Animated Activism: How Chimney Showed Greta Thunberg’s TED Talk in a New Light

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Director Sean Eno tells LBB’s Adam Bennett why a charming animation was the right fit for Thunberg’s powerful speech
Animated Activism: How Chimney Showed Greta Thunberg’s TED Talk in a New Light

Are you doing enough to fight the climate crisis? It’s a provocative question, but it’s one that many of us are asking ourselves as the issue becomes more and more prevalent in the news agenda.

What’s important to remember, however, is how the solution lies in collective as opposed to individual action. It’s brilliant, for example, to lower your meat intake- but the bigger picture of the need for systemic change should remain front and centre of the climate movement.

That’s the message that teenage activist Greta Thunberg has been taking around the world, and one she addressed in her TED talk.

It’s a raw, hard-hitting speech that encapsulates a campaigner who has been a catalyst for the unprecedented global climate protest movement. She’s full of righteous fury and determination -but what’s also noticeable is her sense of hope. 

Inspired by that hope, Chimney in collaboration with the TED Ideas Studio created a stripped-back version of the speech accompanied by a minimalist animation that casts the message in a different light.

To discuss the project, as well as the industry’s approach to the climate crisis more generally, LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to director Sean Eno.


LBB> How did this project first come to be?

Sean> TED has a partnership with The Doha Debates, an organization that hosts a series of high-profile debates around the world. Kristin Wheeler, a TED Creative Producer, approached us with a series of films centered around five different "ethics" that TED and Doha Debates were interested in exploring that could be thematically tied into future debates. We took on two of the films: "Accountability" (attached to a debate on water scarcity) and "Trust" (on loss of faith in institutions). 


LBB> What was it that attracted you to this project?

Sean> I've worked with TED before, in partnership with both Westpac Bank and Brightline. I enjoyed those projects as a combination of design and human storytelling, and I was proud of what my teams were able to accomplish, so we were excited to be included in the Doha work. When TED tasked us with telling a story about each ethic in a poetic, abstract way, and to do so in a way that could only be told in film or animation, we knew we had a chance to do something really powerful – if we pushed ourselves. 


LBB> Why was this art style the right choice for the speech?

Sean> Once we learned that we could use Greta Thunberg's TED Talk for the voice of this film, we brought in Matt Carr, Jr., a really gifted illustrator, to design the storyboards. There's a great sense of emotion and energy in his style, but it's still approachable and tactile. We also knew that the subject matter was intense, and we wanted to temper the weight of that story with a little charm in the visuals.

We also knew that we had a lot of ground to cover with two-plus minutes of animation. Given the schedule and our compact crew, we had to build the project in such a way that we could go directly from design frames into AfterEffects animation. Our animation lead, Abigail Kim, took it from there and designed a workflow that made it possible.


LBB> What was the editing process like- was it hard to choose which parts of the speech to include? 

Sean> Greta's original TED Talk is about eleven minutes long, and we needed something around two minutes. So yes, editing Greta's speech presented some challenges. We wanted to keep the spirit of her argument, maintain a coherent story, keep the pace up, and not take anything out of context. We also needed to retain the chronological order of the original – no jumping around. We worked closely with TED, Doha, and got sign off from Greta's family to make sure that we were treating her words with the utmost care.


LBB> Speaking more broadly, what do you make of the approach of the creative industries to the climate crisis? Are you impressed with the quality of work you see, and do you think it's making a difference?

Sean> So many creatives are stepping up, actively responding to climate threats with great work. The first that comes to mind is Trolllbäck + Company's work on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. They created an elegant and intuitive visual system that helps make complicated ideas more approachable for a broad international audience. 

Someone else that comes to mind is Fabian Tejada. I used to work with him at Imaginary Forces in New York. Later he moved to Washington, D.C. and started a studio called De Los Angeles. He made a decision to channel a portion of his considerable talents toward projects that give something back to the world. I mention him because it's not only the creative output that can make a difference. Sometimes it's about leading by example. He's doing that with his career arc.

There are so many ways to make a difference. Each creative person should find what works best for them.


LBB> Do you think the creative industries could be doing more to take and inspire meaningful action?

Sean> Creative industries can do more – but as creative individuals, it can feel overwhelming. Where to begin? For me, the first step is to challenge myself to look outside my usual spheres of design, film, etc. – to learn more broadly. For example, I've been inspired often by Sir Richard Branson. Here's a legendary entrepreneur using his resources, celebrity, and vision to shape a better world. He's a frequent reminder to me that idealism can make a difference at the highest levels of business. I don't think I'll ever become a Richard Branson, but reading people like him opens up new avenues of thought that I try to bring back to my own work. Vaclav Smil is an inspiration from a completely different direction. He's a scientist and policy analyst whose books on energy and environment have helped me appreciate the interconnectedness of systems. Why am I reading this stuff? Because it's crucial for creatives who want to make a difference to follow that curiosity. Get out of the design silo. Look further afield for ideas. Bring those treasures back to your work. Inspire your teams and your audiences alike.


LBB> Any parting thoughts?

Sean> One day, during this project, our team was talking and we had a group realization. All of us had developed healthy guilt about running water faucets too long. We had been affected by our own storyboards! A little thing, but that's when we suspected we were doing something right.

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TED CREATIVE PRODUCER: Kristin Wheeler

DIRECTOR: Sean Eno

VOICE: Greta Thunberg

DESIGNERS: Matt Carr Jr., Abigail Kim, Maria Chou

LEAD ANIMATOR: Abigail Kim

ANIMATORS: Kriti Kaur, Christopher Mennuto

EDITOR: Sean Eno

SOUND DESIGN: Jared Horowitz, EGGMEN

AUDIO: Greta Thunberg's TED Talk provided by TEDxStockholm

Categories: Environment, Corporate, Social and PSAs

Chimney New York, 5 months ago