Have you ever heard of the term cartoon logic? Or, if you’re an avid anime fan – anime logic?
Cartoon logic is often used somewhat humorously to describes how we are willing to accept leaps of logic in animation that we would otherwise pooh-pooh out the door in a live-action film.
As this article should demonstrate quite clearly, cartoon logic is everywhere. The film we’re looking at today should be a prime example of cartoon logic – it’s a story about how a severed hand goes on a journey to locate its body. Despite the suspension of judgment required to appreciate this premise, it was one of five Oscar Nominees for the Animated Feature Film Category in 2020 and has received rave reviews and nothing but praise.
We’re talking about none other than I Lost My Body.
At its core, this is really a story about a hand that accidentally gets separated from its owner. The owner of the hand is a Moroccan immigrant by the name of Naoufel, but ironically, a bunch of signposts, narrative or otherwise, indicate quite clearly that it is the Hand that is the true hero.
We could go on and on about how the show subversively puts the Hand front and centre – in fact, the very title clearly signals that it is the Hand which owns the body, and not the other way around. The Hand is a go-getter – it has a quest which it actively seeks to accomplish and it takes its destiny into its own hands. The character of Naoufel, well – let’s just say he takes a while to come into his own.
The astute reader might at this point be reminded of another disembodied hand from a much, much older series.
Of course, this association didn’t elude Jérémy Clapin, the director of I Lost My Body. But that’s where the similarities end. While the Hand from the Addams Family functions more as a supporting character and a little bit of comic relief, the Hand from I Lost My Body is unapologetically placed front and centre.
I Lost My Body isn’t meant to be a silly or spooky tale about an appendage. As seen from the novel that inspired the film – Happy Hand by Guillaume Laurant, the renowned Amélie screenwriter – the story centers around the feeling of loss in an entirely different manner where the severed Hand misses the body – and not the other way round.
The film is split into two storylines – one following the severed Hand and the other, focusing on Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Farris).
After the hand miraculously awakens from its deep slumber (or unfortunate abandonment) – the severed Hand sets out on a long, arduous journey. It will face harrowing trials and tribulations – from its hair-raising escape attempt from a laboratory to the life-or-death battle in the rodents-infested subway tunnels.
But what truly did justice to its character and the film has got to be its surreal realism- the life-like actions, human emotions and startling reactions; which humanizes an otherwise inanimate appendage.
Does this mean that Naoufel’s story does not deserve a place in the limelight? You can draw your own conclusions, but I prefer to think that both narratives are two halves of a story about moving beyond personal tragedy.
While the Hand’s mission in life is to find his body – Naoufel’s new purpose in life is Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois).
I Lost My Body isn’t a dialogue-heavy piece – instead, through occasional backstory snippets anchored by music and past memories – Naoufel’s history unfolds. Like the Hand, Naoufel hasn’t had an easy life.
Naoufel is orphaned after his parents die in a car accident in his birthplace, Morocco. He moves into a one room flat with his emotionally distant uncle and boisterous cousin in France and takes up a pizza delivery job. Naoufel is withdrawn, aimless, and uncommunicative. He even torments himself with a tape recorder given to him by his family by looping an accidental audio record of one of the worst tragedies in his life repeatedly.
Still, he tries.
The film has a rather open-ended conclusion. Neither the Hand nor Naoufel explicitly get what they want – but I do think it ends optimistically. Naoufel takes a leap of faith inviting a whole host of positive interpretation while the Hand leaves to pursue its fortunes elsewhere after it discovers that it has no way to reattach itself to the rest of its body.
It lies just above its wrist for a moment while Naoufel slumbers – before moving on.
The film’s tentative conclusion lends itself well to its message about life – no one’s existence is devoid of obstacles and tragedy – and for the most part, it’s not about complaining about the hand you’ve been dealt, but making the most of a terrible situation.
The power of Blender
At first glance – I Lost My Body feels like an exercise in 2D animation, but a closer look suggests otherwise.
I Lost My Body takes a different approach by creating the film in 3D using Blender – a free, open-source software program.
After playing around a little with Blender – Clapin found an interesting feature that helped enhance the appearance of the severed Hand – Grease Pencil. It helped Clapin to draw directly on 3D elements – a time-saving solution which gave him the end-look he so desired.
2D alone wouldn’t have allowed Clapin and his team to visualize the shape and volume of an object – but Blender helped generate the heft and simulate physics required to enhance the realism of the subject.
Psychological reasoning behind the character design
Certain hand gestures had to be avoided – like a tightly clenched fist. It really wasn’t uncommon – since we’ve seen it many times when one puts their fists together into a tight ball, ready to throw a punch.
However, that wasn’t what Clapin was intending to do; the clenched fist didn’t show the Hand’s character and human nature as an individual – but only served to express a person’s emotional state.
Even camera angles played a crucial role – too-hard-to-perceive angles or outlandish ones were disallowed.
Clapin wanted the Hand to come to life – its fingers often doubled as legs and its wrist was a pretty passable torso. In fact, you’ll realise that the Hand was remarkably humanlike throughout the film.
The main takeaway
The flexibility of animation is a double-edged sword. When you have a medium that can achieve almost anything that the mind can conceive of, how should you tell your story? All too often, the potential of the medium is neglected – the avant garde is discarded in favour of something staid.
While not every corporate video can and should be an arthouse flick, it would be a shame if we persistently shied away from experimentation.
As I Lost My Body demonstrates, you don’t need lots of explosions and expensive hyperreal renders to create award-wining work. Think outside the box, try to avoid the hackneyed and always try to add a little twist to tried-and-tested concepts.
No idea is too outlandish – in fact, consider getting in touch with a professional animated production company in the city to help with the refinement of your idea. What looks like a flight of fancy sometimes yields valuable insight during the brainstorming process.
This is especially so if you have an up-and-coming product with a unique selling point that you want to highlight in a different way – don’t neglect to consider how motion graphics, visual effects, 2D animation, and even 3D animation can interact to help you achieve what you want.
Surely, you’re not going to let a severed hand outdo you?