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Animation director Sam Gainsborough’s new mixed-media film contorts and melts characters’ faces, altering and shaping both how they see and how they’re viewed. Facing It depicts a man struggling with relationships to his family and friends, his social anxiety, and his fear of being isolated from those around him. Throughout the film, dripping, swirling, and rippling clay faces mask those of the human bodies.

Gainsborough tells Directors Notes that he shot the characters’ claymation faces against a green screen before transferring them frame-by-frame to fit separate footage with actors, combining stop-motion and live-action techniques. Each face is roughly double life-size, and in total, the film’s creators used more than 1,100 pounds of plasticine. Adding human bodies to the work creates a “visible layer of reality” that stands in contrast to the feelings shown on the animated faces.

He feels that his parents are these emotionless rock-like characters so they’re animated to look like gargoyles. Whereas he sees everyone else in the world as being effortlessly happy so they’re animated fluidly with lots of colour. But at the end of the day the feelings he has are false, what lies underneath that is reality, real people (with painted hands for some reason!).

The goal of the work, the director says, is to push viewers to question whether they’re living how they want to. He and writer Louisa Wood wanted “a main character who would be seen to bottle up their emotions rather than living true to themselves. We wanted to make a film that celebrates everyone’s flaws and internal struggle, no one’s perfect after all.”

Facing It was produced in the same space that Nick Park first created Wallace and Gromit – A Grand Day Out, the director says. “It was really cool for me to be working in the same room that saw the creation of a film I found so inspiring as a child.”

Gainsborough is based in London and graduated from the National Film and Television School. His future plans, which you can follow on Instagram, include employing a similar technique but with stop-motion puppets.