Oscar-qualified short film produced by Cartoon Saloon uses hand-drawn digital animation to poignantly depict the internal landscape of a woman with memory loss.
From Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny, Ireland-based studio behind Oscar-nominated animated features Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner, Late Afternoon is a poignant short film exploring memory loss.
Still making the rounds on the festival circuit, Late Afternoon has screened at nearly 80 festivals to date, and has received 15 awards, including an Oscar-qualifying win for Best Animated Short at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The nine-and-a-half-minute digitally animated 2D short, directed by Louise Bagnall and produced by Nuria González Blanco, follows Emily, who finds herself disconnected from the world around her. Drifting back through her memories to relive different moments from her life, Emily looks to her past so that she may fully understand the present.
A creative director at Cartoon Saloon, Bagnall has designed characters for International Emmy nominee Puffin Rock and the Oscar-nominated features Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner. She studied animation at the National Film School of Ireland and graduated in 2007, and has directed a number of other short films including Donkey (2009) and Loose Ends (2012). She is currently working as a story artist on director Tomm Moore’s upcoming feature film, Wolfwalkers.
While the idea for Late Afternoon had been gestating inside Bagnall’s sketchbook for a number of years, it was produced in just 10 months under a budget of €46,000 provided by the Frameworks short film scheme funded by the Irish film board, Screen Ireland, and national broadcaster RTÉ.
“I had been and reading and watching things about dementia, and it reminded me of when I was young seeing my parents my looking after their respective parents,” Bagnall relates. “As a child, I didn’t really see any problems and, in my head, my grandmothers were always these sweet old ladies. You see that side of them, and you don’t realize things maybe had changed for them along the way,” she says, noting that it was likely a difficult experience for her parents, who were more keenly aware of the changes taking place.
Given the opportunity to pitch a short film at the studio, Bagnall’s sketches and musings quickly coalesced into character designs and a six-page script written over the course of three short weeks. Cartoon Saloon greenlit the project, signing on as producer, and Bagnall pitched it to the Frameworks scheme, receiving funding in 2016.
“What I enjoyed about most about the process is that I didn’t try to rush it,” she comments. “I didn’t force it. If I had tried to make the film earlier on, it wouldn’t have quite have the same quality. I really waited until I felt like -- you know -- ‘I really want to make this film. This is the story I want to tell, I’m sure of it.’”
In the film, Emily shifts through the past and present as well as her own transitional internal states. Bagnall sought to create separate looks to distinguish each state that would still complement each other to help the film function as a cohesive whole. “The film takes place in the present day with these shifts into memory and the past, and we really needed to make sure that those felt like they were two different scenarios,” she notes. “But at the same time, not so different that one is horrible and one is beautiful. We wanted them both to have some sort of connection with each other.”
To depict the present, Bagnall kept the camera locked off, using flat compositions, while the past and transitional states employ more dynamic camera moves. “We were quite careful about the color palette we used for the present, and limited it so we weren’t using too much of a range of colors,” she details. “So when we do shift into the transition, and then into the memories, there’s this feeling of open space, of vibrant colors, and a constant flow of movement.”
Sequences on the beach recall Bagnall’s own childhood growing up in Dublin, on the coast of Ireland. “Technically, you’re in the city, but you’re so far away,” she recounts of her memories of playing on the strand. “You’re suddenly in a completely different space. And that was a quality I wanted for Late Afternoon.” That fluid quality appears throughout the film, whether Emily is playing on the beach as a child, or swimming through a transitional state back into the firm and comforting present as the ebb and flow of memories continue.
“Having this dynamic camera was quite a challenge, because we were making it in 2D,” Bagnell acknowledges. Once the script was storyboarded, the production team created previs passes to test camera moves at various speeds.
“Although we’re not literally seeing through the eyes of Emily, we are seeing her feelings about a given memory,” Bagnell continues. “So, on the beach, in her memory, the camera loops and spins in this very freeform way because Emily is so happy. And then there’s also this slight disorientation where, as the viewer, you don’t always know which way is up. We really were being quite playful with viewers’ perceptions of where the camera was going to go, or what was seen as the character comes in and comes out of view.”
To retain the fluidity of motion these complex scenes required, several sequences had to be animated on ones, meaning that a new drawing had to be created for each frame. “There’s a particular quality to ones,” Bagnall explains. “Twos can have a little bit more weight, and sometimes that’s what you want. But we had to put some of the scenes on ones, because when you have camera moves it will create kind of stuttering in the action.”
While Bagnall says Late Afternoon is one of the most challenging short films she’s worked on, the experience has left her even more grateful for the talent assembled at Cartoon Saloon and the artists who worked on the film. “I have made some short films before, going back quite a long time, but they were always on a much smaller scale,” she notes. “In terms of my ambitions for the film, they were smaller for sure. But with this film, I had thought about it for so long, and was really just passionate about it. Before I even started it, I could see what I wanted it to feel like and look like. So for this one I went all out and, in that sense, it’s certainly the most ambitious project I’ve directed.”