For Brooklyn, New York, a female- and gay-owned animation studio, Mighty OakNetflix’s recent three-episode docuseries, The Principles of Pleasure, presented an opportunity to further showcase their talent through stop-motion, collage, motion-graphics, and three different styles of 2D animation. Like Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Oscar-nominated animated film, To run away, The Principles of Pleasure further illustrates how animation is put to good use in documentary films and television.

Narrated by comedian Michelle Buteau, the series brings together sex, joy and modern science to celebrate the complex world of pleasure. Through talking head interviews and multimedia animations, each episode covers a different aspect of pleasure: debunking sex education myths, how pleasure happens in the mind, and how others can affect our pleasure. The project was produced by Netflix, Mighty Oak and The Front, a creative think tank and production studio for women’s documentaries, founded by former VICE executive Thalia Mavros, which develops and produces powerful stories with purpose. .

Since 2015, Mighty Oak has created award-winning works for networks like Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Adult Swim, TruTV and Nick Jr. His first original short, under blanketswhich premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Mighty Oak also produced all animation for the Amazon documentary, My Life by Mary J. Blige. Newly hired head of development Daniel Shepard leads the studio’s new film and television division alongside executive creative director Michaela Olsen; Executive Producer, Emily Collins; and production manager, Megan Barbour.

At The Principles of Pleasure, Mighty Oak has skillfully produced over 30 minutes of animation with a mix of different styles. Stop-motion has been used to create all sorts of objects – sex toys, a wall of Bon Jovi posters and, of course, a vulva cupcake. The graphics for the series were directed by Dorca Musseb. Episode 1 used a painterly style based on the work of Holly Stapleton – animation was directed by Hannah McNally. Episode 2 used a hand-drawn look based on work by Manjiit Thapp – animation was done by Stephanie Swart and Jessica Milazzo. Episode 3 used a futuristic airbrushed look by Debora Cheyenne Cruchon – animation was done by Nivedita Sekar.

Check out the trailer for the series before learning more about how the animation was produced:

According to Barbour, “From concept to completion, it took us six months to produce over 30 minutes of animation with a team of around 50 people. In addition to the incredibly talented designers and animators, we had a wide variety of specialists to help bring this to life, such as archival researchers, medical illustrators, hand models, 3D printers, and toy stylists. sexual.

Outlining the studio’s design choices, Olsen, who served as creative director of animation on the project, explains, For the 2D animation, The Front team wanted to feature the work of three prominent illustrators (one for each episode) and our job was to bring these illustrations to life with our team of incredibly talented animators. We start with a nice, looser pictorial style (designed by Holly Stapleton) for episode 1, which is about the basics of sex education. Then in episode 2, as we gain more knowledge, the style becomes a bit more architectural and detailed (based on the illustrations by Manjit Thapp). And then, in episode 3, the series culminates in this neatly rendered futuristic style from the mind of Debora Cheyenne Cruchon. It really plays into the intention of the series to give people a fuller and more fleshed out understanding of fun.

“We also created a mix of simplistic stop-motion and object animations, as well as collage and motion graphics elements,” she continues. “While 2D animation was used to represent the more emotional parts of learning fun, these scenes were used to show more practical information, like timelines and graphs. They were also used to bring an element of humor and levity to some complicated topics. We always like to add an element of humanity, even in data visualization, so we used pixelated human hands (stop-motion animation), creating a connection with the public. The Principles of Pleasure title sequence, we constructed the title from 3D printed letters that were internally lit, then filmed a group of hand models putting the letters together like a puzzle using time-lapse.

Noting that each type of animation is meant to feel accessible and not overly complicated, Olsen adds, “If the goal is to teach people what their vulva looks like, let’s not beat around the bush (no pun intended) and let’s base it on realism. and biology as best we can. For this, we specifically enlisted an incredible scientific illustrator, Andrea Hines, to create illustrations of the human body and many genitals.

For Mighty Oak, the cool thing about documentaries is that they constantly evolve to find the story, although with animation it’s an additive process; having a locked script is ideal, because you use every second of animation you create. “Finding that balance between the two mediums is always challenging but fun,” shares Olsen. “Animation really is the perfect way to explain something complicated or recreate something that can’t be recreated in live-action. Documentaries and animation will always be good friends that way.

Another big challenge of the project was the incredible difficulty in creating visuals that represented a wide range of people. “There’s a whole range of body types, genders, and sexualities out there, and it really challenged us to find ways to be inclusive while still reaching a wide audience,” Olsen says. “We did our best, but we can always improve, and we have to keep fighting for that.”

“Overall, we learned a LOT about this project, not only conceptually and visually, but also about how to achieve a large-scale production for a company like Netflix,” she concludes. “This is our biggest project to date and while it hasn’t always been easy, our team really pulled it off, and we’re really proud of the animation we’ve created.”

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Dan Sarto is the publisher and editor of Animation World Network.