Samuel de Ceccatty has been in love with animation “from Miyazaki to Dan Harmon” ever since he can remember - that’s why, when the pandemic hit, he knew it was finally time to not only dip his toes but jump headfirst into making his debut animation. The making-of included, in his own words, “just [him] drawing in [his] living room at night over two years.” What was born out of this hard work was LILITH & EVE, a short comedy animation and a feminist reimagining of the Adam and Eve story, with one crucial twist.
In the animation, Lilith - Adam’s first wife, made as his equal by God - bumps into Eve and shows her what running away from life in the Garden of Eden led to, and how she should probably do the same. Portraying Adam as a “lazy shit” and showing Eve what she has been missing, the animation takes a new feminised look on the Bible’s opening pages, while keeping the comedy light and the animation immaculate.
Making the animation completely solo, from background art to editing, Samuel knew that there was something bigger behind pursuing this project. Parents to two daughters, he and his partner Manon Ardisson - who also produced the project - were set on writing LILITH & EVE together in a bid to help level out the scales when it comes to feminist discourse. They also both knew that it was important to “put together a team of strong women to tell this story,” and worked with casting director Katy Covell, sound designer Louise Burton, composer Camilla Uboldi and lyricist Ashleigh Brown. Besides this, the star-studded cast of the short included Aime Lou Wood, Susan Wokoma, Conor Kennedy and Jake Graf.
LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Samuel to find out more about the character design process, the meaning and importance of telling Lilith’s story and why comedy was the best medium to do so.
LBB> Tell me more about the idea behind the film, how it started, how it developed and the initial conversations around it.
Samuel> When Manon and I were expecting our first daughter, we started looking at baby names and came across Lilith's story; created as Adam's first wife and equal, she refused to submit to him and was banned from Eden, becoming a 'demon'. We immediately fell in love with Lilith, so much so that we named our daughter after her. Then we just had to tell her story the way we saw it: the story of a biblically badass woman who took her destiny into her own hands.
LBB> How did the team work together and what was the vibe like on set? Were there any memorable moments?
Samuel> The vast majority of the production was just me drawing in my living room at night over two years. But being an introvert, I really enjoyed it! I invested in a Cintiq tablet which my daughter calls ‘daddy TV’.
The studio part of the production was only a few hours long, but working with Aimee Lou Wood (Eve), Susan Wokoma (Lilith), Conor Kennedy (Adam), and Jake Graf (Archangel Sam) was loads of fun. I remember asking Susan if she could make the sound of someone jumping on the back of an archangel, and her looking back at me with big round eyes before saying, ‘Right, so just your regular plain old jumping-on-archangel sound? Yep, no problem.’
LBB> This is your debut animation! What was it like to work on it and what were the biggest learnings from it? Why did you think now is the time for your first animation?
Samuel> I've loved animation since I was little, all forms of it from Miyazaki to Dan Harmon, but the amount of work required to make one was always daunting to me. When the pandemic hit, I realised I was going to be stuck indoors anyway and jumped on the opportunity to finally take the time I needed to learn the skills I've always wanted to have.
The thing about making a solo animation is that you don't just do one job, you do a thousand different jobs: background art, character design, layout, compositing, editing... the list goes on. That being said, I'm really glad I did it because now I can better appreciate all the incredible work that goes into the films and shows I love.
LBB> Tell me more about the experience of directing and writing a feminist adult comedy as a man in the industry - was there a lot of pressure and how did you deal with it?
Samuel> There wasn't any pressure - I've always been a feminist, but now that I have two daughters, reading things like 'woman are man's suitable helper' definitely feels... inadequate, to put it mildly. It made me want to do something about it in my own small way. When Manon and I set out to write LILITH & EVE, we wanted to create a show we ourselves could enjoy at the end of a long day, but also a show we'd proudly show our daughters (eventually), so they can have Lilith as an alternative origin story. Manon and I also felt it was important to put together a team of strong women to tell this story with us, and worked with casting director Katy Covell, sound designer Louise Burton, composer Camilla Uboldi and lyricist Ashleigh Brown.
LBB> Mixing politics with humour is a classic, but proves difficult and sometimes even fatal - how did you strike the balance and what were you on the lookout for?
Samuel> Comedy really does lend itself to saying something that people don't always want to hear, or cannot see, because laughter brings people together. Manon and I wrote the show for the audience to understand the point we were making without having to hammer them on the head with it, and for us, that balance comes from crafting well-rounded characters, whether we personally agree with them or not. Eve believes what she was told to believe, and who could fault her for that? Adam is a lazy lying shit, but to some extent, we've all been that at times. And while Lilith is a role model for us personally, her character wants to be free of all responsibilities and cares, but there are limits to that attitude as well. Of course, there is no denying Manon and I enjoy giving a good kick in the nuts to organised religion and patriarchy, but we wanted to make that kick a really enjoyable watch!
LBB> Tell me more about the style of the animation, why you chose it and how it complements the storyline.
Samuel> Our love for adult comedy animation is part of the reason we wanted to make this short. There are so few shows in this genre, yet it's what we love watching the most. It's a very specific type of fast-paced irreverent humour, which lends itself perfectly to whimsical characters, zany creatures, and absurd fantastical stories... which is exactly how Manon and I pictured Lilith and Eve.
LBB> The characters were clearly developed with the help of pre-existing Bible characters, but what was it like to reimagine them as they are in Lilith & Eve? How did the casting for them go?
Samuel> It was so much fun! I tried to make the character design match the characters' personalities, and mix that with what the actors look like in real life, so the voices wouldn't be jarring. Adam is essentially Conor Kennedy's face with my hair and non-threatening dad-bod, with an extra little willie sticking out of his leaf for comic relief. Eve has Aimee Lou Wood's smile and starts off looking like the perfect woman Adam expects her to be, but the more knowledge Eve gets, the further away she gets from that mask of perfection. For Lilith, I wanted her to feel confident and sexy by her own standards, and she definitely doesn't care what you think of her thick bush and hairy legs. In addition to this, Manon and I wanted Lilith and Adam to feel like they were cut from the same cloth since they are supposedly created together as equals, so their design and skin tone are much more similar than Eve's. For the archangel, I decided to use the original description of him as found in the old testament, but then settle for five eyes instead of a hundred and one head instead of three (because what a nightmare to animate!). And finally, the Snake, I wanted to make sure he looked endearing, so I gave him fluffy hair, because why not.
For the casting, we were basically just really lucky! Our casting director Katy Covell and her associate Ollie Gilbert did a fantastic job. We were really excited that such established actresses as Aimee and Susan responded so well to the material, they were our first choices for these roles and I still can't imagine anyone else voicing our Lilith and Eve. Conor Kennedy is our best friend and a talented actor. We always wanted to work on something together, and it also made sense that the 'name' cast would only be the female leads on this project. Finally, for archangel Sam, we were keen to work with a trans or non-binary actor, partly because that works in the bible's descriptions of angels, and partly because of Manon's own queer identity and body of work. She reached out to Jake Graf who immediately accepted as well. As I said, we were just very lucky.
LBB> And what was it like to be part of the Tribeca Film Festival?
Samuel> It was exhilarating. We were part of a programme curated by Whoopi Goldberg, and hearing her say she really liked the film felt like winning an award of its own. The program was extremely strong and it was an absolute honour to be counted among them. Walking down the red carpet with Manon, Conor, Susan and Whoopi was a bucket-list moment, and a memory I won't soon forget.
LBB> Are there any Easter eggs hidden in the film that we should be on the lookout for?
Samuel> One of the things I had fun with was researching all the bizarre creatures actually featured in the bible, and gave a few of them cameos throughout the short: the flying uni-goat, the dragon, the unicorns, the cockatrix (part-bat, part-chicken, part-snake). I even had fun giving them nicknames and backstories on my Instagram.
LBB> Any final thoughts?
Samuel> The story of Adam and Eve isn't specific to any one religion but rather common to all Abrahamic religions, and as such, we think of it as more of a cultural building block in our civilization. Our goal has never been to upset anyone, but only to try and take ownership of our own respective Christian and Jewish cultures in a way that makes sense to us and, in the future, to our daughters.