Twelve million online views and counting. That’s a remarkable tally for any piece but perhaps even more so for a film that is hard to watch, depicting a profoundly heart wrenching betrayal.
Titled “The Bitter Bond,” this film showcases a unique animation style which tells the story of a lion keeper and her cub. The two have a special connection, one seemingly rooted in love and clearly built on trust.
The woman animal trainer seems nurturing and caring as she prepares the cub for release into the wild--the essence of the original, now iconic “Born Free” story. In fact the short is set to the Academy Award-winning song “Born Free” licensed via Soho Music and performed by Matt Munro.
We see the cub become an adult lion, eventually fending for itself--until one day we are on the cusp of what appears to be a heartfelt reunion. The lion see his woman trainer and moves towards her with affection. We then hear a gunshot ring out from nowhere and come to the realization that the trainer was setting up her trusting lion for the kill. Such is the practice of lion farming, a financially lucrative yet morally bankrupt business. Conceived by U.K. ad agency Engine for the Born Free Foundation, the film was designed to generate signatures for a petition urging the South African government to stop canned hunting.
A recent count had petition signatures in excess of 230,000. The film has tugged at heartstrings all over the world with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Ricky Gervais sharing it on social media.
A Zombie production
Zombie Studio in Sao Paulo, Brazil--handled by Blinkink in the U.K., Ireland and The Netherlands--produced “The Bitter Bond,” with Daniel Sallees and Paulo Garcia directing. The breakthrough animation style resulted from three months’ work by the Zombie team, combining the richness and beauty of hand-crafted miniature sets with emotionally-evoking 3D animation.
The process began with Engine’s original script, which Zombie then developed into a storyboard and animatic.
From there the Zombie ensemble got to work on concept designs for the South African savannah and the lion farm grounds.
Initial designs portrayed the lion in a more majestic and imposing way. With captive-bred animals being raised as docile creatures for tourist interaction however, the lion eventually evolved into a more understated, sympathetic character.
Much detail went into developing the human characters too. The lion keeper’s look was carefully crafted to capture both sides of her personality--or figuratively speaking, her two faces.
The sets were hand-crafted by a team of model makers and then shot as live action plates. The 3D animated characters were then composited into the backgrounds.
Key Zombie contributors included directors Sallees and Garcia, executive producers Bart Yates (Blinkink) and Natalia Gouvia, cinematographer Lucas Barreto, producers Antonela Castro and Marcio Lovato who were also responsible for set production, producer Leticia Harumi, CGI lead and lead compositor Yohann da Geb, technical supervisor, VFX artist and compositor Wallan Oliveira, concept artists Anna Caiado, Estevão Teuber, Feppa Rodrigues, Marcelo Fahd and Marcelo Garcia, Saulo Brito who executed the storyboard and animatic, lead modeler Mauricio Sampaio, modelers Danilo Gerard and Tiago Oliveira, animation director Bruno Monteiro, animators Bruna Berford, Bruno Santos, Christian Weckl, Conrado Testa, Francisco Catão, Hannry Pschera, Jonathan Edward, Leonardo Felix, Leonidas Maciel, Marcos Elias, Michel Denis Da Silva and Rodrigo Dutra, VFX artist Heber Conde, and compositors Adriana Cardozo and Guilherme Sarinho.
The Engine team included executive creative director Paul Jordan, creative directors Steve Hawthorne and Katy Hopkins, creatives James Hodson and Jason Keet, and producer Stefanie Forbes.
Complementing the “Born Free” song was sound design from Ben Leeves of London-based Jungle Studios.
Marcio Pasqualino of Psycho n’ Look, London, served as colorist.
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Client Born Free Foundation Agency Engine UK Paul Jordan, executive creative director; Steve Hawthorne, Katy Hopkins, creative directors; James Hodson, Jason Keet, creatives; Stefanie Forbes, producer. Production Blinkink, London Zombie Studio, Sao Paulo, Brazil Animation/VFX Zombie Studio, Sao Paulo, Brazil Daniel Sallees, Paulo Garcia, directors; Bart Yates, Natalia Gouvea, exec producers; Lucas Barreto, cinematography; Antonela Castro, Marcio Lovato, producers & set production; Leticia Harumi, producer; Yohann da Geb, CGI lead & lead compositor; Wallan Oliveira, technical supervisor, CG; Anna Caiado, Estevão Teuber, Feppa Rodrigues, Marcelo Fahd, Marcelo Garcia, concept artists; Saulo Brito, storyboard & animatic; Mauricio Sampaio, lead modeler; Danilo Gerard, Tiago Oliveira, modelers; Bruno Monteiro, animation director; Bruna Berford, Bruno Santos, Christian Weckl, Conrado Testa, Francisco Catão, Hannry Pschera, Jonathan Edward, Leonardo Felix, Leonidas Maciel, Marcos Elias, Michel Denis Da Silva, Rodrigo Dutra, animators; Heber Conde, Wallan Oliveira, VFX artists; Adriana Cardozo, Guilherme Sarinho, Wallan Oliveira, compositors.
(Toolbox: Photoshop, SoftImage XSI, ZBrush, Substance Painter, Maya, Houdini, Arnold Render, ThinkBox Deadline, Nuke, After Efects, DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere) Color Grading Psycho n’ Look Marcio Pasqualino, colorist. Sound Design Jungle Ben Leeves, sound designer. Musical Intro Alex Wilson-Thame. Music Song: “Born Free” performed by Matt Monro licensed by Soho Music