Directors Yuval & Merav Nathan talk sand animation for 'Lose this Child'

By CHAITRA SHETTY | 17 June, 2011 - 18:48

Grammy nominated Directors Yuval & Merav Nathan are a couple, who live together, create together and have 3 children.

The duo have made many brilliant animation films including the very popular music video ‘Her Morning Elegance’ which got them the Grammy Nomination and most recently ‘Lose This Child’ for Ealitz music video which is also an Official Selection at Annecy 2011.

In this interview Yuval and Merav share about the creation of ‘Lose this Child’ which utilizes moving sand sculptures, help make the characters part of their environment. The majority of the video was painstakingly photographed frame by frame at a beach in the early morning hours over several nights.


Eatliz – Lose this child animation music video from Eatliz on Vimeo.

Tell us little about yourself and your works so far
In 2006 we both quit our jobs and decided to join forces and create something new. We decided to fulfill an old dream of doing stop motion. At that time we also discovered the work of PES, who gave a new and refreshing view at the old traditional art of stop motion. As a first experience in that technique we did “Attractive” music video for Eatliz band. Each one of us brought their strengths and experience from their field. Merav brought the design skills and compositing while Yuval brought the cinematic language and animation.

We ended doing most of this stop motion animation in CG with a stop motion look, jus because we were not experienced in real life, but this video opened us a window, to experience different techniques and materials, and since then we are trying to explore new fields in every video that we are doing.

How did you come up with the amazing concept of ‘Lose this Child’?
When you are into the world of stop motion your eyes are constantly seeking for materials that hold the pose. Since we are spending quite a lot of time on the beach during the summer, the idea of animating it came quite naturally.

The idea of having a turtle made out of sand, coming out of the sea was waiting for an opportunity in our notebook for some time. The sea is the base of life in this planet. It is where life started and it will stay here after we all disappear. We loved the idea of gathering the grains of sand into a living creature when the turtle comes out of the water and then falling apart to grains when it returns (“From Dust You Came, And unto Dust You Shall Return”)

There is also something really touching and evokes empathy about sea turtles. It is an animal that is not designed to walk on land and despites its limitations, drawn by its instinct to crawl onto land and lay its eggs. Beside that the turtle shape is simple and easy to create.

When we heard the beautiful song by Eatliz “Lose this Child”, we suddenly felt there could be a match. We made this story about a little turtle that fights to survive against mother earth, that in one aspect is terrifying and in another, embracing.

Why did you choose Sand as the medium?
There is something magical when the familiar beach on which many of us spend our time, suddenly come to life. In the video we tied it into the story, as if there is time at night, when nobody sees, that sand come to life, then it turn back to be a regular beach when the sun comes, just before the people are back. Beside that, sand is a very plastic material that keeps a pose and enables a good control in animation.

Tell us about the process you adopted for making the beautiful sand sculptures and animating them for this video. What kind of pre production went into the same?
We worked in the same system that we did in any other animation project – story board- animatic –3D animatic –animation. After having the script break into 3D layout we had a better evaluation of how to deal with the different shots. For example shots that are too long to be created in one night couldn’t be shot on the shore, since the beach changes quite radically between nights. For that reason we had to shoot complicated shots like the Medusa singing in a studio.

Another thing that we studied from the 3D layout was that in some cases we had to use clay parts covered with sand to enable negative angles of the sand preventing sculptures collapses. And there are all the little techniques that we developed during the process of how to treat the sand, how to keep it humid, how to minimize the damage when we reconstruct a new pose, how to smooth the surface, and many other things.

What difficulties did you face in the making of this video?
In general it is a very hard work to go to the sea every night, push masses of sand and carry buckets of water. But beside that there were also technical issues to solve.

As I mentioned before the fact that we had to complete a shot before sunrise limited us in the length of the shot or its complexity. Another thing was the fact that the sand behaves differently in different levels of humidity, and gets dry under the lights. Sometimes a stiff crust can keep the sand beneath dry like a dune, and just a gentle touch can cause all of the sand to spill out of the sculpture.

Another problem with sand is its monochromatic colour and its noisy texture. For that reason we decided to work with hard lights, which create more defined dark and light areas. While animating we actually changed the silhouette of the elements in the picture by changing the angle of the surfaces toward the light. It was like painting in black and white.

Talking about your most famous video ‘Her Morning Elegance’, can you share how did the brilliant idea and execution of this video come about?
One of the principals who led us through our work is to take advantage of Yuval’s character animation skills. We tried to find mediums that give Yuval a perfect control to animate. This is the case with the sand animation as well as in the vertical view animation.

The idea of shooting people and other objects from top-view, when they lie on the ground, gave us full control of their movement. In this technique, we actually neutralize gravity and people and objects become ink and paint for the animator.

This idea was based on art work FLAG by the artist Efrat Nathan from the 1970s (Yuval’s aunt), in which she is lying on the ground in a walking position, holding a flag in her hands that covers her face.
The use of the flag object has double meanings: the “lying” world, in which the flag is blowing in the wind and covering the head (the blindness of ideology), and the “real” world, where a figure lies on the floor covered with cloth like a dead body.

We adopted this concept of duality together with Oren Lavie, and implemented it into a music video for his song Her Morning Elegance.
As part of this duality, we used elements that exist in the woman’s bedroom, such as blankets pillows and socks, and turning them into creatures and other elements from her dream-world.

Oren Lavie – Her morning elegance from Yi on Vimeo.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The amount of footage that floods our eyes in the internet on a daily basis is huge. We look into sites like motionographer and shots, also we look into design blogs and sites, so it is hard to select. Directors that we like are the Cohen brothers, Tim Burton (“Big Fish” in particular), Almadovar, Michel Gundry, Luck Bason, Ridley Scott, Spike Jonze, Merav loves Woody Allen. Artists that influenced our work are Andy Goldsworthy who inspired us a lot in the creation of “Lose this Child”, David Hackney, Michal Chalavin and others. Animation masterpieces: The Cat Came Back, PES, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Persepolis, The nightmare before Christmas, Wallace and Gromit, Monsters Inc., Toy Story, Tom and Jerry, The Simpsons and many others.

What are you working on currently?
At the moment we are working on commercials for our living and developing different concepts.
“Lose this Child” credits:

Directors: Yuval and Merav Nathan
Song By: Eetliz
Animation: Yuval Nathan, Guy Ben Shetrit, Moshe Zilbernagel, Talia Tzur
Grip and Rigs: Rafi Nathan
Concept: Yuval and Merav Nathan
Script Development: Nadav Ben Simon, Yuval Nathan, Merav Ben Simon (Nathan), Guy Ben Shetrit
Featuring: Adi Nathan