Existing School of Life Films

I think the most effective of their existing films were the ones with a strong narrative. These often made use of fitting metaphors to communicate the complex ideas around emotional issues. The best of these walked the line between story and traditional motion graphic “explainer” videos (videos which very literally represent ideas or information).

I think Jesse Collett’s collaboration with the School of Life does this best. The film tackles the issue of self esteem by using clever sound design and physical comedy to make the viewer empathise and identify with a single character. Keeping the colour scheme and character design simple allows the viewer to project themselves onto the character and so better apply the messages and advice of the film to their own life.

Another example of a particularly effective, story driven collaboration is Avi Ofer, whose tender and naive style lends itself well to the film ‘Why You Need an Early Night’. Avi Ofer uses very simple, very effective metaphors to politely and subtlety offer Alain De Botton’s advice to the viewer. Advice that may come across as patronising were it not for the authentic imperfections in Avi’s film, reminiscent of the visceral work of Quentin Blake and Ralph Steadman.

I consider this authenticity and sincerity to be one of the most important factors in communicating a message that deals so deeply with our emotions. Often this authenticity comes from the imperfections in our work; the charm of a lopsided character or the wobble of a hand drawn line.

I think this is especially relevant today as we are routinely subjected to pixel perfect digital graphics, glossy advertisements and gleaming typography designed by a team of anonymous creatives somewhere in Salford. Though Alain De Botton condemns the romantic idea of the revered individual creator, I think that immense value can be found in the quirks and mistakes of the lone creative.


School of Life research

Though I was already familiar with the work of the School of Life I had little knowledge of the work of Alain De Botton. As part of my research I read his book ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’, watched his documentary on status anxiety, and watched a large portion of his talks and videos available online. I think it’s fair to say my perspective has changed on a number of different issues.

His critique of Romanticism has opened my eyes to how disconnected our expectations are of love, to the reality of relationships. I’ve always had the mentality that love is a binary emotion, and it is this that dictates weather or not a relationship is successful. After watching his talks and listening to his podcasts on the topic I’ve since changed my mind.

Alain De Botton has also stressed the importance of self-knowledge and self love if we are ever to form meaningful relationships and create meaningful work. I was previously self conscious that these were these were the selfish indulgences of the spoilt millennial; I had no grasp that they were the foundation of a healthy society.

Furthermore, his insistence that ‘Being a little casual with a great thinker is the biggest homage one could pay to him or her’ has introduced me to the field of philosophy, something that previously appeared omniscient and insurmountable.

Before that

Although I wasn’t thinking consciously about the aims of my illustrations before I created the Vulnerability film, I was creating illustrations on the same sorts of themes. Mainly they explored self-esteem, relationships, identity, and social anxiety. This may not be immediately apparent in my illustrations, as a lot of the imagery is abstract or seemingly unrelated, but I was concerned with issues whilst drawing and creating them. After reading into the teachings of the School of Life and the philosophy of Alain De Botton I’ve become far more aware of the reason and impact for these issues and their place in society, and this has informed my personal work.

I find it hard to transfer ideas from my sketches and doodles into finished pieces and I think a reason for this is I’m often unsure of the purpose of the finished piece. The collaboration meant that I was forced to commit to creating something final and complete, whilst gifting me with a reason for doing so.

As my illustrations explored similar themes to the film, they were useful in informing both the style and the characters throughout the process. I even found that some of ideas in the film were taken directly from drawings I’d made previously. (The character squatting a pair of smiley faces, intended to illustrate a person struggling with dealing with their emotions, is used in the final film).
The bold lines and thick black shadows of my drawings were intended to juxtapose the sensitive characters and so this too worked well in the animation. At first I considered including imperfections in the animation as a stylistic choice to represent the vulnerability of the characters (at a point in the film Alain talks about how we are all as worried, damaged and broken as each other; this was something I felt was vital to express through the style of the animation).

These imperfections could have taken inspiration from the sketchiness of some of my doodles, however I found that drawing each frame 3 times resulted in the characters wiggling and boiling and so I opted for this process instead. This was, although time consuming, very effective in making the imagery appear fragile.

The characters I’ve been working on here in my illustrations are the same characters that feature in the film. I chose to use this existing character for a number of reasons.

Firstly the character is simple enough for the viewer to project themselves onto, and endearing and expressive enough for them to empathise with when they are inevitable physically and emotionally wounded.

Secondly the fact the character is large in stature and “laddy” in appearance addresses, (or at least hints at), the issue of young men bottling up their feelings.

One of the main aims of the film is to convince the viewer that sharing our vulnerabilities strengthens our friendships and relationships, and rather than making us appear weak and pathetic, shows how strong we really are. The masking of vulnerabilities and of emotions in general, is a problem that is particularly prevalent in young men as bravado and pride stifle the kind of healthy sharing Alain De Botton champions in the film.

In retrospect I realise the viewers of the School of Life are likely already open to the idea of emotional intelligence, and of the candid discussion of feelings. Young males new to the concept are unlikely to be exposed to the video, and if they are, there is no guarantee they’ll identify with the character.

However I hope the throwing of love letters between the characters in the film at least encourages displays of affection and respect between male friends in some small part.

Why did I do that?

There are a number of reasons I chose to email The School Of Life and frame the subsequent commission as my FMP. If I’m honest I felt somewhat direction-less in my practise and in my study. I found that I was creating illustrations that were interesting aesthetically, but lacking in deeper meaning or purpose; I didn’t know why I was making them or what they were for. Though I feel that spontaneous and unguided experimentation can produce exciting and visceral results, working without an underlying idea or subject matter in mind can sometimes be pretty fruitless. A great example of purely aesthetic experimentation within illustration is Molly Fairhurst’s project ‘There are at Least 1000 Ways to Draw a Tiger’. This project explores the many ways in which a tiger can be illustrated and results in some bold visual experiments in outsider art.

In my case I was working without any philosophy, something that my collaboration with the with the School Of Life has helped me with since.

Another reason I reached out to the School was because of my concerns over entering the design industry. At the risk of sounding self righteous I find it difficult to justify working for companies that are, at their core, unethical. Graphic design is used all too often to make people feel insecure, unfulfilled and generally terrible. I’ve thought a lot more about this after watching Alain De Botton’s documentary Status Anxiety as research, and watching the existing School of Life videos on advertisement and capitalism.


What have I done?

On the 29th of April 2017 I emailed the organisation the School of Life with an offer/request to collaborate. I’m a massive fan of the short films The School Of Life regularly produce on the topics of emotional intelligence, philosophy and humanity, and so I was very excited to hear back from them on the 11th of July with an offer to collaborate.

This came an incredibly convenient time as I was still unsure of what my FMP might look like.

As a result my FMP takes the form of a short film, produced in collaboration with The School of Life on the topic of vulnerability. The audio and philosophical content of the film was produced by Alain De Botton (director at The School Of Life), whilst the visuals and narrative were left to me to create.

Essentially I found it was my job to translate Alain’s ideas on vulnerability into a narrative that engages viewers whilst still communicating Alain’s vital and at times quite heavy message.