“My mother always sang. I know she sang me to sleep. Every night. Always.”
3’30 Showcase Edit:
For this BBC/NETFLIX series, we were invited to create four sequences, totalling nine minutes of animation, as well as the main titles for this live-action drama.
Produced, written and directed by BAFTA award winner Hugo Blick and produced by Abi Bach (The Honourable Woman), Black Earth Rising is set against the background of the prosecution of international war crimes and the West’s relationship with contemporary Africa.
The animation sequences depict events around the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, imaginatively interpreting violent and tragic events; events where, as one character puts it— “words would fail”
The story centres on Kate Ashby (Michaela Coel), who works as a legal investigator in the London law chambers of Michael Ennis (John Goodman). When Kate’s adoptive mother Eve (Harriet Walter) takes on a case prosecuting an African militia leader, the story pulls Michael and Kate into a journey that will upend their lives forever.
Studio AKA director Steven Small designed beautifully rendered hand-drawn sequences to be inserted into four episodes in the eight-part series. Along with a team of animators, Small drew reference from a wide array of source materials, using a combination of 3D, rotoscoping and simple hand-drawn line artwork to create these impactful images portraying graphic events. The resulting imagery is captivating and powerfully wrought.
Small says of the project:
“The opportunity to make imagery for writing as incisive as Hugo’s is rare. The sequences needed to resemble broken memories, be spare in their look and only say what needed saying; generating a fragmented quality that gathers the drawing and artwork together with its restless and unsettling style.”
The Forgiving Earth Limited
Producer, Writer & Director
Animation Production Company
The first question we asked Hugo was— why use animation?
Hugo responded that the stories and recollections that they wished to tell were not something that could be communicated with archival footage or recreated with actors. The sequences had to sit apart but be bound to the drama by other means. The key for us was that these personal recollections are factual accounts of harrowing stories — but retold from memory, and so are essentially unreliable narratives. This concept of the veracity of the sequence depending on personal perspective seemed a good fit for the ambiguity that animation could deliver, to reflect how such tragic events happened to ordinary individuals.
To bring this to the screen, Steve chose to adopt a hand-drawn and semi-realistic style, focusing on the documentation of everyday settings, picking out details in the way that our memories can grasp some details clearly, but disregard others. The team employed a painterly style with natural performance and camera movement derived from a blend of methods. Utilising both reference footage, bespoke 2D animation and 3D CG spatial reference backdrops, this technique was allowed to fluctuate into more surreal movement and unexpected transitions to reflect the story’s more emotional and violent aspects, allowing it to settle back into naturalism as appropriate. The intention was to sensitively recreate a relatable and everyday setting that could reflect the horrific events that unfolded with more erratic and fractured imagery.
Hugo Blick Executive producer, director, writer:
“With a traumatic event like this, you can’t risk a numbness with the audience. To evoke it accurately, we could have used documentary footage, but I felt in a piece in which the storytelling and world was unfamiliar to a lot of people’s experience, the animation would give them an idea but allow them to get into it differently. At the script stage, we really kept a lid on it so we didn’t overuse it. I wanted it to have a little bit of an impressionistic feel, and I was looking for that kind of black-and-white, monochrome feel. And then I wrote quite detailed instructions in the script about what I expected to see in the frames.”
— Source: Variety.com
“Each animated sequence is there because of the representation of trauma within that individual character’s experience. For example, in episode 3, as Juliana Kabanga relates her experience in the massacre in the church, there were two layers. Firstly the use of sign language, as Juliana hasn’t spoken since the trauma, and then the move into animation in which via visuals alone offer the viewpoint of her life. At the end of this sequence, she asks Michael (played by John Goodman) “Why ask me when I cannot speak?” and he replies “Because words would fail”. Words fail at this level of trauma.”
— Source: BBC Writers room
BBC Series Launch Trailer
Main Title Design
In addition to the animation sequences, AKA director Kristian Andrews created the show’s Main Titles, crafting a restrained and unblinking sequence using blended AFX and CG elements to pull us into place.
Backed by Leonard Cohen’s enthralling ‘You Want It Darker’, The resulting sequence is as hypnotic as it is compelling.