Art Director Diego Coutinho tackles award-winning film War on Drugo with perfect execution

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Part of the crew of War on Drugo

They say when you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. Diego “Couts” Coutinho knows this to be true. The art director and motion graphics designer spends every day living his dream, and enjoys everything he does. But what makes his job even more enjoyable is working on projects that he truly believes in. When a film sends an important message and he is part of creating it, there is a sense of purpose that goes far beyond loving what you do.

This is exactly what happened when Coutinho worked on the Brazilian film War on Drugo. Although the film was recognized internationally and received many awards, it was working on something he believed in that was truly special.

“I can honestly say that this movie wouldn’t have been possible without Diego as Art Director/Production Designer. He was my right hand throughout the whole production, responsible for directing the Concept Art Crew while also working as Lead Concept Artist; overseeing the production of puppets and settings to make sure the original visual concept wouldn’t get lost,” said director Gabriel Nóbrega.

Commissioned by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, developed by Almap/BBDO agency and produced by Vetor Zero/Lobo studio, the film was to created to motivate a reflection on the consequences of 40 years of “war on drugs”, and to foster a broader discussion of drug policy reform. War on Drugo is set in a fairytale setting. The movie explains the disastrous war against drugs by telling the story of a dragon banished from an ancient kingdom, and how people who spent time with the dragon were thrown into jail. The visually appealing metaphor uses a simple narrative that is designed to help overcome these barriers and break taboos when it comes to discussing the issue with the public.

“The good work in this project was to create a tool to raise people’s awareness, so they can better understand the issue of drug abuse in the contemporary world,” said Coutinho.

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Artwork in War on Drugo

Coutinho took on multiple roles to ensure the film’s success. As production designer of the project, he was responsible for pre-production during the beginning stages. He followed storyboarding, creating and developing characters and scenarios. At the same time, he was the lead artist of the team, so beyond the creation of scenarios, characters and special effects, he was required to pay attention to the development of the project, ensuring other artists were consistent with the conceptual proposal of the film.

After the pre-production was finished, he followed the production and preparation of the pieces so that they were faithful to the concepts. In the sequence, he went to work in the post-production, assuming part of the coordination in the final moment. He also worked as a composer, being responsible for the main special effects of the film.

“It is normal not to have the answer to everything, but you must to be prepared to change what is necessary and correct process failures as soon as possible. So, the sooner we make a mistake, the sooner we correct the problem,” said Coutinho.

Despite War on Drugo being an extremely important project, it became Coutinho’s most-awarded project to date. Besides a lot of print and online press coverage, it was acclaimed by many of the most important awards in the field, and went on to win gold at the London International Advertising Awards for Motion Graphics Design, gold in animation at the Cannes Lions 2015, Gold at the IF Design Awards 2015 in Short Animation, and 16 other awards worldwide.

“Couts isn’t just one of the most talented Art Directors I have worked with, he also has integrity in the way he treats the project and the people,” said the animation director of the film, Lee Peffer.

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Set from War on Drugo

After the success of their previous project, the credits for the Brazilian film Brincante, Coutinho, Nóbrega, and Peffer decided to embark on this project. They knew they worked well together, and therefore used a similar style of artwork for War on Drugo. They used one of the oldest types of animation techniques: stop-motion, using hinged cardboard puppets and miniature sets. Most of the artwork was printed and glued onto pieces of laser-cut MDF, while some settings were hand-painted or created with mixed materials. Coutinho’s team took over 30,000 photographs, and built a total of 13 scenarios and over 300 characters, of which around 80 were animated, meaning they had a structure of articulated joints.

“It was a great time because it was almost like a family, where everyone stopped to talk,” said Coutinho. “We developed the proposal to mix both temporal moments in the film. We can see the logic being applied throughout the film. Early at the beginning of the movie, we see the shot of the king, he’s showed in an American capitol that has a mixed architecture with a castle. The logic also applies to the design of the clothes. In the first scene, you can see two women in medieval clothes walking with shopping bags, as if they were returning from shopping at the mall. The result is a visual of a story of fairytales, but has obvious and direct relationships with today, which helps in having a public identification with the subject, and so we get the opening to about drugs dialogue.”

You can watch the powerful film here.

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