How Nomint’s animators worked with real fire for latest WWF ad
Production company’s founder talks us through the follow-up to last year’s melting ice film for the conservation organization.
“The next one should be with fire!” That’s the joke Yannis Konstantinidis remembers being bandied about after his animation production company, Nomint, completed its first brief for WWF, highlighting the effect of climate change on the Arctic environment.
The award-winning short depicts a frantic polar bear made of melting ice and rightly received reams of praise from the industry. Could the agency really create that type of buzz for the client again?
That’s what the conservation organization wanted to know when it approached Nomint earlier this year to help it start a conversation about the cause and effect of devastating wildfires. Konstantinidis remembers being asked how this might be shown on screen. “I said, ’it isn’t possible, let’s not go there!’”
Unable to get the idea out of his head, however, a few weeks later he gathered his team together. “I said, ’assuming this can be done, how would we do it?’”
As the brainstorming got underway, the team soon realized the key would again be to convey emotion. A search for inspiration quickly led to Disney’s Bambi and the scene where the deer’s mother dies after furiously fleeing through the woods. While Nomint’s film didn’t end up the homage first envisioned, it is an obvious reference point as you watch the rabbit trying to evade the roaring fire.
“The project changed a lot from the moment we pitched it,” explains Konstantinidis, although the fundamental story remained the same throughout, he says. “There was a lot of experimentation, the period of testing lasted around six months and we tested different materials and techniques and assessed how dangerous things were.”
The shoot was challenging, with the team working with real fire along with time-sensitive and time-consuming techniques such as stop-motion and time-lapse. “There was always a danger that things could burn to the ground, plus for many of those shots we only had one try.”
Once the miniature set was lit, there was no going back. “Initially, everything was meant to be made from wood, but then that proved to be extremely difficult to make because of the 500 different poses, as well as carving everything. We went into a weird rabbit hole and ended nowhere.”
In the end, almost everything used to construct the set was natural, the house made from items found in a nearby forest and the rabbit with wool and a needle felting technique, which was then placed over an armature puppet.
It took around four weeks to shoot the whole thing, according to Konstantinidis, who says that some scenes were really hard to capture. The shot where lines of fire race toward the rabbit, for example, was particularly grueling, with the team having to work in complete darkness. “A lot of it was trying to figure out how to do the shoot, but the effect is so powerful.”
Working with natural elements is always unpredictable, but after their experiments in ice, it is something the team knew they would have to lean into. “It is going to do what it does and then whatever we like as a visual representation is what we used. The fire was so strong. There were many ways we could push it before we brought out the extinguishers.”
Konstantinidis is proud of the resulting film and all that his team achieved, and also of his company’s continued relationship with the WWF. “We spend most of our time working with big corporate clients, advertising and creating a desire for things that we don’t necessarily need. When we can communicate important messages and put them out into the world in a way that is interesting and different and that cuts through the noise, that is wonderful.”