Partizan’s Alex Bernas on tackling issues around pornography with a "happy festival of awkwardness"
Alex Bernas, an animation director at Partizan, was alarmed by the effect that pornography could be having on today’s youth and by the fact that British teenagers are increasingly watching porn because schools aren’t telling them “what to do” in sexual encounters. So he set out to make a film that celebrated the joy and all round goofiness of most real life sex. The end result is ‘Sex Moves’, an animated short that’s totally outragous without being at all explicit. Addison Capper chatted with Alex to find out more about the project.
LBB> What inspired you to make this film? I believe it had something to do with issues around access to pornography today?
Alex> Yeah pretty much! Without being judgemental of anyone’s fetishes, I think we can all agree that the sex depicted in porn is unrealistic. Earlier this year there were bunch of articles talking about contemporary attitudes towards porn: apparently UK teenagers watch porn because “schools don’t teach them what to do
”, which is troubling for a whole host of reasons. This isn’t a new train of thought, but it’s not hard to imagine the effect that porn can have on a developing mind and how it might shape attitudes towards sex.
LBB> It's pretty goofy which I kind of love because sex can be pretty goofy too. Why did you take that approach?
Alex> Exactly! With Sex Moves I wanted to create a different, positive and non-gratuitous method of portraying sex, one as far removed from pornography as possible. We wanted to talk about it without using nudity or titillating the viewer: letting the characters reveal their sexual urges without fear of judgement. As you say, sex can be pretty goofy, and the film is a happy festival of awkwardness.
LBB> The character design is quite something - where did you look to for inspiration for that?
Alex> The whole production took about four weeks, with a majority of the animation being done in two, so I had to create characters who were clearly identifiable as well as quick and easy to animate. I kept the designs as simple as possible: they’re made up of very basic shapes, with uncomplicated details. When I’m in London I’ll usually draw people on the tube as I’m going to work, so I’ve got sketchbooks with pages and pages of anonymous faces. If I’m stuck with a design or looking for something to define a character, I’ll have a look through and see if there’s something I can borrow. So even though the characters look insane, they’re still slightly grounded in reality.
LBB> Do you have a favourite character?
Alex> Oh man, I couldn’t pick a favourite character… though I’m a big fan of The Coffee Lover’s turtleneck.
LBB> From a narrative point of view, how did you go about writing each character's mannerisms (and favoured sexual acts)?
Alex> Their sexual proclivities came from their surroundings: I’d put the character in a setting and then see what they could fool around with. This was the best way of mimicking sex without resorting to anything too overt. Each character has three sex moves of escalating horniness, and it was loads of fun working out how they progress – taking something innocuous, like drinking a coffee and then adding a healthy layer of double entendre.
LBB> What was the animation process like? What were the biggest challenges?
Alex> Yeah, it was tricky. The main challenges were around the performances. As mentioned earlier, I wanted to keep the tone funny and unpornographic, so we had a few rules: the characters had to keep their clothes on, and they couldn’t insert anything into themselves. The audience should clearly understand that the characters are happy to share their experiences with the narrator, so we kept their expressions light and happy when animating. This insured the film didn’t become too unsettling.
LBB> The colour palette is big and bold - why is that?
Alex> The strong colours are uncomplicated, creating a playful atmosphere and (hopefully) making the film very accessible. I looked at a lot of pop art for reference, where bright colours grab your attention immediately. Keith Haring in particular was a big influence, his colour choices and energetic lines make every drawing look like a party. I aped his style a bit, using black linework for the characters and simple fills rather than fussing around with lighting: the images are easy to read and unfussy.
Sex Moves is a celebration, so the colours had to represent that!