The Black Heart Gang


Written by Jessica Allan
27 Wednesday 27th January 2010

The Black Heart Gang are a group of South African artists who have created a fantastic hand drawn animation, visually inspired by eastern art. The Tale of How is a story about a giant octupus whose desire is to consume every dodo resembling bird there is in sight, until Eddy the Engineer (a little white mouse) saves the day...
How did The Black Heart Gang form and what inspired you to create this animation?

In the beginning the world was created, after a considerable amount of relatively uninventful millenia (largely consisting of mud, gasses, liquids, more mud, some slimy creatures with legs crawling out of mud and a couple of wars) THE BLACKHEART GANG came into being. It happened just like most gangs tend to happen... a few like minded people evolving in the right place at the right time.

Before we started Ringo (our first project together) none of us knew eachother that well, except really Markus and Jannes - them being cousins. At the time, none of us had any real experience. We didn't plan. Things just developed. We had so much fun with Ringo that we decided to embark on a new project - intending to make it as beautiful as we possibly could. so our second baby The Tale of How was born.

What is The Tale of How about and where did the story come from?

In the The Tale of How we meet a giant octopus with a tree growing in his head; the terror of the Indian Ocean - OTTO THE MONSTER! His lonely pastime is to devour the innocent dodos who lived on his head. We then see the dodos unite and with the help of a little white mouse they escape the clutches of the terrible tentacled tyrant and sail off into the sunset on their mother, the tree.

The story originated from a series of characters that Ree drew after being inspired by Markus' stuffed toy that she later stole. Markus then wrote a poem to the pictures in which he gives the Gang's views on how dodos really disappeared from Mauritius. Jannes then begin using his various resuscitation techniques to breathe the 'deceased' creatures back to life.

How long did it take you to complete it and what process did you use to create the look of the film?

We worked on it every evening and weekend for nine months. Markus made an initial audiobed to work to. Ree drew all the elements with pen on paper, scanned them, and coloured them in with Photoshop. Jannes would then build the scenes with her elements in Photoshop, add texture and prep the layers for After Effects. He would then build a 3d environment in After Effects, add live-action video elements, and animate all 2d elements. He spent a lot of time blending the 2d elements and live action to create a living world with depth and dynamics. Environmental elements like caustics and volume light, helped to achieve this look.

The next step was to give the 3d guys a background plate to animate on. Justin Baker who did all the 3d work, modelled all the birds and developed shaders to look like Ree's drawings. The renders would then be composited into the scenes and treated. We wanted to maintain an authentic feel, so it was important for the 3d birds to look as 2d as possible. Markus then laid down his completed audio track on the final rendered animation.

What message did you want to get across with the animation?

We wanted to create something honest that would touch people's hearts. We wanted to create visual overload, so added as much detail as possible. We wanted to make something really really beautiful.

The Gang. From left to right - Jannes Hendrix. Ree Treweek. Markus Smit

Are there more to come and what do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

Yes, The Tale of How is the second part of a trilogy of works called The Dodo Trilogy. It is to later be flanked by The Tale of Then and The Tale of When. The Dodo Trilogy, in turn, fits into a much greater work called, The Household. We're currently in the process of finishing the book of The Tale of How, which will be out in April...

More from the Black Heart Gang here.

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