Sam de Ceccatty on the genesis of LILITH & EVE


Sam de Ceccatty on the genesis of LILITH & EVE

Sam de Ceccatty is a French-American writer and director whose work is screened in festivals worldwide. LILITH & EVE is an irreverent adult comedy short. The film is a reimagining of the story of the Garden of Eden in which Eve accidentally bumps into Adam’s first wife, Lilith. 

The film premiered at the Tribeca Festival in 2022 and was awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick. Toon Boom Animation invited Sam to a livestream interview this summer to discuss his short and the process of creating an independent project as a solo animator. The following interview is an excerpt from our original broadcast.

LILITH & EVE is a short film by Sam de Ceccatty and BAFTA-nominated producer Manon Ardisson.

How would you describe your role in the project? And what was a typical day like during production?

Sam: What was my role? Everything from conception. My wife and I came up with the idea. We were looking for baby names and discovered the name Lilith, discovered her story, fell in love with that story, and felt the need to tell that story. We named our first daughter Lilith. 

So I co-wrote it, I animated it, did the million different jobs that there are within animation, from character design, background art. Everything. Everything that’s on screen is me. I co-wrote it with my wife [Manon Ardisson]. And everything that’s audio, I worked on with some friends.

My goal was to make it feel like it was part of the Adult Swim or Cartoon Network worlds. This was all an experiment for me. I’ve always loved hand-drawn animation, cel animation, the old style of animation. And I really wanted this product to be animated that way. 

There’s no rigging involved in this project. It’s all drawn image by image, which I did with Toon Boom Harmony. It was a steep learning curve. It took me about two years to animate from start to finish. If I worked full time on it, it represents about six months, maybe eight months of work. But you have to pay rent at the same time. A lot of those two years is just me animating from 9:00 PM to 3:00 AM after I put my kids to bed. That’s a typical animating day.

Livestream recording with Sam de Ceccatty from June 15, 2023. Originally broadcast on Toon Boom Animation’s Twitch channel.

This is a film that premiered at the Tribeca Festival in 2022. It was awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick. How did you feel about the reception?

Sam: It was incredible. I really did this as a way of just doing a project that I didn’t have to compromise on. I was doing it all myself. And I didn’t have anyone else really involved in terms of financing or anything. That meant that I had no deadline. So the project was open-ended until I was happy with it. 

I kind of made this project with the idea that this was going to go online and get 200 views on YouTube. I did not believe that cartoons could go to these kinds of festivals. And I didn’t think this is how it was going to end up. But it was an incredible experience, going to Tribeca, meeting Whoopi Goldberg, meeting everyone there. I’ve made some lifelong friends there, and met some incredible people. And hopefully more projects will come out of this. So that’s great. I’m over the moon about the reception.

The character designs have a lot of personality. There’s Adam, Lilith, and Eve and a biblically-accurate angel. Did you want to walk through the character designs and the thinking that went into each of them?

Sam: Part of the premise of the show is that the idea is that Adam and Lilith were created at the same time, and then at a later point came Eve. 

We wanted Adam and Lilith to really feel like they were part of the same family; part of the same year that they were created. So I try to keep them within the same colour tone. In terms of height, they’re about the same. They live in this kind of purpley, red-bluish world. And they both have big hair. I wanted both those characters to kind of feel like they live together. 

And then Eve feels very different. We wanted Eve to kind of be the embodiment of traditional femininity. You know, mainstream femininity. Whereas we wanted Lilith to feel like a really strong empowered woman: sexy, but on her own terms, and she doesn’t care what you think of her hairy legs. So that was the brief for us. 

We didn’t want Adam to be like an arch villain. He’s more like a lazy shit, which I really identify with. So Adam is kind of a mix between Connor, who’s the actor playing it, and me. He’s kind of those two people squashed into one.

And then the Archangel. In the actual Bible, there are several descriptions of angels. All of them are really, really wacky. 

Mike [Interviewer]: They can be pretty wild. Circles within circles, lots of eyeballs, wings, multiple heads…

Sam: The main description that I was going off of is six wings and hundreds of eyes all over his body. I did not want to animate hundreds of eyes. So I went with five. In the description, it says eyes on the body, which I wanted to try to get closer to. And there are some other descriptions of angels which are crazy. Some of them aren’t even humanoid. 

A lot of work went into this character design and the colour patterns. We spent a lot of time working on the colours specifically because I really wanted to get it right. 

One of our main references is a painting by Chagal called Adam and Eve Exiled from Paradise. This was the starting point in terms of colours. It really helped us, looking back at this painting, and using the colours from this painting. You can see the primary colours, the use of purple. That’s also why I put a goat in there. This painting was a huge influence for our colour scheme in our project.

Lilith hitches a ride on an angel’s back. Art provided by Sam de Ceccatty.

What was that ideation process like in terms of finding references and trying to narrow down a style?

Sam: Well, I wanted it to feel beautiful, the way some Cartoon Network projects are, like Steven Universe. Some of these backgrounds on Steven Universe I would literally have on my wall because it’s just so pretty. The composition is just incredible. 

I knew from the get go I wanted it to have a painterly quality the way that show does. But it’s not just for kids. It’s not as naive a world as Steven Universe. It has that kind of edge. I wanted it to be somewhere within the ballpark of Rick and Morty and Steven Universe, but with a more painterly quality. That’s what we were going for.

And by the way, so much respect for background art. I had no idea what I was getting involved with when I was starting. You have no idea also how bad my first iterations were – just like crazy, crazy bad first drawings.

A big part of this project was me having these bucket list shots that I wanted to try playing around with, and one of them is this shot here. The idea of a character walking towards the frame with the floor moving away and the things in the background sliding. I wanted to wrap my head around how to do that. 

Like, what do the separate elements even look like? It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure out how I could build this.

How many layers of multiplaning went into this scene?

Sam: It’s not that many. I think there’s five. There’s two for the floor. The bushes and the floor are separate. And then there’s three layers for the background. But there were also different versions. See, this is one background, but it’s individual trees that I then move independently from each other. But that looks really wonky. I had to figure out how to do it in a way that is convincing and that belongs to this universe. 

Because obviously you can just do it in After Effects. I could do it in a second by just pulling back with the camera. But that doesn’t do the effect that I wanted. So yeah, there’s just like 100 different versions of that one shot.

Certain scenes can be challenging to accomplish in hand drawn animation, such as walking towards a moving camera.

That’s a very complex sequence in animation: having characters walking towards a moving camera that’s going back, while scenery also moves in perspective.

Sam: Thank you. I take very little credit in terms of the composition. That shot exists in almost every cartoon out there. But I now understand the work involved. And I also understand why these kinds of shots are usually reserved for epic action sequences. It’s usually something chasing something. Because when it’s action, that means it’s super choppy, so it’s like two seconds, whereas I did dialogue. So I needed an insane amount of forest for the background and stuff.

How closely did you collaborate with the vocal talent on this project?

Sam: I was really lucky to work with some pretty established actors. Susan Wokoma, who voices Lilith, is a brilliant comedian and actress who’s done great shows. And Aimee Lou Wood was still working on Sex Ed when we did this. 

The great thing about animation, especially short animations, is that it is a very small commitment from them, because we can record it in any studio near them. So it was just one session. Actually for Susan, it was two because the sound engineer messed up. So we had to re-record some of Susan’s lines. 

Susan also got a lot of the best kind of sounds that we ended up using, like the bird call that she uses to call the archangel. And she’s got some really great lines. I had like a long list of all these different sounds I need them to do. And one of them was the sound of Lilith jumping on the back of an archangel. I was like, “Alright, do the sound of someone jumping on the back of an archangel. Go!” 

Before we even had those final recordings I had recorded myself and some friends doing the performances. Just to figure out the timing of the shots so that I could do the animatic. By the time I recorded Susan and Aimee, I had an animatic that was roughly in place. 

And then when I was actually animating and going beyond the animatic stage, that’s when their vocals were really useful. Because they really helped me in figuring out how to animate everything and get the comedy. Sometimes the performance that they gave informed what happened on screen in terms of animation. 

Like at one point, Adam scratches his butt. And that’s because the actor, Conor [Kennedy], was scratching his beard. So I had this great scratching sound in the middle of a take. And I was like, “Don’t don’t delete it. I’m keeping it.” I was trying to find original places to find the comedy.

I had a brief cameo. At the very end, I had one line. That one line is kind of the ethos of the short, so I felt like I should probably do it.  Adam just fell in the water and is really angry at the snake, and says, “I’m just going to tell everyone this whole story is because of you.” And the snake goes, “Yeah, like anyone would believe that.” 

What was the most challenging or rewarding part of the process that went into making this short?

Sam: One of the biggest challenges was just keeping the engine going. Because this took me two years to make. And you know, life can change quite drastically in two years. I went from having one kid to two kids. Making this a priority and spending enough time, that was definitely a big challenge. 

The other big challenge was learning Harmony, learning how to use the tools that were available, watching all the YouTube tutorials I could find. Toon Boom has quite a few great resources on your website, which I definitely used as much as I could. Some of the shots I animated at the beginning looked so bad in comparison to what I could do after two years of animating that I had to redo the first shots just to kind of smooth it out. 

Which scenes are you the most proud of?

Sam : From a technical point of view, this shot for me [that zooms out through the forest] is one of the ones I’m proudest of. I did the compositing in After Effects. This is one of the only shots where there’s actually motion blur. And then on top of that, I added these like streaks that I drew to go through the trees. And I couldn’t figure out how to do it. So I had to mash my phone through bushes to figure out how that works.

I and even then it didn’t really work because everything was blurry in the shot. So I ended up asking a friend for help, this one 3D artist. She created a forest, and then had a 3D camera go through the forest and then removed all the motion blur. And then I just track leaves. And that’s how I did in the end. It was a bit of a cheat to do this effect. But in the end, it works. 

It took me a long time to figure out how we’re going to do this. To actually get this effect took a ridiculous amount of manpower and hours. And now if I had to redo it, it would take me like two days. But to get to that point to understand how it was gonna work took a long time.

Production still from LILITH & EVE. We see a reflection as Eve prepares to bite the apple.

One of the scenes I really liked was the reflection of Eve on the apple. Making that look like it’s cohesive and realistic is not an easy task.

Sam: This was not the original shot, but I felt like it needed this. I wanted to emphasize this moment and underline it a bit, to make it more resonant. To make it feel different from the rest of it. To give it importance, basically. I messed about a lot in compositing. You can see but there’s like highlights and shadows. I think the shadows I did in Toon Boom Harmony.  

Mike: There are so many different ways to accomplish shadow effects. What was the process in terms of the shadows? 

Sam: I think I had a mask. This is one of the Toon Boom things that I figured out after multiple hours of Googling and tutorial learning. There’s this option of adding a shadow mask into an independent layer. And so you can determine opacity and alpha and stuff. I did that that way.

But then highlights, I just did it in compositing because I didn’t feel I needed the extra week of work to get the point across. The parts I focused on were the parts where I felt, for the story, it was really important to get the detail. And so here she has a crushing realization. I wanted the light to be crushing. So these highlights are drawn on because it’s the “Aha” moment. That was really cool. And I’m really glad I learned how to do that. 

You have these really beautiful backgrounds. And then you have Adam with his butt in the same shot, and it doesn’t feel out of place. It feels cohesive.

Sam: Yeah, that was definitely part of the ambition, to have both beauty and an  irreverent silliness exist in the same frame. So something where the short clearly goes out of its way to make the shot have a painterly quality to it. I think that adds to the comedy when on top of all that you get a butt. That’s the tone I was going for. 

Out of everything that you did on this short, what did you find the most satisfying? And what was outside of your comfort zone?

Sam: I mean, I had no comfort zone. The whole thing was outside of my comfort zone. I animated this between the hours of 9:00 PM and 3:00 AM over two years. My day job was doing vector animation, animating logos and typography and really simple basic rigs in After Effects. That’s my comfort zone. So everything here was a learning curve. 

And I’m so happy I did it. Because I now have a much better understanding of how this whole world works. And it opened a lot of doors thanks to Tribeca. What the short really did for me is that it showed people that I know what the end product should aim to be.

  • For more of Sam de Ceccatty’s work, be sure to visit his website and his Instagram account @Ceccatty.
  • Interested in animating your next award-winning short? Artists can get started by downloading a 21-day trial of Harmony Premium.

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