Written by novelist & screenwriter Dave Eggars, for the ever-popular radio show This American Life, animated film Francis is the tense tale of the unexplained happenings on a lake in the middle of an Ontario nature preserve. Brought to life by Not to Scale director Richard Hickey and a team of 40 animators, this captivating short perfectly blends the worlds of outstanding production values with engaging storytelling.
Her mouth went dry. She held onto each side of the boat, and now she could only wait to see if it happened again.
One night on a family camping trip to Quetico park, the reckless raven-haired Francis waits until her family have fallen asleep and takes a rowing boat out to the middle of the lake. Hoping to find a quiet spot where the teenager can lay on her back, stare at the sky and write in her journal, her expectations of a peaceful night at one with nature are soon shattered when an unexpected noise comes from the water below.
With a voiceover so rich and detailed that you could close your eyes and let your imagination run wild, it’s impressive that Hickey’s short feels so perfectly realised. Blending together the unusual combination of 3D animation and an urban myth storyline, Hickey’s Francis successfully transports a narrative usually reserved for live-action filmmaking into the world of computer-generated imagery. Ramping up the tension with some dark production design and low key lighting, this short brings together all the necessary elements to ensure this film achieves its unsettling atmosphere.
Whilst the worlds of style and story in Francis might not have at first seemed like an ideal mix, ultimately this ends up being an animation that raises important questions about the types of plots suited to the format. With folklore storylines usually saved for the more charming worlds of Henry Selick or Dreamworks studios, it’s refreshing to see such a taut, adult narrative being told through animation techniques. Hickey’s film is another step towards reclaiming the term ‘adult animation’ before it becomes synonymous with the worlds of anime/manga pornography.