In Focus: Daniel Sousa’s animated film "Feral"

This week, Daniel Sousa premieres his Creative Capital-supported project, Feral, in the Shorts Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, with screenings on January 19, 21, 22, 23 and 26. The 13-minute animated film tells the story of a wild boy found in the woods by a solitary hunter and brought back to civilization. Alienated by a strange new environment, the boy tries to adapt by using the same strategies that kept him safe in the forest.

The structure of Sousa’s film is associative, abstract and poetic; the animation includes 2-D, graphically animated characters and hand-painted frames. I talked with Sousa to learn more about his approach to storytelling and his animation process:

Jenny: What is your approach to storytelling? How did this story about a wild boy struggling to adapt to society develop?

Daniel: I have always been interested in the duality that seems to exist between our intellectual and our physical selves, between our thoughts and our urges. I explored that literally in my film Minotaur (1998), about a half-man, half-animal creature. And to a certain extent, that struggle between conflicting instincts is also present in Fable (2005), where two people are trying to find each other, but are stuck in a cycle of love and hate. With Feral, I wanted to ask what it is that defines us as human beings and separates us from the other animals. If we were raised without the benefit of human contact, culture and education, would we still behave like humans? Or are we more like mirrors that reflect whatever environment we are exposed to? Does a child raised by wolves become a wolf too?

As I started to research the idea, I found that in almost every documented historical account of feral children, if the child is re-introduced into society after a critical formative period has elapsed—during which language and other cognitive skills are acquired—he or she is never quite able to adapt to the new environment. They are stuck between two worlds—not quite human, and not quite animal. I thought this state of limbo was both heartbreaking and impossible to illustrate without resorting to a poetic medium like animation, where the internal lives of characters can be externalized through visual metaphors.

The official trailer for Feral

Jenny: Your work has an incredible painterly quality to it. Can you talk about your animation process? How long did this film take to complete?

Daniel: Hand-drawn animation is often a very time-consuming and tedious process. For every second of screen time, 12 to 24 distinct drawings need to be rendered in order to create a believable illusion of movement. The idea for the film emerged about five years ago, and I have been working on it ever since. However, the schedule was very sporadic, since I was also teaching and directing commissioned projects during that time. Looking back, if the whole production had been uninterrupted, it might have taken me about a year and a half to complete the film.
The support I received from Creative Capital, LEF Moving Image Fund, The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and the MacDowell Colony allowed me to dedicate about a year of full-time work on the project, which sped things up immensely, and also allowed me to focus on the development of the work without interruptions. Also, for a couple of summers I was able get some intern help from a few of the New England art schools, which was a great experience.

Jenny: What’s next for Feral after the Sundance premiere?

Daniel: Feral is slated to show in several international festivals after Sundance, including the Anima International Animation Festival in Belgium and the International Environmental Film Festival (FIFE) in France (both coming up in February). Hopefully, it will also have a healthy theatrical life over the next year or so. I’m also exploring distribution and alternative exhibition options, but that is still fairly open. As far as new projects are concerned, I’m definitely eager to work off the momentum of this film and start something new. Funding is always an issue, so that might not happen until the right circumstances arise.

Jenny: If someone is interested in the film, what’s the best way for them to get more info or get in touch with you?

Daniel: They can watch the trailer for the film on Vimeo or YouTube or email me through my website ( I’m also online through Facebook and Twitter.