Considering the staggeringly widespread prevalence of food in just about every form of media, it seems outright peculiar how little the world of food and drink has been explored in modern animation. Sure, we all know about Thomas Keller's involvement in Ratatouille and your Japanophile buddy has probably shown you a mind-numbingly surreal anime like Shokugeki no Soma. Then there's the occasional puerile attempt like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which has little if anything to do with cooking. And, of course, the most recent example is Seth Rogen's Sausage Party, which has more to do with taco orgies and the slow march toward death than the gustatory pleasures of food. Still, the absence of food in animation seems odd compared to how big food is in other media, such as TV, film, photography, and the written word.
Thankfully, there are people like Matt Willis of the Melbourne-based Yell Design who are brilliantly filling that void. The studio's imaginative stop-motion video series, called Papermeal, depicts dishes like penne and meatballs being made—but all of the food and utensils are built out of paper. The tagline for the series is "If We Can Make It Out of Paper, You Can Make it Out of Food."
In these mind-bending animations, a banana split comes out of a fanciful conveyor belt and a meal of fish and chips is crafted out of a digitised newspaper that leaps from a laptop screen before turning into its physical form. Despite the absence of any actual food in the five-part series, brilliantly navigates the food space and uses abstract forms and ideas to depict the nuances of cooking.
We wanted to learn more about how Yell Design created the Papermeal animations, so we reached out to Matt Willis, the studio's founder.
MUNCHIES: So, first things first, how did Yell Design come about? Matt Willis: Yell Design started about three-and-a-half years ago, right around when Vine took off. I was recovering from a serious cycling accident and I needed something to do with my time during the two months I had off of work, so I decided to make a Vine every day. I have a marketing and graphic design background, so I started making them a bit more product-centric and marketing-centric.
How and when did the idea for Papermeal come about? We got the idea roughly four or five months ago, when we were chatting about other designers and what they were doing. We realised that we'd never actually seen a full recipe made in an animation from start to finish that used paper. The initial idea was to make a cooking show just using paper, and that sort of grew and changed into what it is now. Our studio specialises in doing work that's a bit quirky and unusual, so we decided to push that further.
Considering the original goal was to create a cooking show, do you feel the videos are informative? Can people learn to cook from them? I think Papermeal can be informative in a way. They should break down some of the barriers that people have about cooking because the animations are fun and colourful. The videos only have two or three processes and then you have a meal, so I guess it doesn't go into too much detail. I think we could definitely explore that aspect further.
How do go about selecting the dish for each video? Are you focusing mainly on how the specific food could be animated, or is it just dishes you fancy? It's a little bit of both. Probably the procedure or method of production will come first. The penne meatballs was originally going to be spaghetti meatballs and we were going to put the manilla folders through a paper shredder to make the spaghetti, but things continued to change and evolve. We wanted to make sure all of the meals were very different from one another. In fact, we threw a dessert in at the end just to keep the series as diverse as possible.
Have you worked with any chefs or food stylists for any of the videos? Well, we're all really keen chefs and we've worked with food stylists before. A close friend of ours actually works as an in-house food stylist for us, and although she didn't work on this project, we have learned some tricks about food presentation. We're all pretty obsessed with food and watch a lot of cooking shows and do a lot of cooking at home.
What are some of the more important tricks you have picked up from food stylists? They don't mind if there's a little bit of mess on the plate or if you spill some ingredients here or there, because it's a natural part of cooking. In the banana split scene, when the nuts go on, the nuts fly all over the table in the natural way that nuts would fall. Obviously they've been placed there really carefully in stop-motion to simulate that movement, but as soon as you see it, you say, "Oh, that's what nuts would do. They would fall everywhere."
How long does it take each Papermeal animation to go from the beginning of pre-production to the end of post-production? It takes about two to three weeks to build all the props for each video and it takes around six hours to film each video. Because this was our own work and not for a client, we could make decisions straight away and the shooting and post-production was quite quick.
What are your goals when depicting food in animations? One of the really interesting thing is that lots of people have commented on Papermeal and said that it looks delicious. That's a fantastic thing for our group to hear, because one of our main goals was to make sure the end meal really looked delicious and was something you would want to eat. We had that in mind the whole time.
Do you have any more Papermeal animations planned for the future? We do. We want to keep Papermeal fresh and evolving, and we already have some ideas for what to do next.
Thanks for speaking with us, Matt.