Creative Futures

Animal Symbolism and the Deeper Meaning

After deliberating with one another as a team, and undertaking a pragmatic voting system (in other words – vote out of five, with five as a strong preference, and one being the most disliked), the team was able to narrow the four strongest ideas down to one – the animation project.

Animal Symbolism 


(E.1 – Shelley’s moodboard for the animated short)

Shown above is the mood board that Shelley had created for the animation short pitch – inspired by the faceted designs that I had referenced in my artistic influence post. It was the visual elements and colour palette that appealed to the team members and ultimately persuaded the decision towards the animation short.

Regarding the narrative of the animation, we revisited some of the concept ideas that were discussed at the earlier stage in the ideation process.


(E.2 – Shown above, the exert from my notebook that listed a few different story ideas for the animated short) 

It was the concept of a young fox cub, following a spectral orb that transitioned to be revealed to be the spirit of the cub’s mother, that served as a stepping stone through which our story really began to take form and establish a structure.

(E.3 – Shown above, the character concepts created by Katie)

Throughout the development of the story, we felt that it was equally important to determine who the characters were, and why we felt that they were the appropriate choice through which to tell the story. Whilst the fox was initially quite popular within the group – perhaps due to the starting concept – gradually, we found ourselves referring back to the original storyboard that Shelley had created. Through reflection, we identified that the creature which was featured on the board, serving as an element of influence that spurred the decision towards the animation short: the bear.


(E. 4- Shown above, an image of the animal totem descriptions, as depicted on Legends of America.)

In order to make an informed decision on whether it would be appropriate to use the imagery of a bear within the story, I conducted independent research regarding the relationship between animal identities and their symbolic association which is heavily connected in different cultures, races, and religions, such as that from the Native Americans.  According to the Legends of America website, a totem is described as, ‘a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Native American tradition provides that each person is connected with nine different animals that will accompany him or her  through life, acting as guides.’ Although the practice of using animal imagery has been believed to have been conducted as early as Greek Methodology, the Native American belief that people identify with the totems for spiritual guidance, and use them as a communication device in order to attain wisdom and comfort appear to correspond with the themes that are beginning to emerge from the narrative development.

According to the guide listed above, the Native Americans believe that the bear is a symbol of strength, courage, and healing. The story that is beginning to formulate addresses self-esteem and confidence issues that the protagonist is forced to face. Thus, the presence of the bear would serve as an opposing character that will balance the harmony of the relationship. The dynamic and traits for both of the characters will require exploration into greater depth at a later point in production, but attaining this information to serve as a starting point for development will strengthen their characteristics and enable us to incorporate a strong sense of symbolism within the animated short.

The Deeper Meaning 

Whilst we decided as a team to proceed forward with the animated short, we could not shake the intentions behind the therapeutic virtual reality headset. The team wanted to produce something that was more than just an animation – they wanted to create something that could make a difference.

It was then that we examined the characters – it was during this discussion that the second protagonist for our piece would a young boy, twisting the essence of the mother fox and cub to a story about a boy and a bear, together in an environment where they have to rely on one another for survival.

So how does deeper meaning fit into the animated short?

We identified that the characters that we intended to have directly impacted the tone of the piece. Prior, when the virtual reality headset had been discussed, the demographic that we had focused towards were adults who faced a multitude of different scenarios that would have an impact on their mental health and physical wellbeing.

For an animated short featuring a young child, the natural target demographic felt that it should reflect the character contained within the piece. The next stage was identifying how we could help young children and teenagers with problems in a symbolic way through the medium of animation.

Gradually, we began to discuss the potential of implementing play therapy techniques within the animation. From a brief research session, we analysed the connection between children and expression, discovering that a significant number of children that find difficulty with communication also appear to be coping with mental health issues, which have resulted in stunted growth of their social development.

Play Therapy is a form of counselling that involves the use of creative and expressive communication.  Play is a child’s natural medium for self expression. Through therapeutic play, children can make sense of their feelings and the world in which they live.  When children experience upsetting events, their feelings can become muddled.  This can be a confusing and worrying time for them and their families.  Play Therapy provides a safe environment where a qualified and empathetic Play Therapist understands the child through the metaphor of play, behaviour and other communication.

(E.5 – Shown above, an excerpt from Play Therapy NI)

Upon reading the information contained within the Play Therapy NI website, I discovered an interesting quote from Gary Landreth. It said that, “toys are used like words by children, and play is their language.”

This was an interesting concept – one that I hope we can integrate within the animated short. It is too early yet to indicate how that could possibly be done, but as the team proceeds forward I feel that we will be able to find a way to implement the nature of play therapy in some form.


“Native American Totems And Their Meanings”. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. (2014). Play Therapy | Belfast | Therapy | Children | Problems | Helping | Northern Ireland | Training | Courses | Belfast | Antrim |Introduction | Counselling |. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].


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