finding visuals that effectively conveyed various aspects of the story and its core themes. In the early script drafts, there was a scene where the mother and daughter sought shelter from the rain in their car. I wanted to create a space where, at specific moments, the characters could be shielded from the audience, establishing a sense of distance—a private zone where their conversation remained unheard. This was particularly significant to me, as the story drew inspiration from real people I deeply cared about.

“However, as I began to illustrate the car, it became apparent that it didn't harmonize with the organic beach setting, disrupting the contrast between the beach and hospital scenes. It became clear that a cave would better convey the intended message while still providing the characters with a private space. Finding solutions like this was a time-consuming process, and I handled most of this early development on my own to preserve the budget.

“As an artist, this phase was crucial for me. I needed time to experiment and address questions that would be difficult to change once production was underway. Every scene, moment, character, and place needed to serve the story and its underlying themes.

“The next step involved character development and the animatic. At this point, I was eager to collaborate. Together with illustrator Julien Schleiffer, we created concept art, with Julien focusing on character style and clothing, while I concentrated on the environments. Simultaneously, 2D lead animator Carla Albiero began crafting an animatic from my storyboards. To complement this animatic, I created beat boards to guide the 3D team in building the necessary scenes and initiating character development—a crucial R&D phase for me.

“I aimed to achieve a style reminiscent of the texture and feel of an oil painting. I drew significant inspiration from techniques used in films like 'The Old Man and the Sea' by Aleksandr Petrov and 'The Man Who Planted Trees' by Frédéric Back. These films possessed a timeless quality and a level of maturity that resonated with the subject matter. They seamlessly transitioned between moments of clarity and shape-shifting textures, ultimately morphing into abstract imagery.

“Recognizing that replicating these specific techniques in our production was impractical for various reasons, I explored alternative processes. I realized that collaborating with 3D animators could allow us to create much of the cinematic style, shot, and action in CG. We could then enhance this footage by manually painting over it to achieve the desired look.

“In the paint-over process, I incorporated filters, shaders, effects, and computer processes where applicable to manage the workload. However, to capture the desired texture and painterly quality, I needed to personally work on at least a portion of each frame by hand. This phase occurred towards the end of the process in Photoshop, where I meticulously worked through each frame.

“To achieve a hand-illustrated feel, I engaged in real painting with acrylics and created sketches with charcoal, capturing my artwork to use as textures and references. I remain an artist who attends life drawing classes, and I wanted some of that sensibility to be present in my films.

“We then assembled a team of 3D animators, led by Arisdelsi de la Garza Alcibia. Initially, we explored motion capture possibilities during development but concluded that it didn't align with the look and feel I aimed to achieve in complementing the hand-drawn elements. Water effects were expertly handled by Lead Effects Artist Victor Ballo Vela, and the entire film was lit and rendered under the guidance of Lead Lighting Artist Becca McEwan.

“Throughout the animation production, the visuals were also influenced by sound. We collaborated with the talented team at Aumeta and the incredible composer Carly Paradis to initiate sound and scoring early. This audio served as inspiration for the edit and the visual approach to numerous shots.

“During the final months, shots were composited, and I began the extensive process of filtering the footage and manually painting individual frames. While the film began and ended with a solo effort from myself, its incredible aspects emerged from the tremendously talented team at Enter Yes and the invaluable feedback provided by the producers and the BFI.”

Wind and the Shadow - The Artistic Process - (Behind the Scenes) from EnterYes™ on Vimeo.

IFTN: At what point in the production did casting begin, and what did that process look like?

Kris: “Once we had completed the animatic, we had a solid blueprint for the film that complemented the script. At this stage, producer Brian Falconer suggested reaching out to casting director Des Hamilton and Georgia Topley. This marked my first time working with a casting agent, so I began by expressing my interest in casting two Irish actors Niamh Algar and Catherine Clinch. I was excited that working with Niamh and Catherine was a possibility, these were actors I held in high regard, having witnessed Niamh's incredible work in "The Virtues" and Catherine's performance in "An Cailín Ciúin" (The Quiet Girl). What astonished me even more was that both were available and willing to join the project and I am very grateful to Des and Georgia for making this happen. I can confidently say that working with Niamh and Catherine was a significant highlight in my career, and I am immensely grateful for their contributions and how they have shaped the film.

“Due to scheduling constraints, recording Niamh and Catherine on the same day was not possible. Therefore, we recorded Niamh at Bleat Post in London and Catherine with Outer Limits in Dublin. For each voice recording session, we had subtitled the latest version of the previs. Since animation was well underway at this point, the subtitles served as a perfect guide for timing and helped illustrate the unfolding scenes.

“On paper, the process of recording voiceovers may seem challenging. However, both actors delivered exceptional performances, and the skilled sound team at Aumeta, London post house Bleat and Dublin based Outer Limits ensured that both performances seamlessly merged with the film.”

IFTN: What effect did the actor’s performances then have on the animation process?

Kris: “A profound effect, both Niamh and Catherine allowed me to film their performances. This was both a creative morale boost mid production and gave the animators inspiration for reconsidering shot angles and also for facial reference. In my opinion many of the subtle movements and micro movements guide the animator towards their own interpretation of that emotion that results in a more nuanced and considered character performance.

“Niamh and Catherine had a profound impact on the project. During the VO record I filmed their performances, which had a dual effect. It provided a creative morale boost in the midst of production and offered the animators valuable inspiration for reevaluating shot angles and facial expressions. In my view, the subtle movements and micro-expressions captured in their performances guided the animators toward their interpretations of emotions, resulting in more nuanced and thoughtful character performances.”

IFTN: How did you go about financing the production throughout the project’s patient journey?

Kris: “When we initially won the BFI award, it was for the project's development phase. It was a modest grant that allowed me to ask significant and broad questions about the project, focusing on the script and visual style. I spent several months working solo and later with a very small team. After completing the development, we applied for the production award and were fortunate enough to be selected. This award was quite generous and enabled us to expand our team to meet the project's requirements. 

“However, both at the project's inception and its conclusion, I worked alone to keep costs down. Initially, these months were dedicated to visual development, initial storyboarding, and project planning.

“Producer Vicki Rock played a crucial role in assembling the team of artists at Enter Yes ensuring Enter Yes had top tier talent and incredible team culture throughout the project. The project expanded for approximately a year, with various team members joining at critical junctures, while Producer Brian Falconer was instrumental in connecting the project with top industry talent in sound design, score, post, and casting. Brian is the kind of producer who can make a project come to life against all odds, working tirelessly to bring all the necessary elements together.

“Toward the project's end, I had an eight-month period during which I worked alone to paint over frames and refine the edit. I would often step away from the project for weeks and then return to ensure it felt just right. This phase was the most challenging as it was difficult to let go and stop refining and repainting scenes that I wanted to improve.

“While the film and story are fictional, they were inspired by the experiences of those I hold dear. Consequently, I felt a duty of care to ensure that the film made appropriate comments and treated its subject matter with respect. This sense of responsibility carried me through to the finish line, where I completed the film's color grading and online processing at the post-production house, Outer Limits.”

The winners of the Light in Motion Awards will be announced at the Closing Night ceremony in Brunswick Moviebowl on Sunday, 26 November 2023.

“I sincerely hope that audiences will enjoy the film. It has been meticulously crafted by a team of talented and passionate individuals, and it explores a subject that is very close to my heart,” Kelly concludes.

Click here for tickets to Wind and the Shadow at Foyle Film Festival.

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