The Meth Project is a U.S.A. based anti-drugs campaign created in response to the ‘growing Meth epidemic’. It makes use of online and broadcast media in order to dissuade teenagers from ever trying methamphetamine. The highly addictive illicit drug is associated with depression, suicide, serious heart disease, amphetamine psychosis, and violent behaviour. Prolonged abuse of the substance is often indicated by physical deterioration such as loss of teeth and emaciation.
Four animation directors from the London based Studio AKA were commissioned by the advertising agency Organic, Inc. to create short narrative animations for The Meth Project. The harrowing and frank films are based on firsthand stories of young addicts. During each sequence the narrator states their age and when they started using meth. Collectively the six films indicate the horrors of this chemically and culturally poisonous substance.
Kristian Andrews directs three of the stories:
Bernadette – Directed by Kristian Andrews
Bernadette’s account addresses the guilt she feels over a friend’s suicide. Kristian Andrews uses tone to symbolise naivety and consequence. We are initially introduced to two friends who are constructed out of delicate, transparent line drawings in a bleached-out room. However, harsh under lit shadows appear in the bedroom as drug use ensues. Finally abstract blotches blacken the screen when Bernadette reflects on her guilt. The unexpected cut directly to an image of the gun in the friend’s mouth effectively represents the crushingly arbitrary nature of the young girl’s decision to end her life.
Oriah – Directed by Kristian Andrews
Oriah recounts the shame he feels about the violence he directed towards his family. A visual contrast is created between recollections of being high and the sober interview. When depicting the moments of intoxication sources of light are over exposed and smeared, the virtual handheld camera is either up high or near the ground at an oblique angle. The characterisation of Oriah when he is high is rapid moving and rhythmically awkward. This is contrasted by the relatively static talking-head shots where Oriah discusses his shame.
Kara – Directed by Kristian Andrews
Kara’s story refers to a near death experience in which her heart stopped briefly. The narrator’s greatest shock comes from the realisation that her drug addled friends did very little to help. Following a red and black scene showing Kara’s palpitating heart, Andrews reintroduces the viewer to the stark black and white external world. The camera rotates around her body as supporting characters slide in and out from the darkness in sync with her narration. This extraordinary scene keeps pace with rapid leaps in narrative while maintaining a strong feeling of cohesion.
Grant Orchard directs two of the personal stories:
Rochelle – Directed by Grant Orchard
Rochelle’s story addresses drug-induced hallucinations. Orchard was charged with the difficult task of indicating the horror of visual disturbances, without glorifying or underplaying the experience. He depicts simultaneous images jostling for space on screen. Individually such symbols would not induce much stress, but in the context of the dense composition they are exposed for a period of time that is too short for them to be fully processed. In a further attempt to evoke disgust Orchard incorporates metamorphosis; faces spawn out of one another like cancerous cells dividing out of control. Rochelle’s account also indicates a twisted rationalisation associated with addiction. “And even when I was loosing everything and everything was going to go, I knew I still wanted to get high. That’s the one thing I knew.”
Hailey – Directed by Grant Orchard
Hailey’s story addresses the visible signs of bodily deterioration that are associated with prolonged meth use. Orchard sets a virtual camera descending through a stark black and white environment speckled with floating blotches. In this space the narration is expanded upon when figurative elements spread out from a point. To further unsettle the viewer gravity is inverted so that dribbling black marks stream upwards. The quality of line and overall aesthetic seems to suggest etching prints.
One of the films is a collaboration between Steve Small, director, and Dave Prosser, designer.
Ashley – Directed by Steve Small – Design by Dave Prosser
Ashley’s narrative starts by referring to a particular hallucination that led her to cut open her arm to look inside. From a jostling point-of-view camera the animated arm quivers, this is matched by the scrappy mark making. A crisp edged, gently growing, crimson pool of blood starkly contrasts the loosely painted and drawn grey-scale arm. The second scene, in which disfiguring acne is described, suggests the use of a hand held camera. This creates a sense of intimacy with the character, as we feel noticeably present in the bathroom with Ashley.
Studio AKA was also commissioned to create a series of stand-alone illustrations. These echo the reoccurring starting-age theme found in the six animated films.
A colleague suggested animation might have been chosen for this campaign as the medium is traditionally associated with young people. Teenagers are the campaign’s target audience so many of the conventions of children’s animation have been circumnavigated, instead these sequences do hold much of the angst, gloom and tension connected to the first stumbling years of adulthood. Adolescent recklessness collides with life altering consequences, often indicating personal growth and the taking of responsibility. Perhaps these films chime with their audiences by updating the visual language instilled by cartoons in childhood.
This set of challenging animated documentaries make up the ‘Personal Stories’ subsection of the Meth Project’s YouTube Channel, each video has received between ten to twenty thousand views.