Leap of Laith, part 1
Be very careful when you’re talking with Laith Bahrani. And if you have a history of blathering on and on, without ever making a point, best not talk with the man at all. You see, the UK’s Laith Bahrani makes fun of the long-winded, and he does so in a public place – his Low Morale website. This 12-episode (and counting) Flash-animated series is a celebration of verbal diarrhea, and the suicides that become of it. Laith’s alter-ego, the poor man who ends up butchering himself at the end of each episode, simply can’t stand the yammering of those around him, and his morbid imagination repeatedly brings the suffering to an end.
His most recent effort, a painstakingly animated music video for an acoustic version of Radiohead’s seminal song ‘Creep,’ is this 20-something’s crowning achievement to date. It evokes a more introspective set of emotions than the initial 11 episodes, which were mostly laugh-along, guilty pleasures.
There’s very little story in the ‘Low Morale’ series, and ‘Creep’ is no exception. It’s about the execution – literally. Each time out, we’re treated to a freshly gruesome twist on the lead character’s death wish. And in ‘Creep,’ the technique is also on stage – an elaborate, crawling reveal of an office, inch by inch, chair by chair, one keyframe after another. It’s a wonderful analogy for the seemingly interminable spans of time that can choke the soul right out of an office desk jockey.
Your presence is now requested in the 1st floor conference room for a meeting with Laith Bahrani, creator of ‘Low Morale.’
AARON SIMPSON: What was the first project you created using Macromedia’s Flash software?
LAITH BAHRANI: First project was an animation called ‘Little Red Monkee’ back in 2000. Recognising my unhealthy obsession with monkeys, someone I knew sent me a retro song about a dancing monkey. I made this. After putting it live, and posting on a couple of message boards, it went mental, and got about 10,000 hits a day for a while as it went round the net.
AARON: How did you first start working with the comedy troupe ‘Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie?’
LAITH: During my last year at University (studying multimedia) I found one of the Trolls’ internet sketches. It tickled meh, so I spent 3 days putting a Flash animation to go with the sound (2 characters holding a fictitious interview at Microsoft HQ). I sent them a link just to show them what I’d done, and they offered to pay for it. Which was nice.
AARON: Your animated projects for ‘Dead Trolls’ have been released on DVD. Any word on how well they’re selling?
LAITH: Not the foggiest idea I’m afraid. I wasn’t told about the DVD, and am not receiving any credit or money for the work. Same goes for the T-shirt, mousemat and tea-cups. It’s a cold, harsh world of business out there.
AARON: When you created the first ‘Low Morale’ short, was your intention to do a series?
LAITH: Pretty much, yeh. Me and a couple of mates brainstormed tons of ideas for deaths for the character one afternoon at work. I’ve still got a list of them, and it keeps growing due to suggestions from viewers, some of which are seriously quality I should add. Just wish I had the time to do them all.
AARON: What inspired ‘Low Morale?’
LAITH: My (ex-)day job, as a senior designer in a web/multimedia agency in the UK. ‘Low Morale’ was specifically inspired one afternoon after being yapped at by a sales person for about 20 minutes. The second after they left, I looked over at a work mate who was grinning madly, knowing full well what I’d just endured. I then mimed myself blowing my brains out. He did a mime of chucking himself down the stairs. I did a mime of jumping out of the window. Five minutes of death-mimes later, I sat down and said “that’d make a sweet little animation.” Went home that night and did the first episode.
I’ve recently quit my job however, to go fulltime freelance as an animator. I’m now poor and clothed in a potatoe sack, but at least the only salesperson I have to deal with is me.
AARON: Do you storyboard your ‘Low Morale’ shorts before your begin working in Flash?
LAITH: I tend to use Flash as both the draft/sketch pad and final animation platform, so not that many get storyboarded first. I’ve done a fair few sketches of the character tho, and am currently in the process of getting him modeling and boned in 3D. The thinking behind that is, I want the character to feature in an animation and do that Matrix style bullet time thing – where he jumps and we pan round him. Haven’t seen that done yet, so want to cash in whilst its still fresh.
AARON: The backgrounds in the ‘Low Morale’ episodes seem to be imported bitmaps. Explain your background process.
Very simple. I scanned in a page of my sketch book that I drew the first Low Morale storyboard on and dropped this in.
AARON: The masking technique you use in the ‘Creep’ video to make objects appear to grow looks like a great deal of work. Explain your process.
LAITH: Keyframes. So…. many……… many keyframes. Object is drawn in Flash. Then cut away with the lasso tool to get the organic/peeling effect. Took me 3 hours one night to do a chair. You haven’t felt despair until you turn round after 3 solid hours of work and all you have is a chair appearing. Cried myself to sleep like a newly committed prisoner that night.
AARON: This meeting is hereby adjourned until further notice, whereby we will reconvene to read the second half of the Cold, Hard Flash interview with Laith Bahrani, the creator of ‘Low Morale.’