Animade is one of the world’s best animation studios, producing bright, snappy, playful work for clients like Facebook, Airbnb and Mr Porter. But we wanted to know what would happen if they let their imaginations run wild. The result is Tend, an eight-minute animation about a dad, his child and what we prioritize as precious.
We spoke to Animade co-founder Tom Judd and creative director Ed Barrett about the highs, the lows and a talking log. Throughout the interview you can find a whole load of behind-the-scenes sketches and tests, and click the audio symbols to hear Tom and Ed’s thoughts.
“It was scary. Exciting and scary,” Ed says of the moment he and Tom first sat down to discuss what kind of film they wanted to make. “It threw me back to some dusty old memories I had at university when we were asked to make a film and you're kinda like, I don't have any ideas!”
It was a new way of working for the pair, who are more used to the tight briefs and tight deadlines of client work, which focus the mind immediately.
They knew the film should be as relatable and accessible as possible. They were drawn to the idea of “the best thing in the world” – what that meant or could mean and where they could take it.
“We thought about this thing of having this central item or entity, and how characters or groups of characters could interact with it,” Tom says. “From that springboard we went pretty deep into the metaphor.”
At first they talked about using a fire, then the central thing became a sort of genie, later it became more about technology as they toyed with a smartphone analogy. “We got a bit stuck really, and we had to pull ourselves out of that quicksand.
“That was when we very quickly flip-flopped back to it just being a fire. I remember the WhatsApp conversation when we were like, oh my God what have we been doing for the last month?"
“It felt like the fire just answered everything,” Ed continues. “What if we stripped it all the way down to the notion of getting obsessed with the fire, almost looking at it as another child that you want to nurture.”
From the start Tom and Ed wanted to make a personal film, and as both have young families, parenthood was always likely to play a part. In Tend, the father becomes preoccupied with the fire he keeps burning for his daughter. In doing so, he loses sight of the most important thing in his world, the daughter for whom he keeps the flames burning. It felt like a familiar story for two creatives who run a busy studio.
“There’s certainly a grain of irony there because I think this film has been pulling us away,” Ed laughs. “We're definitely guilty of making the wrong decisions at times, but we wanted to cajole ourselves into being like – don't push it too far or you might end up pulling your house apart and ripping your beard off.”
The beauty of the fire metaphor though is how open it is. Like a real fire, people all seem to see something different in Tend (early viewers have seen it as a story about addiction, mental health and tech amongst other things).
That openness was also a deliberate choice. There was a time during the development where both felt they were overdoing the parental angle, so they decided to leave the audience to fill in some of the blanks themselves.
“We aren't rail-roading a single narrative,” Ed explains.” I do hope people walk away from it on their own terms. A lot of the time you get films or pieces of work that are very heavily about parenthood and I think that that closes the door on a lot of the audience because they're like, well I'm not there. I don't care about babies.”
I remember the WhatsApp conversation when we were like, oh my God what have we been doing for the last month?
For both Tom and Ed, Tend was a chance to work closely on a project in a way that rarely happens given their respective responsibilities across the business. For weeks they left the office on Fridays to give themselves space to think and to write the initial script. It reminded them both of the early days of Animade and re-enforced their love of the animation craft.
But did the duo fall out over any bits?
“Yeah Loggy,” Tom laughs. “Loggy was a log with a face that the child had, almost like a cuddly toy. We couldn't work out when he should appear and where he should appear and whether he should be crafted. It seems so silly now. It’s no longer in the film.”
On the morning of the Animade Christmas party they presented Tend to the whole team, and since then it’s become a huge collective effort for each of their 19 employees. “We got loads of amazing feedback and that very much shaped the story as we moved on,” Ed explains.
Now the pair are excited to see how the film’s received. Ed’s aware it doesn’t feel like a typical Animade production. “We're pulling on some emotional cords that I don't think we've tried to do before, at least not on this scale."
“And that excites me. I like the fact that people are going to be a bit surprised, because they were expecting a big, fun, bouncy romp. Which we love doing, but this is an opportunity to really tell quite a sad story, with a bit of uplift at the end.”
And that personal connection they have to the project and to the story raises the stakes too. “From day one that’s been quite terrifying,” Tom says. “There’s so much of us in this.”