Born Free are a charity dedicated to ensuring animals are born free and stay wild. They came to us with a problem: it’s not widely known that most lions in South Africa aren’t born free, they’re raised in captivity and exploited for profit at every stage of their lives. The harsh reality is that keepers charge tourists to hug and take photos with them. Then, when they grow too big for cuddles, they’re sold to trophy hunters and shot in canned hunting facilities. At no point are they ever free to roam. Not only is this inhumane practice legal, but it’s big business in South Africa and growing all the time.
We created ‘The Bitter Bond’: an emotional, highly shareable animated story of a lion keeper and her cub that ends in the ultimate betrayal. Set to the famous track “Born Free” by Matt Monro, the story shows how those who are responsible for raising and nurturing a lion are the ones ultimately responsible for their death. It’s this betrayal of our common nurturing instinct that gives the film its heart-breaking power. The film was designed for people to share on social media all around the world. We wanted as many people as possible to be aware of the problem and sign a petition to the South African government to stop it.
To make the film, backgrounds and the sets were all built for real. Then we shot the sets in camera and animated the characters within them. This gave the film a unique, hand-crafted look. The lion feels fuzzy, almost like a child’s toy. This acts to disarm the audience so you feel like you’re watching a sweet story about a lion and his best friend, which makes the tragedy even more compelling. It’s a good demonstration of how animation can intellectually engage people on a subject that can be too horrific through live action.
The film has been a huge success for Born Free. At the time of writing, it’s gathered over 13 million views on social media, 300,000 shares and over 275,000 petition signatures without any media spend. Along the way, it’s been retweeted by a host of global celebs and influencers, including Ellen DeGeneres, Ricky Gervais, Bryan Adams and Stephen Fry.
Not only that, but we turned all this outrage into action. Within one month of the film going viral, the South African Tourist Board changed its policy. It no longer recommends or supports any activity where there is human interaction with predators. That means no cuddling, no pictures and no hunting. It’s our biggest step yet in bringing down the trophy hunting industry.