Life Rewired Shorts - Better by Emily Downe

Purple illustrated woman's face
4 Oct 2019
5 min watch

What if everything was the same - but it looked better? Emily Downe presents her animated short, 'Better', exploring the ideal worlds of a perfectionist culture.

How would you describe your film?
Exploring research through storytelling, Better is based in a fantasy jungle that acts as a portal for idealised worlds to become external.

An experimental narrative follows one character in the jungle, which acts as a metaphor for her in the real, observed world. She is overwhelmed with the how uncontrollable it is and how small she is in the face of it, but when she finds a supernatural fruit - a metaphor for technology and control - she is able to create her ideal paradise. She builds and builds, constantly wanting to make it better, until reality begins to break in.

She is overwhelmed with how uncontrollable it is and how small she is in the face of it

How does your film respond to the ideas behind Life Rewired?
Better attempts to look at the ways in which technology and social media give us access to a non-reality which we have control over, and the role this has playing in the rise in anxiety, depression and suicide among the millennial generation. We might hear things like this: ‘Life is about creating yourself. We have the ability to craft and shape who we are and what we experience of the world. Make an impact. Be brilliant, be interesting, be better.’

This puts enormous pressure on a person if they find that their world doesn’t match up to their expectations, and can result in deep anxiety, disappointment and a feeling of failure. This film translates these ideas into an experimental narrative structure, a contrast between two worlds - the imperfect real, and the fantasy ideal - and what happens when they begin to collide.

Technology and social media give us access to a non-reality which we have control over

Can you explain the process behind the making of your film?
The beginning steps were research-based, both in current social and psychological academic observations, current news, and the historical and philosophical aspect of fantasy, fairy-tales and perfection. I was constantly drawing, observing, and taking diary notes discussing the topic and personal experiences with people around me.

Whilst I was exploring these ideas, they were feeding heavily into my visual investigation. The quick, observational drawings I was doing fascinated me because of the raw and gritty reality of them. They were instinctive, expressive and exaggerated; the portraits were the opposite of the ideal images portrayed on social media, yet there was something alluring and beautiful in their imperfection.

Alongside this I was inspired by the luscious and rich aesthetic of the rainforest jungle, through music, commercial illustration and the current ‘urban jungle’ trend on social media. I was interested in the concept that the rainforest jungle is often a base for fairy-tales and fantasy world whilst it is actually terrifying, completely wild and uncontrolled. I started to visually explore these two aesthetics individually as a form of experimentation. One process focussed purely by an uncontrolled nature; quick observational sketches translated into straight ahead animation in charcoal. And the other process being the opposite; completely controlled and exaggerated by imagination.

I faced many challenges over the course of this film, the most prominent one being how to fit the two contrasting worlds together without them feeling like separate films. However, from the very beginning I began placing my designs, animation tests and sketches onto a timeline with sound. I was experimenting with a synthesiser and my own recordings, and I experimented a lot with rewriting different scripts and different perspectives. This was really influential in creating the rhythm, feel and atmosphere of the film, and the contrasting elements began to fit together really interestingly. Then it was just a process of animating large, digital environments and, as they were very rich and layered, the colouring process was very intense.

What does the filmmaker of the future look like?
I think that as our culture becomes increasingly digital, filmmakers will have more responsibility to tell stories and speak truths into society in new and changing ways. It’s an important job but an exciting one! 
 

About the filmmaker

Emily Downe is an animation director predominantly specialising in animated documentary. Her work focuses on research-based topics in science, philosophy and the human story, translating them into compelling experimental and narrative structures. Through frame by frame animation, illustrative visual metaphors are combined together with rich and layered sound design. Her films have screened in competition at multiple international film and animation festivals including Annecy, Encounters, Ann Arbor, Cinanima and LIAF and has won a number of prizes and awards.

She graduated with a MA in Documentary Animation from the Royal College of Art and a BA in Illustration Animation at Kingston University.
 

Part of Life Rewired

A season exploring what it means to be human when technology is changing everything