By Mary Thornton
In an effort to break away from the traditional confines of computer animation, college friends and Pixar artists Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj deliver a western-inspired drama in less than ten minutes.
Coming off of a series of film festival showings and awards, Hamou-Lhadj and Coats' dark tale hit Vimeo this week to a very positive reception. Considering the two long-time friends both have Pixar experience, it'd be difficult to expect any less. Still, Borrowed Time is certainly reaching for a different audience than most Disney fare, and it accomplishes this with as sharp and as emotionally-charged visuals as you'd see in any great feature.
In the five year process to make the short, the two directors drew on an education at NYU's school of animation. "...we met in college, Andrew and I. Two, three years in? So kinda an unlikely friendship that we formed...I noticed the work he was doing and I thought it was really good and we both realized we had the ambition to work in feature film." Both Coats and Hamou-Lhadj were trained in traditional "2D" animation before transitioning to the computer-generated style that has taken over a lot of mainstream features in recent years. "Right around the time I was graduating Disney shut down its 2D department and...From a student standpoint, you’d been preparing to try to enter that market and to see something like that is a little unnerving and jarring. So I scrambled a bit, like 'Okay I gotta learn how to be valuable in the changing medium!'"
Even with a quality education and experience, the pair dealt with their fair share of obstacles in making the film happen. "We might have extreme deadlines on a film that demand a lot of our time and we want to be equally invested as co-directors. There would easily be times where one of us would go 'I’m too busy I can’t do this' and the film would go on hold and possibly [would] never get finished. The two of us though would always pick up the slack whenever we could, and that was huge in getting over every obstacle from story to production."
"Even if the story doesn’t necessarily come from a personal experience, the fact is that you are crafting something," Lou explains. "That’s still very personal, and if you’re too guarded with your collaborator you’re never going to get anywhere with it. As trying as it was at times, the co-directorship was never bad. It was always a really awesome, collaborative effort. I think we both consider ourselves extremely lucky in that."
The story itself came a long ways from its original story. While the plan for a dramatic reveal and the theme of forgiveness for an old tragedy were present from the beginning, but the finished product - which you can view on Vimeo below - manages to deliver its message more succinctly than an earlier version. "We were now nine minutes into a ten minute film where our character finds the information and we realized that if we did that it would have to be a twenty minute film...We built all of this information up to a reel where you get that information and go 'oh my god, how could this have happened?!' There was a whole other plot and a whole other character and a whole other relationship that we ultimately cut from the film. We decided to make the story about this person who is reliving something traumatic. [Ultimately I believe] this works a lot better."
When asked about what his greatest takeaway was from the film's completion, the director and animator had this to say: "We wanted to learn the hard way and not have too many people’s input on it. We wanted to learn what was wrong with it on our own, and find those people that we trust."
The finished film has been online for just under a week and already has seven million views, with many comments praising the unexpected twist and the risky dark tone for taking them on a "feels trip." This is, I believe, the internets' way of letting Lou Hamou-Lhadj know that he accomplished his goal of taking a medium usually considered child-friendly to new places.
You can watch Borrowed Time and judge for yourself below. Slight trigger warning for animated violence.
was started in 2015 as a collection of thoughts about film. After a four year hiatus, it is back with some new thoughts and new contributors. Please check out our archives of past reviews and follow our social media to see new content.