After a semester of intensive effort, ‘Pethood: Zara’s Story’ is finished – a declaration of the hard work the team has committed to creating an animated documentary. Whilst there are some minor ‘cosmetic’ issues that need to be rectified prior to the end of year show on June 2nd, I am delighted to finally see the fruits of our labour combine together to achieve such a fantastic result.
Figure 1.1 – Shown above, some stills from ‘Pethood: Zara’s Story.’
Whilst our film has only just been completed, we have been aware from the offset that our narrative and intentional output would be effective, due to the opportunities that we have had to user-test it in focus groups – both with our peers during our bi-monthly presentations, and at other times such as when external visitors have attended the campus.
Figure 1.2 – Shown above, just one of the opportunities that we have had to showcase our animatic and receive feedback.
We were opportunistic in some respects, such as when the vice-chancellor James Nesbitt attended the campus to host a talk on animation (and discussed his experience on the Hobbit – bonus!). After the formalities had been completed, the team set up our make-shift display on the hub tables and invited some of the pupils from the visiting school to talk to us about the course, and to let them see what our current project was about.
The setting was challenging – noise levels were high, the space was packed, and due to the open plan nature of the hub, we were at a disadvantage for broadcasting the animatic. However, even with the less-than-optimal setup (seen in Figure 1.2), the story still communicated coherently; even if the audience could not hear the audiotrack. In contrast with the feedback that Charlie had received regarding ‘Urban Myths’ – if it works as a radio play, it works as a story – ‘Pethood’ succeeds because the audience can follow the story without the need for audio cues. The narration is an additional quality that changes the premise of our piece from an animated short, to an animated documentary. The interview enhances the human element of the story, which makes it personable – as a result, it evokes such a potent response of empathy and reflection from the audience.
The emotion was one of the greatest challenges for this project; the intention of acquiring a response from the audience is the primary incentive, but during the production stages it was often easy to forget that this story means something significant to Jess. At times, she found herself overwhelmed with by the strength of her love and bereavement of Zara. In my dissertation, I spoke about the role of art as a form of treatment in situations of loss, diagnosis and difficulties. One particular quote stood out to me;
“Once once takes the brush in hand, a calm descends, a concentration ensues, which makes the ‘listening’ possible” (Winnicott, 1971, p55.)
Everyone on the team has lost their pet at some stage in their lifetime – for myself, it was my Yorkshire terrier Whiskey. For Ryan, Lady, and For Katie, Paddy. The experiences were incredibly tough; working on this project has brought those memories back with full emotion, just as it had for Jess. It is the relatability of the experience that ensures its success – whilst the story itself is personal to her and her family, there are elements that resound within all of us who have had our lives enriched by the companionship of an animal. It is my hope that the experience of working on this project proved to be therapeutic for all of my team members and provided an opportunity to reflect on the happy memories, rather remain concealed beneath the sadness of loss.
The average life expectancy of a dog is roughly between 7-10 years; a minor time in the duration of a human, but for that animal, their family is their entire existence. The statement is potent; a thought is often overseen in a society with tendencies for conceited behaviour. Pethood invites the audience to observe these experiences from another’s perspective – hope that they may be able to see something with a fresh eye and encourage them to think from a different perception.
Figure 1.4 – Shown above, the animated documentary, ‘Pethood: Zara’s Story.’
Pethood is more than a documentary; it is a platform for discussion, expression and exploration, voiced through the events of Zara’s Story.
Winnet, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. New York: Basic Books, 55.