EMMA ALLEN’s animated dream

A year ago, we discovered the beautiful RUBY, a 75 seconds animated film. The length is often a real handicap for shorts because of the difficulty for considering it a cinematographic work, ignoring its quality. It’s also really hard to make it visible to the potential audience. Despite of its basic animation techniques, Emma Allen’s short film conquered a big audience thanks to its poetry and great mood. Let’s talk with Emma, talented make up artist with great skills, ideas and heart.

Can you explain your desire of make up animation?

I wanted to bring body painting to life, to make it interact with the subject and to tell stories. So I started experimenting a few years ago, maybe 5 years ago, playing around with a snappy camera and very patient volunteers, developing the animation techniques.

Can you please give us a brief resume of your professional career?

From 16 I worked in a costume shop. After school I moved into fashion and costume, assisting for magazines and films. I also used to have a market stall selling my art at the weekends. I took up face painting as a side line one summer, taught to me by a friend. After 2005 I moved to Sri Lanka started a charity art project. I took my face paint with me and painted too. All along the way, I have had various bar/waitress/reception jobs dotted in between, to keep me afloat. In 2010, I moved back to London and since then worked full time as a face and body painter, SXF make up, artist and sewing teacher. I also make props, back drops and clothes. I still switch between these mediums depending on the season and where the work is.

We were very impressed by Ruby, how did you do this film?

Thank you so much. I’m so pleased you liked it. It’s a stop motion face paint – so all in all about 750 photos, all with slight changes to the make up. I filmed it on myself, with a light and camera set-up around myself and to one side my face paints and a mirror. It took 5 days in total including set ups and bits going wrong and re-shooting them. I had a very sore face at the end of it !


The “death” theme is beautifully “mis-en-scene” thanks to your body painting technique, can you explain it?

When looking for a story that I could tell entirely though make up and on the face, I felt this would work well. Around that time I lost a close family member so I was thinking a lot about our mortality and that journey. The sensitivity of the topic is partly why I used myself as the subject.

The sound design is also beautiful, it creates a deep mood and make us feel like we’re travelling in time.

It’s actually made by Alex Try, who edits my films and sometimes does the sound. He did a great job on Ruby. The sound lends so much to the feeling of it.

Alex Try : The intention was to keep the sound design minimal so as not to distract from the visuals. We wanted the sound to build on and enhance the animation as opposed to dictate the mood. We kept all the samples in line with the nature theme. Avoided ‘digital’ sounding sounds, we layered up rainforest and weather samples to build the atmosphere. The idea behind the chanting vocals was to hint at the religious connotation of the reincarnation theme, without (hopefully) being to on the nose.

How did Ruby made its way on internet? (vimeo, youtube, zap2spion, etc.)

I entered it into a lots competitions, one eventually got back to me and it was an online voting system so that’s the first place it launched on that site and facebook, that was when I could see peoples initial reactions to it.  After that I sent it around a few sites, no one responded for a long time. A few months later after almost giving up on promoting the film, I had my first exhibition of body painting images coming up. My press release included a link to the film. One website called ‘Incredible things’ picked it up and then it spiralled from there.

It has been shown in cinemas? Festivals?

It has been in a several festivals including London Short Film Festival, BRIC in New York, Très Court International Film Festival in Paris and Fargo Film Festival.

Do you have body painting animation models?

I have some very patient friends who have modelled for me regularly and so know how tricky and time consuming it is – modelling for the animations can be very frustrating. That’s why on the long or more complicated ones like Ruby or Blink I do it on myself as I feel bad to put somebody else through that.


Are you planning to make other stop motion films?

Yes, I have made three since Ruby, one is another one minute film but is still in the editing process as its a slightly different format the others. I have two in my head at the moment. One I’m shooting in the next couple of months so it should be out later in the year.

Even if your photo work is really impressive, your videos are totally fresh because of your way to tell stories with bodies and nothing else, it’s maybe the most organic cinema we’ve ever seen, what do you think about that?

Thank you! It encourages me to keep making these films. I do enjoy making still images, but I do particularly enjoy the storytelling and playful aspect of the animations. Saying that, I have another still image project that includes stories in still images, I interview cancer patients who have lost their hair in chemotherapy, and then design a paint for their head based on their experiences.


Is your commercial work interfere with your personnal work? Is it easy to stay honest in your own vision?

Yes it does interfere and it is hard to stay honest to your vision. When I made Ruby, I just made it because I wanted to, I didn’t tell any one before I made it, the story line or what I was planning or anything. If no one saw it, it was fine as I just wanted to go through the emotions of making it. To be totally honest, after the attention that Ruby received it is harder to find that freedom again and also it’s tricky to allow yourself the time to invest in a personal project. There’s always something else more urgent to do and it’s easy to get caught up in what people might think if they see it of this or that. At the moment, I find very tricky to make a film with too many inputs to please everyone, the ideas get diluted. I have a couple of films in my head that I have been developing for a while. Now I have to take myself away and allow myself the time to get lost in them, on my own.

You also have a charity action which is link to art, can you explain it to us?

It’s called “The Card Project” and it’s an arts charity for disadvantaged kids in Sri Lanka. I started the project in 2005, after the tsunami, doing art and play sessions for the kids living in the refugee camps (this is actually where I first met Alex, my now editor, he was volunteering over there too). The project runs in a children’s home. We run art sessions for the kids and we make greetings cards from some of the art they create. We sell the cards to raise funds for food, clothes, outings also school and building supplies.


Discover Emma’s work on

Stève Albaret

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