Thursday, January 6, 2022

Fun with Kidneys!

How does one make the subject of kidney disease entertaining?  That was the challenge when Lori Hartwell approached me about making a short educational film for her non-profit Renal Support Network (RSN), an organization she founded in 1993 to help those with kidney disease manage their care. 

Lori wanted to make an animated version of their illustrated booklet "Share Your Spare", where two kidneys, Neff and Nuff,  explain how they function, etc.   Using the booklet and Suzette Maffi's main character designs as a springboard,  I altered the relationship between Neff and Nuff to be comically tempestuous, then added cutaway segments to illustrate some of the informational bits.  

The cutaway segments were influenced by a Bell and Howell educational film I saw in Mr. Carll's 6th grade science class when I was 12, called Hemo the Magnificent.  Produced by Frank Capra in 1957,  it features live action Richard Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and briefly,  Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh!).  The animated segments, directed by Bill Hurtz and animated by Seamus Culhane, are a funny and charming precursor to Osmosis Jones and Inside Out.

Lori introduced me to two actors who would voice the kidneys: Jill-Michele Melean as the overbearing Neff, and Joe Reitman as the gruff, short tempered Nuff.  They had both worked together before, so there was instant chemistry in the booth.  Hearing the actors bring the script to life - that never gets old for me.   There are several great ad-libs that ended up in the short, such as Nuff's aggravated mumble "She....has a mouth...."  

Using Adobe Animate software, I then designed and animated the short in about a six weeks. Every time I use this program, I tell myself , "You really need to learn After Effects." 

For post, I returned to the young master - Ian Rees.  He had done the score for my short PeaceTime: A Royal Frog last spring, and had already worked with Lori on her KidneyTalk podcasts for RSN.  We talked about giving the cutaway segments the feel of 1950's educational films - pizzicato strings and such.   Ian then made Neff and Nuff's theme a more contemporary version of that sound.  And just like with PeaceTime, his score transformed the piece into a completed creation. 


Check out Hemo the Magnificent (1957). At around the 7:00 mark, you'll start to see the influence on "Share Your Spare".  Thanks Mr. Carll! 

I hope you enjoy the short and learn a thing or two about your kidneys.


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