Conservation at all costs
Little Monster Films
From Oscar-winning filmmakers Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin and National Geographic, WILD LIFE follows conservationist Kris Tompkins on an epic, decades-spanning love story as wild as the landscapes she dedicated her life to protecting. BigStar partnered with the film’s makers to design graphics that elevate the moving story of how Tompkins and her late partner, Doug Tompkins, left behind prolific careers for a visionary effort to create National Parks throughout Chile and Argentina.
WILD LIFE chronicles the highs and lows of the Tompkins’ journey to effect the largest private land donation in history, so we set out to create a design that would be all-encompassing for the film. We began initial design explorations in the very beginning stages of the project— maps, photo treatments and some initial pieces of the film.
The film’s creators, Vasarhelyi and Chin, came in with some direction in mind and thanks to our team’s strong rapport with the duo, we set the bones of the film’s design structure early, and evolved from there. Much of the film’s focus is on the geography of the national parks at the center of the film, so we dug in there first focusing on aesthetics and accuracy. Initially very clean and precise, the maps evolved along with the film’s design and as we added more textural moments elsewhere in the film, we layered texture into the maps as well.
Technically, the biggest challenge the maps presented was designing for the vast expanse of geography we wanted to display, as well as the transitions from 2D to 3D for when we really wanted to punch into detailed sections of the park. BigStar artist Chialung Liu managed this aspect for us, resulting in a really tight design that manages to make the complex map transitions ultra-smooth and able to show off the finer topographic details that really enhance the storytelling.
In the film, a key incident in the story centers around Doug Tompkins’ untimely death in a kayaking accident. This scene was one of the first elements we explored, ultimately landing on a painted depiction of the accident to visualize the story. The WILD LIFE team provided re-cre footage and stock that BigStar artists, Ivan Viaranchyk and Tifé Odomosu could illustrate and add painterly textures to. Using EB Synth, we incorporated texture and motion to infuse the storytelling with sensitivity and emotion as well as explaining the circumstances of the accident as necessary to push the film’s narrative forward.
That textured approach carries through the film, both in the maps as previously mentioned and other artistic depictions in the film. One such depiction has Kris carving her name alongside Doug’s into his coffin as they transport it to its final resting place, a visual for which we shot the re-cre footage for in the BGSTR studio with WILD LIFE DP, Clair Popkin and his team. You can also see the texture carry through to the typographic elements in the film, giving the credits and other written elements the same emotional through-line throughout the film and enhancing the emotional gravitas of the story.
Thank you to our partners at National Geographic and especially to directors Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, with whom we’ve worked before on films like the Academy Award winning documentary Free Solo, for letting us collaborate on such a beautiful film. WILD LIFE is in theaters now and will begin streaming on Disney+ on May 26.
Props where props are due