Aardman directors Karni & Saul have come over all whimsical in their latest collaboration with Atlantic Records and British folk rock trio The Staves. Inspired by laser-cut wooden puzzles, ‘Winter Trees’ sees the three Staves sisters transformed into an anthropomorphized tree. The directing duo tell us how they brought their fantastical forest to life.
The weird thing for us about this video is that for a song called ‘Winter Trees’, we wouldn’t normally decide to base the story in a forest with trees. But saying that, when we first heard the song, we wrote ideas down separately just brainstorming it… and we both ended up wanting a forest - we guess it had to be that way, it’s the feeling the song gave us. So beautiful but slightly sad and bare too. Like a forest. Something emotional.
We then bashed out the idea back and forth between us, coming up with slightly hybrid animals escaping something, and an ‘owl lama’ with a man/spirit on its back.
We knew from Emily, Jessica and Camilla, the Staves sisters, that the song was based on a relationship so we wanted to take it wider and further by showing creatures escaping a flood and hanging precariously from tips of trees. It reminded us of the fisherman who sit on tall poles in the sea; it was a very visual scene. We wanted it to feel emotional, while not too twee, and to have a story that was symbolic of a relationship and slightly surreal.
The trees were to be turned into the musicians, hence why there are three trees that represent the three sisters, in a very loose way.
As for the visual treatment, we wanted to base it on 3D laser-cut wood puzzles - which had been an element of research for a while. We made some artwork examples and ref images, and Saul sketched the rabbit squids and the lama owl.
After showing it to Atlantic and the girls, and them loving it, they gave us the green light.
Then it came to figuring out how to make it, together with Aardman’s animation and CG team. Being in one of the best places in the world for animation, we figured it out pretty quickly! It’s hand drawn flash and CG animation, amongst loads of other techniques. None of it is classic stop frame though because we wanted a hand drawn emotional feel with the ease and real-world slant that CG can give – so it was mixed up like usual!
Then it was a matter of animatic - making it look like wood, giving it dramatic lighting and deciding on the shape and style of animation and colours.
The girls were very trusting in us and the vision, so we could just get on with it. It was a tight schedule and budget so working fast and hard was pivotal for the whole team. But everyone was so enthusiastic about the visuals and song that they were willing and super collaborative.
Overall, we are really pleased with the end result and the label and girls are too. It seems to have struck a chord with people, it’s getting quite a bit of attention, maybe because it’s something a little fresh visually that’s still delicate and has an emotional story.