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Inside 'Confusion Through Sand,' a Hand-Drawn Tale of Chaos and Conflict Overseas

Producer Benjamin Wiessner tells us about the intensive, 6,500-frame animation, drawn one image at a time.

by Beckett Mufson
21 January 2015, 9:30pm

'Confusion Through Sand' is made up of 6,500 hand-drawn frames, pictured above. Images courtesy the artist.

Watching the animated military short film Confusion Through Sand is a full-body experience, from the top of the brain to the soles of the feet. The nine-minute narrative offers a startlingly intense frame-by-frame hand-drawn vision of a soldier confronted by overwhelming conflict when his team is sent into a small, sandy village. The film builds on snippets of real life stories and the raw emotions its filmmakers experienced during intimate conversations with returning veterans, and first premiered last year at SXSW before debuting in its complete form on the internet after showing on PBS before Dan Krauss’ The Kill Team.

Whether they were speaking with veterans on a cross-country road trip, developing the plot and narrative, or methodically piecing together individual frames, each member of Ornana, the four-person outfit behind Confusion Through Sand, devoted the last three years of their lives to the short. But for producer Benjamin Wiessner there wasn't any other option: "Confusion Through Sand could only be hand-drawn, that was a basic premise of the story to us," he tells The Creators Project.

Animator Danny Madden spent, "eleven months of straight drawing every day," in their tiny San Rafael studio, penning a total of 6,500 individual freehand drawings onto stylistically thick, grainy sheets of recycled paper: a rough medium for a rough story. One scene in particular was rougher than the rest, though, says Wiessner: the shot of the dead shepherd's screaming animal, a pivotal plot point early in the film. "Danny had to draw that frame by frame for just over an entire week," he goes on. "The office was so quiet that week. What a miserable thing to be creating, and so slowly." 

Confusion Through Sand is as much of a labor of love for Wiessner and Madden as it was for producer Jim Cummings and sound designer Pete Horner, who also comprise Ornana. The four of them grew up in the south, and returned from college to find that many of their former classmates were returning from active military duty. "Separately, we started having these incredibly impactful conversations," Wiessner recalls. "I must have cried in public a dozen times that year talking with someone. And often, it wasn't the words, but the way someone would tell the story (how they were breathing, where they had to pause to be able to continue) that was so devastating."

Madden developed the character design as he and Wie
ssner drove across the country to a host of military bases.

The film builds on snippets from real life stories recounted by veterans and all four filmmakers' raw, emotional reactions to those stories. The wild animation style, atypically thick, course paper, and devotedly captured sound design are their direct reaction to the horror of war; its no shock that it gives us goosebumps.

Confusion Through Sand debuted at SXSW, and was also nominated for awards at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival and the Cracow Film Festival, and won Best Short Animation awards at Animation Block Party, the Academy-qualifying USA Film Festival, and Indie Grits. It was featured on PBS through the ITVS Independent Lens, and is now available to the internet-at large through the Vimeo video above.

Concept art for one closeup on the protagonist's face.

Madden's makeshift animation studio in Wiessner's bedroom.

Visit Ornana's website to get updates on their upcoming films, A Different Kind of Movement and All Your Favorite Shows.

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