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Promoting tolerance through animation | Fleur Sciortino

At a time when cartoonists are under attack, a new initiative by SOS Malta seeks to promote tolerance of diversity through a series of animated cartoons which put a contemporary spin on classic fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and The Emperor’s New Clothes. We speak to animation artist Fleur Sciortino about her work on ‘And They Lived Happily Ever After’, which, having been given the President’s blessing, will be screened both on local television and online. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
13 January 2015, 8:30am
Fleur Sciortino:
Fleur Sciortino:
The cartoons aim to raise awareness on issues such as homophobia among young children
The cartoons aim to raise awareness on issues such as homophobia among young children
The cartoons aim to raise awareness on issues such as homophobia among young children
The cartoons aim to raise awareness on issues such as homophobia among young children
How did you get the chance to work on this particular animated feature?

There was a call for designers/animators needed for a cartoon series in a newspaper – I didn’t come across it myself and I wasn't looking for work at that time, but my mother came across it by chance and passed it along to me. By that point I wasn’t sure what the project would entail but I saw this as a chance to work on what would be the first cartoon series to be produced in Malta and it wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to miss.

I sent in my portfolio featuring character design and background work and I met up with the producer for an interview, Ruth Frendo, where she explained the nature for the project and I was sold on the idea. Their director was really impressed with my backgrounds and art style and liked that I got the job. This back in December 2013.

What was the process like?

This project was the first time for everyone on the crew working on animated TV series, so a lot of it was trial and error and we had to figure out things along the way. In the beginning the process was a little slow, we all worked from home whenever we had some free time (which wasn’t much since this was during my last year of degree) and would meet up every week or two to discuss our progress, what needs to be fixed and what to work on next. About three months into work our producers managed to get a spot at Annecy International Animation Festival [in France] and showcase our work.

By that point we had all the designs done and about two minutes of completed animation – it was really exciting and we got good feedback in both regards to what needed to be improved and what was already at a good standard. I was really excited when the backgrounds I drew received praise from industry professionals, including the head of Aardman animation [known for the likes of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit]. This gave me a big boost and inspired me to work even harder.

When summer came the pace really picked up and we were moving along faster and quality of work was improving to – at the start I would almost manage to finish a background in a day, by summer I was completing four in a day. Our team also expanded to include two more artists, Daniel Mercieca – assisting me with backgrounds and designs, and Jake Vella working on animation. During summer we had a deadline set – we needed to have two episodes done by December in order to launch them at the President’s palace at an event the president was holding. I’m pleased to say we finished in good time, with no need for crazy all-nighters.

Could you tell us a bit about the content of the cartoons, and what you found intriguing about it?

The series will take traditional, well-known fairytales and give them an interesting spin to include a message that promoted acceptance and broke down stereotypes. I found the idea really charming and also thought it was timely to create a cartoon series about fairytales, what with their being an increased interest in both TV and cinema in remaking classic fairytales. I was especially drawn to the first episode we made – Sleeping Beauty, where the ideas where to inverse the roles of the prince/princess. It’s a simple idea but it was a fun one, and I was looking forward to getting the chance to design a female knight. She remains as one of my favorite characters I designed so far.

What kind of educational value can be gleaned from the cartoons?

The TV series is aimed for young kids, aged between six and eight, and most cartoons for that age group don’t tend to push the envelope and challenge social issues. Through working on this animated series we also learnt how strict censorship is when it comes to kids’ programming, especially when it comes to dealing with issues of homophobia. We’re trying to make children aware of these issues from a younger age as I believe it’s better to encourage open-mindedness as early as possible.

Which aspects of your formal artistic training led to you working in animation?

I studied as a graphic designer, but my interest has always been more on the side of character design/illustration. Luckily my course accommodated my interest and I got the chance to build up my portfolio on these lines, so now I have a diverse skill set in both illustration and in graphic design, both of which came in handy when working on the animation. I also had a few assignments related to animation and making a video game and these taught me how to prepare assets in the correct format ready for animation.

What’s next for you?

In terms of animation I still have one more episode left to do for ‘And They Lived Happily Ever After’ after which I can’t say for sure what will happen next. A lot of this depends on funding or finding a station to pick the series, but we also have other plans and ideas for new animated projects so even if one project doesn’t work out, we’ll move on. There’s still also my own personal projects that I’m always working on, including more comics and a video game I’m developing, for which we’ve recently released a demo for. And now that I’ve got a taste for animation and learnt a lot about the process I may want to do an animation project in the future too.

For more on Fleur Sciortino’s work, log on to http://fleurdraws.tumblr.com/

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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