Animating emotions

Here is a blog post I wrote for the Ministry of Stories about the experience of being part of the Anemotions project:

Animating emotions

We hear from Animator Lily Ash Sakula on bringing ‘feelings big and little’ to life as part of our Anemotions project, launching this October.

Hi! I’m Lily Ash Sakula, I’m an animator, comic artist and youth worker based in London, currently studying for my MA in Character Animation at Central Saint Martins. I am also volunteering on the Ministry of Stories Anemotions project, which is a series of animated stories about our feelings, big and little.

I decided to volunteer because I love working with young people and I love the way this project merges creativity and story telling with honest conversations around mental health particularly for children.

We have been working on a story called Feel Outside the Box, which is about a little girl who has been put in a box to protect her from all the dangers of the outside world. But she gets bored and dreams of escaping. When a door finally opens to the outside world she is initially overwhelmed but she finds a friend and learns what it means to feel outside of the box.

Michelle and Glerja, the club members I worked with on this project, came up with the initial story. Together we worked to pare it down into something that could fit into a minute of animation and we made a storyboard and wrote a script together. Then I asked them to design the characters: drawing each one from different angles and and with the various facial expressions they wanted me to use while animating. They also drew some of the backgrounds and props for the final piece. Then they recorded the script and I got started on the animation using their designs.

‘We have had some really important discussions about feelings along the way’

When working on an animation, first I think it’s important to get the story really tight, I make a story board that is a bit like a comic and then an animatic, which is like a moving story board that can be put together with sound. If that all works I start animating.

‘For this project I’m working on the computer using a digital tablet to draw on. Each second of animation has between 12 and 25 drawings in it, so it’s a long and laborious process!’

Eventually when there are enough drawings there the character will move smoothly from one pose to another. After I’ve finished the character animation, I draw in the backgrounds and colour in the whole thing. I love that moment when, after hours of drawing, your characters suddenly come to life and moves across the screen!

I really enjoyed working with Glerja and Michelle, they both had so many ideas and so much enthusiasm for the project and it was really fun watching a them build the story together. I’m looking forward to the screening and showing the film to the group, hopefully they’ll like it!

And here is the finished film!

Sara Ahmed – An Affinity of Hammers

I loved this essay by Sara Ahmed about the  trans “debate” that is currently raging in the media. This part really struck me as so important

An existence can be nullified by the requirement than an existence be evidenced. The very requirement to testify to your existence can end up being the very point of your existence […] When you are asked to provide evidence for your existence, or when you are treated as evidence, your existence is negated. Transphobia and anti-trans statements should not be treated as just another viewpoint that we should be free to express at the happy table of diversity. There cannot  be dialogue when some at the table are in effect (or intent on) arguing for the elimination of others at the table.”

In the course of the essay she discusses the way that part of questioning trans people’s existence is doubting their very experiences. So people do not take seriously our demands that people gender us correctly or use our correct pronouns. Ash she says “some forms of violence are so often understoood as trivial, or not as violence at all. Violence is so often reproduced by not being understood as violence.”

Being trans gives me a different perspective from the world, I want to capture this in my final project and show at least a glimpse of this world to my peers:

“We learn about worlds when they do not accommodate us. Not being accommodated can be pedagogy. We generate ideas through the struggles we have to be in the world; we come to questions worlds when we are in question.”



Aldeburgh and the Britten-Pears Foundation

Our first project of the new term is a pitch for the English National Opera. I’ve chosen to work on Noye’s Fludde, an opera written for children by Benjamin Britten.

I immediately loved the idea of a medium that seems so inaccessible being opened up to primary school children and decided in my animation to focus on this aspect of the production.

To this end I went to the Benjamin Britten archive in Aldeburgh to see what I could dig up. I’d never been to an archive before and was nervous about how it all worked, but they were extremely friendly when I told them about my project and ended up bringing me all sorts of things that I didn’t even know I was looking for!

Original Ceri Richards designs for animal costumes:


Costumes from the original production, below a sheep headdress with my sketches of other costumes.







Woodcut from the Benjamin Britten copy of the Chester Mystery Plays
Benjamin Britten’s original score of the storm

Patrick Heron

I was in St Ives on holiday and decided to pop in to see the Patrick Heron exhibition at the Tate. I didn’t know much about him but the moment I walked in and saw the huge brightly coloured canvases, I knew it would be a hit.


I loved the way he talks about shape and colour being the same thing in his paintings, the colour suggests the shape, the boundaries between shapes are made of colour. It made me feel quite giddy. I also love the way Patrick Heron explains his process:

“My fifteen foot canvases, involving sixty or more square feet of a signle colour, were painted [in oil paint] from end to end with small Japanese water-colour brushes. But one doesn’t hand-paint for the sake of the “hand-done”; one merely knows that the surfaces worked in this way can – in fact they must – register a different nuance of spatial evocation and movement in every single square millimetre” Patrick Heron 1970

My favourite painting in the exhibition was this one:

I love his wobbly line work and the way the colour doesn’t go quite up to the lines and it made me think I’d love to try making animation that looks like this….