For most of us, the pandemic of the past year was a time to seclude ourselves with immediate family and hope for the best. For frontline workers, it was a time of exhaustion and sacrifice; a first-hand experience that most of us will never witness. Nathania Zaini found herself somewhere between these two scenarios and decided to do what she does best, create an animated film that conveys her personal experience of being in the hospital during the apex of Covid 19. Though she was not stricken with the deadly disease, Ms. Zaini’s hospitalization during this time peaked her empathy for all involved parties and solidified her resolve to create a film which would allow audiences to see through her eyes this momentous and taxing situation that had global repercussions. From the writing to the storyboarding, animation, and editing, every frame of Pebbles transports the viewer inside the hospitals that were so central to overcoming the pandemic. There’s an intangible aspect of Pebbles which delivers all of the emotion of this situation and how it effected the mental perspective of someone directly immersed in the environment. Pebbles became an instant hit and garnered awards at the Incluvie Film Festival, Toronto Animations Arts Festival International, SHORT to the Point, LA Under the Stars Film Festival, and Mosaic World Film Festival.
It’s not often that a film is created as a thank you but this is the case with Pebbles. When sudden excruciating pain led Nathania to a hospital in September of 2020, in the midst of the historic Covid pandemic, she discovered many things. The ensuing four-day hospital stay saw her bearing witness to the bravery and exhaustion of the medical professionals there as well as the psychological effects on patients. Upon returning home, Ms. Zaini began to contemplate what she saw during this time and committed to doing what she knows best, creating an animated film to communicate the experience. The presentation of the film is well calculated as Nathania divulges, “The animation style of Pebbles is very simple, and quite, muted, and monotonous. I chose this style to convey the feeling of staying in a hospital. For me it was long and endless. I was staring at the wall in front of my bed where they hung a white board that indicated who my nurses and doctor of the day were. I was also staring at a wall clock. I chose such muted colors because that was how I felt, constricted in the hospital bed for days with no sunlight. I want the audience to feel the sense of isolation, while also putting them in my position. Which is why I implemented some point-of-view shots in the animation.” The muted tone of Pebbles strongly contrasts that of Ms. Zaini’s other films like Goodnight Mr. Sandman (Best Animation Award at LA Under the Stars Film Festival – 2020). The title “Pebbles” is derived from the kidney stones which were the reason for Nathania’s hospital stay. What begins as a self-centric story of pain and solace transforms into an empathetic tale of connection and respect. Yes, the animation style is streamlined but as the events of the story come about, this approach increasingly drives the viewer to focus on the fact that specificity takes a backseat to this universal experience of fighting a deadly disease.
Nathania is quick to point out that it was filmmaker Randolph Zaini who prompted her to create Pebbles. The two had worked together on the Introversy LLC feature film PREMAN which Randolph wrote and directed. Working as a part of this production which includes such notables as Sound Editor Peter Bawiec (nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Modern Family as well as the Golden Reel Award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors-USA), Ms. Zaini performed such tasks as storyboard, concept design, and prop design which set the visual aspect of the entire film; working closely with the director of photography and the production designer. PREMAN is the story of a deaf criminal with a traumatic past and his son who witness a horrible mob murder and must fight their way out of their small Indonesian village. Nathania also assumed the role of sole animator/fabricator for the production house’s (Introversy LLC) stop motion animated logo.
The ideas and stories of these two films show the breadth of Ms. Zaini’s talent. Even so, her ability to deliver a poignant and strong emotional impact is the same. A committed storyteller who delivers on many visual and conceptual levels, Nathania continually exhibits that “vision” is everything for a professional in today’s TV and Film industry. Presently working on a short stop motion film that revolves around the topic the homelessness in the US, it’s clear that Nathania Zaini’s influence will be found in many productions for quite some time.
Writer: Coleman Haan