Poignant "America Erased" Film Tops SHOOT’s VFX & Animation Q1 Chart
Angus Kneale
Courageous Conversations, W+K NY, director Omar Jones, creative + technology studio Preymaker push back against book bans

In the last few years, a number of states have passed legislation banning specific books, and critical parts of American history--erasing the stories and contributions of marginalized people in our country. Furthermore, Florida recently banned the use of state and federal funds on DEI programs at state universities.

So Courageous Conversations and agency Wieden+Kennedy New York teamed on a campaign based on the belief that all students deserve to have an education that represents our true history.  The “America Erased” campaign was designed to show the dangerous repercussions of erasing stories that represent American values. A cornerstone of the campaign is this powerful film directed by Omar Jones via Riff Raff Films.

The film shows key pieces of history wiped away from photos and archival footage--with luminary figures like Dr. Martin Luther King banished from the classroom and Ruby Bridges eliminated from textbooks. Bridges was the first African American child to attend a formerly whites-only elementary school in New Orleans during the school desegregation crisis in 1960. Bridges grew up to be a civil rights activist.

This “America Erased” film, with visual effects from creative + technology studio Preymaker, topped SHOOT’s Q1 Top Ten VFX & Animation Chart.

Angus Kneale, chief creative at Preymaker, discussed the challenges that “America Erased” posed to the visual effects team. “The biggest challenge,” he reflected, “was that we did not want the VFX to overpower the human moments. We actually tried a lot of different things, put them into the edit to see what felt right in context. Another challenge was to make the VFX feel like they were shot ‘in camera.’ These are iconic moments in history and the quality of the archival footage was limited so we had to make sure that everything that we created had the same artifacts, the same aging and the same patina. It needed some very sensitive compositing and integrating to make it look just right.”

Kneale said that director Jones had shot some “very powerful footage” and had “a very strong point of view that the VFX needed to feel tactile and physical--he was referencing pages being ripped, torn paper, books on fire, visceral, emotive subject matter. Omar had also shot some very useful elements on film that had great patina, all of this gave us a strong foundation and a North Star that allowed us to craft the VFX to feel tangible and real. What we created needed to feel palpable. It was important that whatever we did, it had to create emotion and make you feel something. When we saw Wieden+Kennedy’s and Omar’s reaction to what we had done, we knew we were on the right path. Another thing we were also acutely aware of is recent bad-VFX-fatigue, where the viewer has been bombarded with so much obviously synthetic imagery that it has created a pretty big backlash by audiences and filmmakers trying to distance themselves from that type of clearly synthetic work.  Seamless, tasteful and invisible were where we needed to be.”

Sense of purpose
Kneale said that he was “drawn to the project because it was very close to my heart. I was born and raised in South Africa during a time when news and media were heavily censored and distorted.  What was taught in our schools at the time was very polarizing and came from one point of view. Many books were banned, facts were distorted or completely omitted.  It was an incredibly damaging time in South Africa’s history; there was not a balanced point of view. So I have seen the damage first hand of people trying to rewrite and suppress history.

“In order to try and overcome the deep social problems in our world it is essential that people have full access to accurate history,” continued Kneale. “You can’t fix the present without understanding the past. I hope the piece draws awareness and encourages healthy debate.  Society needs debate, it needs people of differing opinions to be able to talk and present their point of view.”

Kneale added that the creatives at Wieden+Kennedy proved to be “excellenct collaborators and we were very excited to work with Omar Jones. We were proud to be able to play a part in bringing this powerful piece to life; we were given a lot of freedom to explore and push the visuals and come up with powerful visual metaphors that I think have elevated the piece and made it more powerful.

“It is very important to myself and Preymaker to help make the world a better place and contribute in a positive way to society,” affirmed Kneale. “Freedom of speech, freedom of the press are cornerstones of our society and need to be protected.” 

Click here to view the full SHOOT VFX & Animation Top Ten Chart for the first quarter of 2024.

 

Credits:

Client Courageous Conversation Agency Wieden+Kennedy New York Marques Gartrell, chief creative officer/creative director; Monica Roebuck, copywriter; Macaihah Broussard, art director; Nick Setounski, head of integrated production; Cecilia Ramirez, producer; Caroline Park, associate producer; Christopher Gonzalez, art producer; Christian Colasuonno, sr. interactive producer; Donovan Triplett, brand strategy director; Mia Lockhart, designer. Production Company Riff Raff Omar Jones, director; Matthew Fone, owner; Matthew Clyde, exec producer; David Wept, producer; Jagger Corcione, line producer; Nem Fisher, production manager; Madison Baker, production coorindator. Editorial Arcade Edit Paul Martinez, editor; Sila Soyer, exec producer; Arlene Perez, producer; Lucas Ferreira, editorial assistant. VFX Preymaker Angus Kneale, Verity Kneale, Melanie Wickham, Clairellen Wallin, Luis Martin, Ija Ochoa, Jabulani Simelane, Edward Lopez, Julian Fitzpatrick, Nathan Anderson, David Grzesik, Hassan Taimur, Casey Herrick, Samantha Woods, Nicholas Young, Wynand de Wet, Kelley Harris, makers. Telecine Company 3 Sofie Borup, colorist; Shannen Troup, producer; Kevin Breheny, head of production. Audio Post Sonic Union Steve Rosen, sound designer/mix engineer; Justine Cortale, studio director. Music Company Walker Sara Matarazzo, managing director; Neha Ewell, Dottie Scharr, sr. producers; Sam Zirin, associate producer; Malcolm Parson, composer; Garrett Chabot, music editor.

 

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