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Protect the Eels

June 22, 2017

The European eel is one of the continent’s most remarkable and wide-ranging aquatic animals. Young eels (known as elvers) are born in the Sargasso Sea in the West Atlantic Ocean, and migrate back to European watercourses. Here, they mature and grow larger over a number of years, before making the journey back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn themselves.

However, European eel populations are subject to considerable threats. Some eel populations have dropped by over 90% across the continent in recent decades, largely as the result of overfishing and habitat loss. The European eel has been designated as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2008 as a result.

A new community-engaged animation has sought to tell the eel’s story, through the voices of children. Protect the Eels is a an animated journey into the hidden ecologies of the River Avon in south-west England, as told by the children of Victoria Park Primary School Bristol, using their drawings, ideas and voices.

The video was funded by the AHRC ‘Towards Hydrocitizenship‘ project (read our interview with project lead Owain Jones here). It was produced as part of Water City Bristol, supported by the ‘Sustainable Eel Group (SEG)‘, in association with NOVA, lead artists for Water City Bristol.

We spoke to project producer Lucy Izzard to find out more. She explained the background and working process for the animation, and how the primary school children helped bring eel conservation to life in Protect the Eels.

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Lucy explains:

“I was contacted by Antony Lyons from NOVA Creative Lab (a creative consultancy for the research project “Water City Bristol”) about making an animation with two classes of pupils from Victoria Park Primary School in Bristol to explore the hidden ecologies of the River Avon. I thought it would be really lovely to make the film entirely from the children’s thoughts, comments and drawings then it becomes a real collaboration because the children are a major part of the film making process.

I and some of the NOVA artists did workshops with the classes which involved drawing & sound recorded sessions, role play in the playground and Skype calls between the children and ‘eel expert’ Andrew Kerr. We learnt a lot about eels along the way – me included! With all the voices and drawings collected from the workshops, I picked the bits that would help create a story about eels. There were so many great drawings, unfortunately I couldn’t use them all … but we did use a lot!

It was quite a lengthy process to make the kids drawings move – keeping the authenticity of the textures and pencil/pen marks is tricky but totally worth while in my opinion. I want the children to recognise their own drawings and feel proud and excited to see them come to life. After the visuals were finished, my business partner from our company ‘Pinch Me! Productions’ Laura added all the sound effects. We collected sound bites from the children during the workshop recording sessions to use for the characters in the film, such as “Are we that old?” The finished sound adds another dimension that suddenly makes everything come alive!

We gave the children and teachers their own film premiere in the cinema at Aardman Animations in Bristol (as I work there as a freelance animation director). I took my 2 week old baby along (it took the same amount of time to make the film as it did to make her!)”

Watch Protect the Eels here.

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