Following the incredible line up of films in our Animation Week series, we stumbled across an enchanting super short animated film called ‘Big Bad Wolf’ from an the emerging outfit, SoJo Animation, led by enterprising and out-of-the-box thinking business owner Sophie Johnson-Hill. Clocking in with a duration of exactly 100 seconds, ‘Big Bad Wolf’ tells the story of a little girl trying to decide whether or not to let a wolf at her door, into her house. It is an allegorical tale of how the things that we are used to regarding as bad, are not necessarily always so.
Featuring the voice talents of four-year old Amahrya Dawn Beechey (who plays both the little girl and the titular big bad wolf), this short film succeeds in taking the shortest possible time to give you the longest possible smile. Sophie may argue that this is due to the way that the film was conceived, which speaks to the root ethos of SoJo Animation itself. As Sophie explains “Children are less rule-bound than adults. Their thoughts, stories and discussions aren't linear. The paths of thought don't have to feel logical. Like a dream, they can jump from one thing to another without warning or explanation.”
SoJo Animation is the result of Sophie putting her passion for encouraging the freethinking spirit of children into a medium that allows adults to relate to a child’s reasoning and train of thought. This has taken the form of the ongoing series ‘Thunk of the Day’ in which Sophie records conversations that she has with young children while they draw the subject of that conversation. Sophie then animates the pictures that the children have created and uses their recorded conversation as the dialogue. “Animation is a gorgeous way to reflect the thoughts of a child because there are no restrictions, anything is possible” says Sophie. “Not only that, I can use the actual voice of a child and their own artwork. I originally aimed for my animations to contain as little of me and as much of the child as possible, but there are infinite choices in terms of bringing artwork to life that meant it would be wrong to deny my existence within each piece. It is the place where I as the animator meet the child as the creator and something brilliant can happen.”
It was during such a session, that Sophie became taken with the irrepressible creativity of Amahrya, as her musings on wolves and how some of them are good, progressed into a full-blown narrative. It was at this point that Amahrya’s potential ‘Thunk of the Day’ unexpectedly evolved into its own tiny movie. “Amahrya's mother had spotted some of my early 'Thunk of the Day' animations online and had commissioned a special Thunk as a keepsake. Amahrya and her mum came round for a play session where the plan was for me and Amahrya to play and chat and doodle and chat some more until Amahrya says something brilliant for a 'Thunk of the Day' and that would be that” Sophie recalls. “Amahrya and I began to play with a doll's house, and the play developed into a kind of a game. We would take it in turns to knock on the door or answer the door, using little models of people or dogs or soldiers or whatever we happened to pick up. At some stage in the play, Amahrya knocked on the door and I responded in the same way my mother used to respond to my son when he was very little whenever he knocked on the bathroom door in the morning. She would say, "Who is it?" and he would respond, "It's me." And she would ask, "Are you the Big Bad Wolf?" and my son, would howl with laughter while desperately trying to persuade his grandma that he wasn't the Big Bad Wolf. So here I am, spontaneously bringing my influences to the play, and Amahrya responds initially in the same way as my little boy had. She was not the Big Bad Wolf.” Sophie continues to recall, “She said something along the lines of "Now you be the big bad wolf and knock on the door." And so I became the big bad wolf. Now I have a habit of trying to take the fear out of everything where children are concerned, and when I was the Big Bad Wolf I felt a pull to be a nice, kind, gentle, vegetarian wolf and eventually Amahrya's character allowed me into the doll's house. We then switched roles again but this time Amahrya really embraced the role of the Big Bad Wolf, and she ended this episode by tricking my character and eating it all up! It was a brilliant moment! I would never have moved the story in this direction, not in a million years! I think I laughed until I cried. And so this was a meeting of both me and Amahrya, plus all of our influences and this is how it differs so greatly from a normal Thunk. The short answer is... it was a happy mistake.”
The evolution of ‘Big Bad Wolf’ serves as an example of what drives Sophie’s work and why she decided to focus on animation. As a mother of two and a long history of interaction with children through organising numerous child-centric events and activities, Sophie has always been fascinated by the ability of children to explore concepts and find unique ways to express the way that they see the world, unfettered by the spectrum of rules and restrictions that we place upon ourselves on the shorter-than-expected walk to adulthood. In particular, Sophie has been enamoured by the freedom from the fear of failure that children wield, a freedom that escapes many of us as adults, often to our crippling detriment. In embracing the worldview that so many of us leave behind, only fleetingly returning to it when we have children of our own, Sophie has already amassed a body of work that is, while facilitated by adult skillsets, entirely child-driven.
Developing elaborate animation from children’s artwork has led to SoJo Animation becoming known for a unique and creative style that has led to their talents being hired by companies looking for inspired and inventive ways to promote their products and services. Whether through serendipity or incredible foresight, Sophie has been able to tap into a practical and commercial outlet for her work, simply by staying focused on her passion both for the art form and the child-dominated ingenuity that serves the art form so well.
Sophie goes on to reflect that, “It's wonderful to engage with a child and allow yourself to truly follow their line of thought, especially if you can resist the urge to pull the conversation in any particular direction, because you often find yourself in the most awesome and unexpected imaginary places. Places you'd have never reached if everything had to make sense.” ‘Big Bad Wolf’ represents the first foray into narrative-based filmmaking for SoJo Animation, and while they have more than enough ongoing projects on their roster, we may well have seen the start of a new direction for this company. After seeing what Sophie can do in just 100 seconds of storytelling, we remain very excited to see what SoJo Animation will go on to add to the short film landscape.
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