It all started with a floor. After a volunteer witnessed a moment of joy experienced by a 6-year-old girl as she danced on the floor in her new TECHO house for the first time, the creative team at Unsaid Studio knew they had the basis of a story for their short animated film.
Whilst a floor might seem like something many of us take for granted, for 200 million people living in poverty in South America, it's considered a luxury. To help these people, the non-profit TECHO has made a tangible difference in the last 25 years by building homes for 131,000 families. They've already provided aid to people living in 18 countries, and they're only set to keep expanding.
To raise awareness of their good work and hopefully some funds in the process, Unsaid Studio is working on a new film called Panchita, which tells the true story of a girl looking to find her own stable foundations and follow her dreams. According to the creatives involved, it's "a film made with love and for a good cause," and their enthusiasm and sincerity are plain to see on screen.
Currently in development, the five-minute short follows the little girl Panchita as she unearths a magical old VCR player and discovers her calling to tap dance. With the help of an unexpected supernatural friend and mentor, her new passion for tap dance transforms both her life and those of the people living in her surrounding favela.
This is a fun, accessible way to bring to life some of the tougher subject matter of TECHO's work, and at the same time, it realises the real-life story of the little girl excited by her floor. Meanwhile, for the team at Unsaid Studio, it's a way for them to give something back with their art.
"Personally, as artists, we wanted to combat the growing feeling that our space in digital art is becoming less permanent, less meaningful and more greed-driven," they revealed. "We're proud to be empowering South American artists in the process."
Striking the right tone on a project like this is understandably difficult, especially when hard-hitting issues come face-to-face with supernatural concepts. Unsaid Studio explains that getting the look of the film right was a challenging balance. "Within the favela, there is no space free from the elements. The very ground is unforgiving and stifles Panchita's dreams.
"The sand, a key member of our cast, visually and technically was a challenging balance. It needed to move realistically, feel miniature and stay consistent with our world of simplified shapes," they add. "Favelas are generally not nice places to set a film, but through Panchita's eyes, it's a wide new world full of tropical colours and simple, innocent shapes."
At the heart of the film's aesthetics, though, was a need to inspire people to make a change and uplift them. "TECHO empowers and is something to be optimistic about; it's a tale of hope and triumph against adversity. We settled on an illustrative, almost toy-like miniature visual style that appealed to all ages."
The thinking behind this toy-like visual approach also ties into the idea that when you donate to TECHO, it enables you to reach into a favela and affect someone's life in a physical, tangible way. "We wanted our toy-like set to make it easy to imagine placing a new model home into the scene with your own hands."
Want to help Panchita come to life? Learn more about TECHO's good work and how you can donate to the film at us.techo.org.