The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film using LucidLink for remote creative collaboration
The 2023 Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film is the Apple Original Film The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Based on the beloved bestseller by Charlie Mackesy, the film is produced by Matthew Freud, Academy Award nominee Cara Speller (Pear Cider and Cigarettes) of NoneMore Productions, and J.J. Abrams and Hannah Minghella of Bad Robot Productions. Directed by Peter Baynton (The Tiger Who Came to Tea) and Mackesy, the film is executive produced by Jony Ive and Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).
Remarkably, this is the first-ever production of NoneMore, a company set up expressly to bring this story to the screen. The animation was developed remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 120 people from over 20 countries in production, for over 16 months.
The story follows the unlikely friendship of a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse traveling together in the boy’s search for a home. It features Mackesy’s distinctive illustrations brought to life in full color with beautiful hand-drawn animation and stars Tom Hollander as The Mole, Idris Elba as The Fox, Gabriel Byrne as The Horse, and newcomer Jude Coward Nicoll as The Boy.
Since the production began under lockdown in 2021 with key artists and executives located on several continents, it was imperative to find a way to work remotely.
The core production team at NoneMore began investigating whether they could do so using virtual machines hosted in the Cloud. It quickly became apparent that this route would be prohibitively expensive.
The cheapest quote they could obtain from a major cloud vendor licensing virtual seats of a leading NLE was £1500 ($1800) per month.
“Even working with just a skeleton team of lead editor, senior compositors, and senior artists, this would have bankrupted the production very quickly,” says Ben Wood, Animation Senior Support Specialist at NoneMore Productions.
Cost was a major issue, but there was a secondary problem too. All production assets were spread across disparate file exchange services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and SharePoint.
Wood explains, “It was very confusing with all the data scattered across lots of different services with different subscriptions. We had dozens of users working on their own machines in different countries, in different time zones, and we needed to crack on with the job quickly.
“We wanted to find a backbone technology fit for our budget and one that would help us condense all the data into one place under one subscription in a simple design. It was a tall ask.”
In the search for alternative solutions, Mark Ervin, Director of IT at Freuds, and the project’s technical consultants, Jigsaw24 Media, both recommended LucidLink.
After seeing the power and simplicity of LucidLink in a test demo, NoneMore quickly arranged to roll the platform out to 30 users, then 60, and then the entire 120+ remote geo-located production team.
“A major part of going with LucidLink was that it just made sense. The technology allowed seamless collaboration with any number of people with an instant connection and rapid upload and download to solve our big problem.”
During this process, a big plus for NoneMore was the ease of onboarding remote production staff to LucidLink. The production team for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse included a range of talent from industry veterans and tech-savvy artists to industry newcomers and non-technical personnel.
“Everyone had the same response to using LucidLink,” admits Wood. “It worked from the get-go and was accepted and understood across the board.”
Wood was responsible for onboarding and managing the team as it grew. He created a simple document explaining how to download and install the LucidLink app and a guide to its uncomplicated file structure.
“The procedure was extremely straightforward. Navigating files was intuitive to anybody, regardless of their experience. The software is very easy to use from a technical support and admin standpoint. I didn’t have a single complaint – which is rare when installing such an integral piece of the production pipeline.”
Even the biggest productions at the largest global facilities can suffer technical glitches resulting in data loss. Failed RAID drives, servers running out of warranty, and aircon shutdown in data centers are daily hazards. Problems are particularly acute where data is not housed in the Cloud and necessitates an army of staff to keep operations running.
NoneMore experienced none of this with their LucidLink Storage Collaboration platform.
“LucidLink blows all that away. Backups were automatic and guaranteed. Snapshots enabled us to know where all our data was at any time. We didn’t lose a single piece of data with LucidLink. We’re a smaller company, and we didn’t have a server room. With LucidLink, you don’t have to worry about loss of files or the failure to backup anymore.”
Since the illustrated book had a loose and unfinished quality of styling, Baynton and his animation team wanted to match this by using pencil ink for the characters, which had an intricate detailing and watercolor-inspired texture in the background.
The acclaimed film is hailed as a “deep and stunning work of art” (Collider), “translating the exquisite illustrations into hand-drawn animation” (IndieWire), while telling a poignant “tale of love and hope” that is “half an hour of unmitigated joy” (The Independent). The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse was also honored with a BAFTA Film Award win, four Annie Awards, including Best Special Production, and an NAACP Image Awards nomination for Outstanding Short Form (Animated) film.
“It’s one thing to get all these talented artists in one virtual room and quite another to get them all working cohesively and effectively together,” says Wood.
“If they’re not working with the right tools, they might go over the deadline or drop out of the production altogether. Especially with the pressures of Covid on our backs and everyone wondering where their next paycheck was going to come from, our confidence in LucidLink was a major factor in taking massive pressure off of the company.”
“From an IT perspective, I didn’t have to worry about server failure or whether the backups are in place. With LucidLink, all that worry is removed. All I need to concern myself with is ‘Are my users able to install and run the application correctly?’”
What LucidLink delivered for NoneMore:
One of the reasons for the book and the film’s cross-generational international appeal is that it has shown that it’s never too late to spread more compassion, empathy, and kindness in our daily lives. It’s a theme that particularly connected with audiences forced to be apart from loved ones during the pandemic.
Jamie Erlicht, Apple’s head of Worldwide Video, said: “Bringing Charlie’s visually stunning world to such vibrant animated life, this short reinforces the strength that can be found in our common humanity and we toast the entire creative team on this uplifting cinematic achievement.”
Having a platform that allows people all over the world to connect seamlessly contributed to the collective vibe of the film.
Wood adds, “When you are deep in your work, and you need to do ‘X’ number of shots to deadline, and you are working remotely, you need to feel everyone pulling together as part of a team. When you are also making such a heartfelt, loving film and you need to get that emotion into your character and your art, you don’t want to be distracted by clunky, outdated technology. Artists want to be immersed in their work. They want a seamless experience in which the technology disappears. That is what we enjoyed with LucidLink.”
“It really is like a brand new way of working.”
The film premiered in the United Kingdom on the BBC on 24 December 2022 and in other countries on Christmas Day on Apple TV+.
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