the STUDIO Partners With Spoken Word Duo Kinetic Affect To Craft Provocative Animated Short For W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Award-Winning Creative Studio Visualizes Poem “A Simple Question,” Addressing Racial Injustice In America And The Black Lives Matter Movement
NEW YORK, NY – It’s a simple question, posed in earnest by a young student to his teacher: Do Black lives matter? What should be a simple question is anything but at this moment in our culturally divided America. A powerfully visualized animated short by the creative design house the STUDIO, based on a poem by spoken word duo Kinetic Affect, aims to unpack that question in all of its complexities. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) commissioned the piece in support of their mission that all children, families and communities, regardless of race or income, should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
The 6-minute animated short can be seen on websites for WKKF and Kinect Affect, as well as their respective social media feeds. The piece will also play an integral role in Kinetic Affect’s live speaking events.
the STUDIO Founder and Chief Creative Officer Mary Nittolo explains that the nationally-renowned keynote speakers and spoken word artists, Kinetic Affect (comprised of Gabriel Giron, a survivor of cancer and former US Army soldier; and Kirk Latimer, a survivor of his own destructive past, and former high school English teacher), came to the STUDIO looking for a fresh visual approach to translate their soul-searching poem entitled “A Simple Question.”
“The poem was essentially our creative brief,” Nittolo says. “Twelve through 20-year-olds are our key target for this and they’re generally not an easy audience to reach. We went with an aesthetic that blends a graphic novel style with that of Latin American political art, which favors rough textures, vibrant colors and closely resembles the immediacy of graffiti art.”
Adds Kinetic Affect’s Giron, “We knew we wanted it to be animated and when we talked with the STUDIO we came away feeling that the company and its mission were aligned with ours. As artists we know not to get in another artist’s way. Honestly, when they presented their initial concept we got choked up.”
Far From A Simple Question
“A Simple Question” opens inside a brightly lit classroom as a white teacher and his multi-cultural students begin their day. The voiceover acts as the interior monologue of the teacher as he describes how “when a student raised his hand in class, I expected him to ask one of those difficult questions I could answer by quoting someone else…what I wasn’t expecting was a question that made me look inside myself.”
“Do black lives matter?” is the "simple question" the student asks, but the teacher’s search for an honest answer, like the film itself, is more complex. As the teacher internally ponders the question, the student poses yet another more searing question about our country’s military and its treatment of veterans. The questions are answered by the teacher’s monologue that segues across thoughts on slavery, the Black Lives Matter movement and the news media’s overall portrayal of Blacks, all of which are visually realized in ways that are both pointed and nuanced.
Coming up with the complex visuals to support the words, and crafting impactful ways to transition from scene to scene to keep viewers engaged throughout fell on the shoulders of the STUDIO Designer/Director and Director of “A Simple Question,” John Holmes.
Some of the more intriguing transitions he came up with include one in which red, white and blue paint is thrown onto the chest of a Black man with the words “Black Lives Matter” written across him that drips off his body and forms into red, white and blue ropes tied around the hands of another Black man lying on the ground while a police officer hovers over him. Another equally effective sequence moves smoothly yet dramatically from a protest march to a row of tombstones to a dead soldiers boot to a Black man with his arms raised in surrender and finally to that same man picking cotton on a southern plantation.
“The graphic novel style was one technique that we thought would work well for this because it lent itself to the gritty feel the piece demanded,” Holmes said. “We also used color as a hook – the saturated palette grabs the attention. We wanted to push the shadows and the backlighting to create these visually symbolic silhouettes.”
Holmes, along with 3D Lead Animator Eric Kilanski, used Maya for the 3D animation, as well as Adobe’s Photoshop and After Effects.
For Kinetic Affect’s Latimer, one of the keys to this piece working dramatically was structuring the narrative so it was not saying outright this is wrong and here’s why, but rather engaging in a back and forth conversation about these racial issues.
“We wanted to try and turn people’s immediate judgments and assumptions into something more like curiosity, which offers an opportunity to open the door to dialogue where it might not otherwise be open,” Latimer says. “That’s why we set this in a classroom and put the question into the mouth of a child.”
An Artist’s Responsibility
“A Simple Question” CONTINUES THE STUDIO'S LONG-LASTING COMMITMENT TO SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS PROJECTS
Over the past few years the company has worked on numerous philanthropic efforts, including a series of videos for amfAR for World AIDS Day; a 2 minute spot for MPOWERD, manufactures of LUCI, the inflatable solar power lantern for energy-impoverished areas; and the animated short “Scarlett” for the Scarlett Contra El Cancer Center that has been viewed more than 10 million times. They have also worked on recent projects for World Refugee Day, CATW, (Coalition against Human Trafficking), ADCOLOR and Material for the ARTS.
“It is our privilege as artists to not just to use our skills to entertain but also to inform and teach, something that seems particularly relevant now,” Nittolo says. “The conversation this piece attempts to start is an important one. There are a lot of people today seemingly unable to come to terms with changes in this country, their perceived waning influence and the dangerous effects their assumptions of privilege have on society as a whole. This film represents the internal struggle of one white male trying very hard to come to an honest and heartfelt answer. Hopefully this will lead to others asking and answering questions, but above all engaging in dialogue.”
Client: W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Written and Performed: Kinetic Affect
Production/Animation/Design: the STUDIO, New York
Director: John Holmes
Chief Creative Officer: Mary Nittolo
Lead Animator: Eric Kilanski
Producer: Eric Schutzbank
Composer/Producer/Mixer: Nick Lobel
String Arrangement/Additional Prod/Cello: Jordan Hamilton