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New Short: Pregnancy In Stop-Motion

Dan Richards Mar 09, 2021 Scroll to read in 6 minutes
Dan and Emily2

The first time I’d ever seen a stop-motion film documenting pregnancy was in 2011 while I was at Animasyros, an annual animation festival held on the Greek island of Syros. The film was called How to Make a Baby, and it was made by Cassidy Curtis, a Dreamworks animator, and his partner Raquel Coelho. I immediately fell in love with the concept; using the human body where ordinarily you’d use puppets and sets to convey such a personal story really struck me.

Fast-forward to 2020 and making the decision to try for a baby with my partner, Emily, I shared the film with her and said how much I’d love to create our own documented journey. Little did we know then what the rest of that year had in store for us…

We found out Emily was pregnant in May and started talking through possible options for how to tell our story. We knew we wanted to focus on the growing bump, highlighting the changes in shape and size as our little one grew inside. This would mean capturing frames as regularly as possible to allow for continuity.

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We set up our spare room as our makeshift studio – thankfully this room was already kitted out with blackout curtains! We bounced a garden security light off the ceiling, hot glued a tripod to the floor and then set up the camera and computer. That was the technical side of things sorted but then came the more challenging dilemma of how to keep Emily in the same position for each frame. With Emily lying down on the bed, I used masking tape to create an outline for her body which comically looked like a CSI chalk outline! When we first started filming, we were a little concerned about how to keep everything set up when we had guests but, as it transpired, we definitely didn’t need to worry about that. In fact, the only upside of the lockdown restrictions at Christmas was that we didn’t have to move any of our equipment or explain what we were doing to family! The only other person who knew about this project was our studio’s Lead Animator, James, who assisted with setting everything up as well as the animation for the opening scene.

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We decided to capture the frames first thing in the morning as the bump could really change size following a meal, especially in the early days (and Emily always woke up starving!). It was also nice to have something positive to focus on to start the day; some days it was the reason to get up. We’d then go through the ritual of turning the equipment on and checking everything was in position – can you spot the frames where we forgot to check the angle of the door?!

We used a little prop house from online retailer Another Studio – we have lots of their quirky plant animals dotted around our home and when we saw the house mini model, we knew it would be perfect for what we wanted. We decided to use Emily’s belly button as the marker for the house’s position as we figured this would be a consistent point of reference. However, while that seemed like a foolproof plan, baby had other ideas… The shape of the bump could change drastically even within the space of trying to capture one frame. A kick, a stretch – sometimes it would genuinely look as though the baby was doing some form of Mexican wave! And then there were the hiccups. We’ve never known a baby (inside or Earthside) to have as many hiccups as ours.

And so we continued, capturing frames each morning until we started to approach due date and had to decide when to stop without risking baby coming before finishing. Thankfully, we timed it pretty well and the last shot was taken about a week before the birth.

Having documented the majority of the nine months on camera, as per our original plan, it didn’t feel right to put our film out into the world without addressing the impact that coronavirus had on our experience of pregnancy. Being first time parents, you might question that not having previous pregnancies to compare it to might not have been so bad but missing out on the shared experience of seeing your baby at a scan for the first time was really difficult for both of us and having to tell loved ones the news over video calls was definitely not a scenario we’d ever imagined. Emily kept a diary which she wrote in every day throughout 2020 and used this as a reference when writing the script. She originally started the diary with the purpose of one day sharing the pregnancy with our child but it doubled up as charting the course of the pandemic and a unique insight into what will be a year we will never forget.

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Once we’d got the combination of the footage and the script, I shared the news of the film with the studio team, half of whom were working remotely. Then it was handed over to our post team to stitch together. We had discussions about how polished the finished film should be but I really wanted it to retain its authenticity which is evident when you watch with the fluctuations in light and note minor inconsistencies, such as the door angle mentioned previously.

As well as writing the script, Emily did the voiceover for the film. Initially, we recorded this at home on my phone, surrounded by sofa cushions as a makeshift soundbooth. Once we were happy with the edit, Emily came to the studio after hours and recorded it in-house which meant we were able to complete the film.

Now the film is ready to go out into the world, we’re looking forward to sharing it, not only with friends and family but also with a wider audience. What started out as a personal project to document our specific story has now grown into something that other couples will be able to relate to and will allow people to glean an insight into what it’s been like to experience pregnancy during a pandemic.

The last point to make is how much support Emily received from her community midwives, Jackie & Nic, and the maternity team at Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. They would say they were just doing their job but when faced with the stark reality of a pandemic and the challenges this has added to their roles, they really have been amazing. Now more than ever, it makes us so incredibly grateful for the resilience and care shown by our NHS workers.