Home Cartoon movies ‘Only a Child’: Director Simone Giampaolo talks about his Oscar-nominated film

‘Only a Child’: Director Simone Giampaolo talks about his Oscar-nominated film


The animated short film only one child is the result of a beautiful global collaboration between more than 20 animators from around the world who used a wide range of techniques to interpret the environmental-themed speech delivered by 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki during the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio. The short has been selected by over 100 festivals around the world, awarded by SPARK, SIGGRAPH and ITFS Stuttgart, and is one of 15 acclaimed titles on this year’s list of animated shorts at the Oscars.

We recently had the opportunity to speak to the London director of the film Simone Giampaolo (Obki, Hoodoo, Adventures of Miffy) about this important project:

Only a child (Michaela Müller)

Animation magazine: First of all congratulations about all the accolades your short film has received. Can you tell us how this project was born?

Simone Giampaolo: Since my university years, I have always tried to inject positive moral messages into my films, especially on nature and the protection of the environment (one of my idols and favorite artists has existed is Frédéric Back , director of the mighty The man Oho planted trees). I came across Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s speech about three years ago (before the climate strike movement and Greta Thunberg became a global phenomenon) and immediately felt the need to adapt it into a movie. animation. I contacted Severn herself, who seemed very interested in this potential collaboration, and gave me official permission and blessing to use her speech.

Following this, I contacted Amka Films, a production company based in Italian Switzerland (where I am from), and presented the concept to them. Amka producers Gabriella de Gara Bucciarelli and Tiziana Soundani (unfortunately passed away in 2020) also seemed enthusiastic about the proposal and agreed to help me apply for funding to make this project a reality.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Simone Giampaolo

Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Simone Giampaolo

This is not a project that is close to my heart just because of the theme and the content. Ever since I started doing animation, I’ve always dreamed of making an ambitious film that could combine all existing animation techniques (stop-frame, CG, 2D, sand, painting on glass, etc.) and , when only one childThe pre-production of started in 2019, I immediately saw an opportunity for it to finally happen.

How long did it take to complete?

With the help of Amka Films, we started raising funding for the film in early 2019. The actual production started in the second half of the same year and lasted more or less a year.

Only one contributing child animators.

Only one contributing child animators.

How did you find the different animators who worked on the project?

The film received funding from Swiss television and government, so most of the crew had to be Swiss or located in Switzerland (although we had a few exceptions). Selecting the team from so many talented indie artists was a real challenge and time consuming, but I was very happy with the diverse “crew” we managed to put together. Getting to know and interact with artists who use so many different animation techniques has been an amazing learning opportunity for me.

Tell us about the different styles and media used to illustrate the speech.

When assembling CAD‘dream team’, I did my best to give enough weight and importance to each animation technique: the artists were selected for their skills, of course, but also for their unique visual style and the techniques that they could use. Needless to say, finding a digital 2D animator is way easier than a sand or glass painting artist!

Only a Child came together with 20 artists working with distinct techniques, pipelines and budgets.

Only a Child came together with 20 artists working with distinct techniques, pipelines and budgets.

What was the biggest challenge for you as director of this ambitious piece?

Managing everyone’s time and setting up individual calls for feedback sessions (alongside my daily work) was the hardest part of the project. For several months, I found myself having meetings to CAD every lunch break, not to mention evenings/weekends! Fortunately for me, I was assisted by an excellent producer during this process, Ursula Ulmi. On the contrary, the pipeline was arguably the easiest part of the project, as (almost) every artist was tasked with designing, animating, and completing their own animated segment without sharing files with other departments (there was however a few exceptions, in which several artists had to collaborate and work together in order to achieve a certain transition and/or a particular visual style).

From a production point of view, the biggest challenge was certainly managing the budget by dividing it into 20 different sub-budgets (each different for each “segment” of the film), keeping in mind the different pipelines and workflow that each animation technique requires (sand, painting on glass, stop-motion, puppetry, CGI, 2D, etc.). Working with so many different independent artists has forced us to become flexible and quite open to experimentation. As a director, my main challenge was to provide each creative mind involved with enough artistic freedom while maintaining a “common thread” throughout the visual narrative.

Only a child (Roman Kaelin)

Only a child (Roman Kaelin)

What do you like about the end results?

Watching our film, you will quickly realize that only one child is an incredibly eclectic visual project that displays nearly every animation technique from the book: stop-motion, traditional 2D, CGI, clay, puppetry, painting on glass, sand… You name it! Since day one, I’ve insisted on representing as many styles as possible for one simple reason: I consider each animation technique to be a “tribe” (or a “nation”), and I really wanted only one child to metaphorically symbolize different nations (and therefore different human beings) coming together to share a common and crucial message. If the animation world can come together and collaborate to create an environmental and social film, then maybe politicians around the world can come together to make the future of the world a healthier and safer one, who knows ?

What do you hope the audience will take away from Only one child?

I would like this film to make audiences think about the lack of environmental action taken by the governments of nations over the past 30 years since Severn delivered his speech at the UN summit. Could we (or our parents) have done more? Sure, but finger pointing now won’t help solve humanitarian/environmental crises. Only acting as soon as possible will do that.

Only a Child (Justine Klaiber)

Only a Child (Justine Klaiber)

Did you get any direct responses to this short that really stuck with you?

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve managed to physically attend a few animation festivals over the past few months. After a special screening, some children came to hug me and thanked me deeply for choosing to adapt this powerful message into an animated film. This rare encounter really moved me and will stay with me forever. Additionally, the short film was shown during COP26 in Glasgow last November. Seeing it screened at such an important environmental summit made us all very proud.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from the overall experience of making this short film?

This was, by far, the hardest project I have ever overseen in my career (also considering it was all done in my spare time)! I was lucky to find a group of artists and directors that I could trust and who really believed in this omnibus project and threw themselves heart and soul into their animated segments. However, it is indeed tricky to manage the minds of multiple creative directors (with different visions and who work with different media), I’m not going to lie. With each director involved, I had to learn the right balance between allowing enough creative freedom and welcoming individual input and ideas, while maintaining enough control over the final product. In other words, I did my best to let everyone on board contribute creatively to the film while respecting and serving the bigger picture.

Only a child (little giant)

Only a child (little giant)

only one child is available to stream on KIS KIS – keep it short on YouTube here until February 1.

Learn more about the film at amka.ch/film/only-a-child. You can watch a behind-the-scenes featurette here.