Award-winning illustrator Chris Haughton is the creator of Confluence, a new short film drawing together our three Trans.MISSION II stories by Erika Stockholm (Peru), Juan Cardenas (Colombia) and Patrice Lawrence (UK). This film is part of Hay Festival Trans.MISSION, a project with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, a part of UK Research and Innovation) pairing leading researchers with award-winning artists to communicate the latest climate science. Here he shares his thoughts on our Trans.MISSION II project after creating a final film that draws our three stories from Peru, Colombia and the UK together...
What was the process like developing your animation and how long did it all take?
It took about three months from start to finish. I received the three texts and films as they came through, they started coming in in December.To be honest when I started getting the texts I got a bit worried. They were long, so to reduce any of them down to thirty seconds was going to be quite a challenge. And they were all quite different from each other. I thought that rather than remaking these fictional stories in animation I thought I would also look into some of the science research myself. I figured it would be more useful to have a little stand-alone animation that communicates some of the science. I did my best to try to capture some of the tone of the text in some cases.
What have you learnt from the Trans.MISSION II collaboration?
It was fascinating hearing from the scientists, I did a zoom call with Naomi and Ted and the other scientists from Bioresilience in Colombia and their work sounds so fascinating. They were telling me all about how knowledge of local indigenous communities are not always valued and they need to be consulted and listened to if the forest is to be conserved long term. There were so many fascinating threads we could have told but alas we only had less than a minute!!
I also always find it very interesting to work with animators. Animators have to boil down visuals into very simple nuggets of communication. I'm an illustrator and so I am more used to dealing with illustrations. With a printed illustration you can make it quite detailed and slightly abstracted because the viewer can take their time to look at it. With animation it has to be much more functional. There is a huge amount of craft. You often have less than a second to convey to the viewer what something is what is happening. Like a lot of things it seems easy until you have a go!
What’s been the biggest surprise?
I spent ages working on a cross-section of a Mountain and a glacier for the Peru segment which ended up getting cut out in the end. I thought it was going to be brilliant. I spent days on it. It turned out my masterpiece was impossible to read in the split seconds that were needed to tell the story. It was also very surprising hearing some of the stories from the scientists. The UK dry project team were telling me about the 1976 drought that caused a potato shortage in the UK and the subsequent effects of that. Potatoes became very expensive and some potato farmers became overnight millionaires! Apparently many of them bought villas in Spain. In the end the entire country slowly changed its diet because of the shortage. Fascinating. I had no idea.
What’s been the biggest challenge to overcome?
Where to start! I find it difficult communicating with so many people. I am a simple solitary illustrator who is usually hidden away drawing pictures on my own. With this project I was speaking to the voice over artist, the sound designer and the animator (there were actually three of them) and then also with THREE separate groups of scientists, and then Andy and Adrian from Hay and Hannah from NERC. All the time I was trying to make sure all the bits are communicated back and forth. And then I have to switch between doing my artwork and writing which i need to have concentration for. Managing the emails and calls for this one was the most challenging.
What do you hope people will take away from seeing your piece?
For the Peru one I hope people will think to themselves ‘oh no! I didn’t think a melting glacier would cause a whole valley to become polluted’ I was shocked at how much devastation was caused by a shrinking glacier. There are so many unpredictable ways climate change is impacting the world. That is the gauntlet we are running. For the colombia one I found it fascinating that a record of fires and species could be found in lake beds. And the mind bogglingly complex webs of interaction. I hope people find the stories interesting enough to make them think about these things in a slightly different way. And ultimately I hope they come away with an appreciation of science and the efforts going into broadening our understanding.
What can storytelling and art tell us that science can't?
I think it is science that tells us an awful lot more than art and stories can. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of us find it too difficult to comprehend! I like the Picasso quote: "Art is the lie that reveals the truth.” We humans react to stories and art in more powerful ways than we react to statistics and facts. We shouldn’t. And we dont think that we do. But we do. Art and stories are the ways we make the world relatable.
Chris Haughton is an Irish author/illustrator based in London. He was listed in Time magazine's 'DESIGN 100' for the work he has been doing for fair trade clothing company People Tree. He has written and illustrated four books A BIT LOST, OH NO GEORGE!, SHH! WE HAVE A PLAN and GOODNIGHT EVERYONE. His iOS app, HATMONKEY came out in 2014 and virtual reality experience LITTLE EARTH launched in August 2017. Chris has also created a social business, madebynode.com to connect design and fair trade and make rugs and toys.