Based on the song "Inshallah" by STING
FOOTSTEPS ON THE WIND is an animated short-film based on the song “Inshallah” by Sting. The journey of Noor and her little brother Joseph illustrates the stories of over 400,000 unattended child refugees who roam without a home today.
Little Noor and her brother Josef see their lives changed after a catastrophe takes place. Without the option of going back to the way life used to be, and separated from their parents, they drift on a pilgrimage full of obstacles, challenges, and learning, searching for a safe and promising land.
To celebrate UNHCR’s 70th anniversary, UK’s Chasing The Light Studio, led by Maya Sanbar, invited us to co-produce a project which had as its aim portraying the lives of child refugees around the globe.
The project was inspired by the work of photographer Bobby Sager – author of the book Invisible Sun, in which he photographs a number of child refugee groups throughout the world -, as well as on the song Inshallah authored by Sting, which is also the soundtrack for the film.
Sandbar had this project in her hands because of past works related to refugees, and after establishing a connection with Bobby, Sting and the UN. The only thing that was missing was a partner to create the actual film. However, it was 2020 and a pandemic took over. That was when Maya started considering animation as a way of making the film feasible, and promoting the message.
For being a global staff with people from Europe, Middle East, USA and Brazil, we also got invited. And let’s be honest, such an invitation is undeclinable, right? Dirty Work then starts the creative process, beginning with script research until the final result.
Footsteps on the Wind is a movie that was born with a social ethos.
All the parts involved had the aim of not only taking it to film festivals around the world, but also making it into a tool that could be used in classrooms, and which would also help groups of child refugees in therapy sessions on the topic. Therefore, the whole creative process of the movie counted on consulting from psychologists and specialists in the field, to understand what would be the best way to talk about it, and help in treating the trauma these children have experienced.
We wanted a script full of analogies and metaphors. This was the way we found to approach such a serious and traumatic subject; gently entering a ludic juvenile universe with a message of hope and positivity.
Our initial research gave us good insight on how the tragedy of forced separation, fleeing one’s home, culture, homeland, and often from loved ones, is something that happens without a warning. Many times it is caused by political and social phenomena such as wars, internal conflicts, global warming, exploitation, ambition, political and religious persecution, or natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or landslides. That made us think about one of the first known events which translates all of this in a significant and visual way: The fragmentation of what used to be Pangea. In the past, there were no boundaries in the world, there were no marked borderlands, and everything was part of one single place. Then, it started to split itself apart.
That being said, refugees are the image of a huge social problem in the world. They’re oppressed, in need, and underserved. It was from this truthful premise that we started writing our story.
In our story, a natural catastrophe, a force majeure, abruptly pushes the family apart and the only thing that’s left is their home, on a tiny piece of land which we named the Boat Home. In our script the Boat Home represents the family history which each refugee carries, the memories, material and immaterial accumulations which a home represents. Our home will always be our safe haven, a place we seek in victory or defeat, good or bad days. A place which, regardless of class, welcomes and protects all family members.
However, in every refugee’s journey, their belongings, material possessions, beliefs, and culture are relentlessly shattered, making it a lonesome journey plagued by risk on all sides. The Boat Home is a direct analogy to the tiny improvised boats which are often used by refugees trying to escape a conflict zone or their home country, with no security or safeguards.
We’ve come up with a map for the Home Boat to better comprehend its metamorphosis along the plot. How it would be gradually damaged, and how we would position the camera and the characters in the course of the story.
Finally, the Boat Home synthesizes the power of the story that each refugee carries, and regardless of any external factor which might try to destroy it, it resists and propagates in different ways when inhabited and embraced in foreign land, even when there’s only wreckage where there once was a home.
Speaking of refugees is speaking of different cultures, different beliefs and, above all, different paths. In our story, we had to portray refugees from all over the world, who crossed borders through land, sea, forests, depicting their culture, religion, and way of life in a way that made sense without being offensive or historically inaccurate.
Our characters were created to carry these diverse symbols, whether on their skin, their bodies, their clothes or even home decoration. Our story was designed to help child refugees, but also to raise awareness in adults about the cause. A narrative which, on its first layer, talks to an audience made of children about the magical and tragic story of a family, and on another layer, reveals strong and thoughtful metaphors for a grown up audience.
In choosing the camera angles, we made it look as if a child is following the story to help us put ourselves in a refugee’s shoes, participate in the narrative, and feel side by side with Noor and Joseph.
We also included arcs in the story. The scarf story arc – which represents mother and siblings -, the orange tree seed story arc – which represents the roots of the family, their shared experience, the growth of the two along the story, costumes and their details, the octopus which represents human traffickers, and scenery filled with symbols from world history to be used in sessions with children as treasure hunting.
In a short film with no dialogue, one way of exploring and talking about each character’s personality is through their particular clothing style. For the first point – personalities -, based on UCNHR data, we sought the main areas where refugees came from, and delved deep in their features, culture and behavior, which assisted us quite a bit in creating the characters and their personalities.
For the second point – clothing -, as a result of their paths, it is common for refugees to get donations, wearing improvised layers of clothing with different colors and styles. This fact further contributes to their loss of identity. Things like wearing a shoe from one pair on one foot and another one from a different pair on the other, socks of different colors, clothing with unmatching patterns and prints, worked as a way of telling more about cultural differences and putting characters in a unique spot, without references to tribes or specific cultural movements.
From the beginning of the project the idea was to create a style of drawing which would remind us of something that was created manually. So we chose digital painting for the scenery with brushes similar to crayons and colored pencils. For the characters, we chose solid colors for the fill, and drawing lines fraught with imperfections, common to handmade drawings.
Using crayon and pencil drawing lines created a ludic atmosphere as we travel through childhood memories and visions, bringing an emotional connection for adults, besides attracting children who have been through trauma, in a friendly and non-aggressive way.
One of the most important processes in developing art direction was understanding the story arcs in the script to develop scenery and color palettes. Each act (as we call it internally) talks about a kind of escape or action. The initial happy scenery in the beginning, with children playing, the stable life represented by a street in a random town, food on the table and kids playing hide-n-seek, illustrates the comfort of an everyday situation.
With the earthquake, we brought in explosions and smoke, alluding to wars which destroy entire cities. The flood washes away the rubble that was left and separates them from their neighbors, their family, and puts them on a sea journey, facing storms that “wash away” their memories.
The bottom of the ocean represents the children, now alone in their journey. The ludic elements, toys and fanciful creatures translate children’s imagination. The geography is represented by chorals which, now dry, turn into mountains and help illustrate this new planet, a new world previously unknown by the two.
From this we developed a color script, based on the feeling each scene evokes. The sun, the sky, the geography, bursting with visual symbolism, bring the viewer even closer to the mood of this intense journey through the use of light and temperature in the scenes.
To tell our story we needed characters with fluid and realistic movements, exploring a range of expressions and treasuring freedom when it came to camera movement. Traditional animation helped us build a narrative bringing together two important schools in this universe: The fluidity of Japanese animation with the chopped aesthetic of the French school, made us establish a few rules for moments in the film. When we had a scene filled with action, camera movement and emotion, we animated the scene with more frames, more fluidity. In shorter, slow or contemplative actions, we used fewer frames, adding a French charm to it. Our animation process for the water was also developed in traditional 2D. It was a lot of water!
But the most important of it all was being able to create personalities for each character through animation. We created different complexities both during the script phase, as well as in the art phase, and this had to be represented in a unique way by Joseph, Noor, their parents and supporting characters, to the point where the viewer falls in love and cheers for them along the story. Noor as an older sibling caring for her little brother, forced into early maturity, leading the way. Joseph, as a shy, more introspective kid, and his evolution along the journey. Their mother showing strength and determination. Each scene, each acting had to tell through movement a little bit about them.
The song Inshallah, chosen by Sting to be part of this film, is a force of its own. Very dense, almost a begging mantra for a better world, it also helped us see clearly how we would balance our visual narrative.
For having a homogenous musical structure without too many turnarounds, the soundtrack became a sort of basis for our story. It allowed us to play with editing speeds, as well as sound effects with our friends from Input Arte Sonora. Preparing the intro with the original song using the instrument tracks from the song Inshallah added another arc to our story. In the end, with another original song, we portrayed the hope of arriving at welcoming lands, and used multiple voices to create a choral of “Inshallahs”, voiced by people from a number of places in the world, with the most diverse pronunciations. Of course, our team contributed with some of them.
The whole process was recorded to be listened to in Dolby Atmos, a spacial sound work which enhances movie theater experience even more.
Fortunately, in its first year being showcased in film festivals, Footsteps On The Wind has been selected for over 32 festivals, winning 5 awards in different categories, and spreading its message throughout multiple places in the world, besides qualifying for the Oscars.
In the end of the festival cycle, the aim will remain to spread the message through schools and NGOs, in addition to making this material available to psychologists and psychiatrists who work with this community.
Follow the next steps of this beautiful project at @dwrk.it, and help spread this important message.
A film by
Maya Sanbar together with Dirty Work
Gustavo Leal, Faga Melo, Maya Sanbar
Gillian Gordon and Fernanda Zaffari
Sting, Bobby Sager, Sawsan Asfari, Ito Andery, Hwira’ti Gibin
Pedro Paulo de Andrade, Maya Sanbar
Sita Brahmachari, Onjali Q. Raúf
Head of Production
Piatã Esteves, Ricardo Solimeno, Gustavo Leal
Faga Melo, Gustavo Leal
Felms, Piatã Esteves, Vencys Lao, Bruno Guma , Nayan Bicalho, Ana Rocha, Renata
Ana Rocha, Renata Nolasco
Michel Ramalho, Alexandre Leoni, Tiago Calliari, Patrick Dias, Kevin Gnutzmans, Yuri
Campos, Thiago Baggins, Gabriel Alves, Vencys Lao, Piatã Esteves
Ana Rocha, Renata Nolasco, Michel Ramalho, Alexandre Leoni, Tiago Calliari, Patrick
Dias, Kevin Gnutzmans, Thiago Baggins, Gabriel Alvez
Felms, Yuri Campos
Traditional Animation Director
Jefferson Lima, Robson Menezes dos Santos, Lucas Franci, Ivanildo Soares, Victor Bolo,
Rosinaldo Lages, Genoviz Pagani Filho, Leonardo Moore, Gabriel Abreu, Gui Klein, Elias
Rafaela Yamazato, Mauricio Brant, Matheus Manso, Rillian Costa, Juliana Gouvêa,
Stephanie de Oliveira, Junior Soares, Bruna Santana, Isabel Rodriguez,Ali Chehaude
Bark Neto, Brenda Maryan, Carolina Senra, Flavio Sandro Oliveira da Costa, Jefferson
Melo, Jonatas F. S. Souza, Kaleo Mendes, Reinaldo Keintiro Yamada, Renan Kogut,
Vitor Lages, Paula M. Urbinati
Cut Out 2D Animation/Compositing Director
Cut Out Animators/Compositing
Larissa Garcia, Ricardo La Bella, Ricardo Lopes, Christopher Rocha,
Audio Post Production
Input – Audio Sonora
Audio Post Production Coordinator
Mario Di Poi, Maria Silva
Sound Effects and Ambient Editing
Rene Hendrick, Adriana Norat
Sound Re-Recording Mix
“Coming Home” – Gabriel de Goes Gabriel
Courtesy of Inputsom Arte Sonora Ltda
Mom: Mariana Chiuso
Dad: Danilo Chen
Noor: Lara Boldorini
Joseph: Cauã Martins
Contributing Artist Additional Drawings
Selma Dabbagh, Gillian Gordon
Workshop Creative Guides
Sita Brahmachari, Yvette Robinson
Script Development Research