Burrell Durrant Hifle – The Somme in Seven Poems

November 14, 2014
by Tim Rabjohns

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/110380812 w=573&h=322]

Bristol-based studio Burrell Durrant Hifle have animated seven poems for a feature length documentary film called War of Words – Soldier-Poets of the Somme, about writers such as J.R.R Tolkien, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves who fought and wrote from the same battlefield.

The Somme In Seven Poems is currently available in full, exclusively to BBC iPlayer.

We caught up with BDH‘s Creative Director John Durrant to talk about the project in more detail.
The-Kiss
“In an unusual step, we invited the War of Words production team into BDH’s edit suites and to work alongside our animation team” John tells us.  “This made for a beautiful free-flow of ideas from editor, director, graphic designers and animators.”

Especially with content so upsetting and grim at times, there is a danger that you could be heavy handed with the subject matter. This is something that the BDH team was conscious of throughout the project and they were careful to keep the raw language of the poems central to the storytelling.  “Because the editorial and animation teams worked so closely we discussed getting the right balance between being literal or being more suggestive. We were determined not to distract the audience from listening to the words.  The poems are narrated by actors who are the same age as the war poets were at the time they wrote the pieces.  The 2D paper style was inspired by the poets notebooks, using simple models in Maya and After Effects to add depth.”
Louse-Hunters
Each of the seven sequences are slightly different to reflect the individual poem and author but there is a mythical storytelling quality, particularly in the extracts from ‘In Parenthesis’ by David Jones that describes the battle for Mametz Wood.  John says “our senior animator Paul Greer captured this amazingly modernist book perfectly, there’s a stunning moment when the Queen of the Woods adorns soldiers with floral wreaths and morphs into a screaming skull!”

An interesting addition to the program’s page on the BBC site is the ability to download the BBC’s first virtual reality (VR) Android app from the Google Play store.  This content can then be viewed using Google Cardboard. John explains how this was the result of some experimental work looking at the Unity3D engine and the workflow from Maya.  “Our War of Words VR app is an immersive experience of the poem The Kiss by Siegfried Sassoon.  Photoshop artwork and Maya models are imported easily into the Unity VR engine.  The ease of importing the models into the technology has made us all sit up realise there’s so much more to VR than we first thought.  VR requires the viewer to work hard for their entertainment.  Perhaps lending itself to short form productions.  We can see a lot of potential here for theatrical experiences.”
warofwordsvrappWith so many things unknown about using a new and innovative format of content we asked John how he thinks this will change the way we create and direct content? “The story is everything.  If the storyline is compelling the user will feel compelled to discover the narrative and enjoy the opportunity to look around.  VR in and of itself, is not the primary reason for visiting an experience.  “It seems like a great way to get people to interact with educational content like this in ways they wouldn’t expect and we look forward to seeing what VR content the BDH team can produce next.

War of Words – Soldier-Poets of the Somme is showing on BBC2 on Saturday 15th November and it will be available on iPlayer for 30 days.

Credits:
SEVEN POEMS: The Kiss by Siegfried Sassoon, Read by Philip Perry. Before Action by W.N. Hodgson, Read by Simon Jenkins. In Parenthesis (extracts) by David Jones, Read by Oliver Llewellyn-Jenkins. A Dead Boche by Robert Graves, Read by Samuel Bailey. Louse Hunting by Isaac Rosenberg, Read by Adam Scales. Died of Wounds by Siegfried Sassoon, Read by Siegfried Sassoon. ‘They’ by Siegfried Sassoon. Read by Philip Perry.

Seb Barfield: Producer (BBC Arts), John Durrant: Creative Director (BDH), Paul Greer: Senior Animator, Hugh Cowling: Illustrator & Animator, Libby Reddon: Animator, Steve Burrell: Animator, Tim Marriot: Animator, Jack Norris: Unity Animator, Ian Salvage: Photography, Fred Tay: Colourist, Matt Coster: Sound Design

WAR OF WORDS: Michael Poole: Executive Producer BBC Arts, Peter Barton: Producer for Parapet Productions, Lisa Percy: Executive Producer BBC Learning.

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