Malak and the Boat – André Holzmeister


Exemplary animator André Holzmeister created ‘Malak and the Boat‘ to tell seven-year-old Malak’s harrowing story of her journey across the Mediterranean seeking shelter from the Syrian conflict. The animation is a key asset in Unicef’s ‘Unfairy Tales’ campaign to raise awareness of the impact of the Syrian crisis on the lives of children. We spoke with him to find out more about this project.

Continue reading to see what André had to say

On how he got involved:

180LA invited House of Colors to create one of three films for the Unfairy Tales campaign. I was invited by Adhemas Batista to direct and produce the CGI for the film. Adhemas is the super-creative Design Director at House of Colors.

I really think it is an important moment for Europe, one of the most major migration crises since WWII. As a humanitarian, I was very moved to help spread the word, from a different perspective.


On the creative process:

Since the beginning of the project, I was looking for this stop motion look-and-feel. At the very first attempt, I achieved a nice looking ocean, and that one frame drove the entire look of the project. It only showed the sea and the boat, but it set the starting point for the look dev.

I wanted the sea to look like a tissue that had been manipulated mechanically underneath the surface. It was the very first look dev for the film. I knew I had to have something unique and beautiful — yet threatening — for Malak.

I wanted the shader to look like a solid material, like if she falls in it, it could hurt her. But it should still have some kind of transparency to resemble real water somehow. I used Corona Renderer’s subsurface scattering and translucency to achieve the look I wanted.

The timeline for this project was an important issue. The deadline was 5 weeks and I was alone in doing all the CG work, doing look dev, modelling, rigging, shading, lighting, animation and composition… so It was a huge challenge just to finish the film. I had zero budget to hire other artists, and despite all the pre production work done by Adhemas and his team, at the end of the line was all the 3D work that I was supposed to deliver.


It is important to say that this was a pro bono work, made for a cause, and this was the only reason everybody involved donated their time and effort. That said, we worked on a very tight deadline and low on resources.

To meet the deadline I had to take control of the creative part also, I could not afford to have more than one environment and all the script would have to take place at the boat and the sea. So I asked to write the script, that way I could control the amount of work I had to deliver. It is great when the agency gives you so much creative freedom.

Another issue was that the shading and lighting and render time should be doable… Corona played a real part in this workflow. It was so fast to achieve the look I was searching for – believe me it made my life much easier and with fantastic output with very fast minutes-per-frame… it was average of 20 minutes per frame in Full HD. The Z-Depth was made in post.

We were sponsored by RebusFarm for the rendering cost, and this was a game changer. Without this I would never have met the deadline. I hired Rodrigo Henrique at this point so he could aid me in setting up the render passes and submitting the render to the farm – I was completely overwhelmed at this point, his aid was life saver!

On what he was most proud of in this animation:

I am proud to have put the fear and agony of Malak into the animation medium that will really bring that home to the viewers… Putting the CG aspect aside, as daunting as it was because of the deadline, I could choose another visual language if I were concerned about my capacity to deliver. So of course I am proud of the result on a technical level, but to tell this story, and to put the feeling of a frightened child in the film, that was the real daunting challenge.


On using Corona, widely known for photo-real output, when creating a stylized, traditional animated look:

I have been using Corona since the Alpha releases, and have experimented a lot with this language prior to this project, so I knew very well what I was about to embrace. I have actually been experimenting with realism vs. cartoon for quite some time now, and I feel there is a very interesting mix in this. I am also experimenting a lot with cartoon characters integrated into photographs or live action footage, and Corona is just perfect for that.

I love this style and will surely evolve it in future projects.

On his current projects:

I am working as art leader and art director at TFGco, a mobile game company. And there are a lot of personal works on the way.

Unicef | Malak and the Boat from André Holzmeister on Vimeo.


Learn more, and find out how you can make a difference:

Animation and Project Credits

Produced by: House of Colors
Created by: 180 LA
Design Director: Adhemas Batista
Director and Scriptwriter: André Holzmeister
CGI: André Holzmeister
Visual Direction: Adhemas Batista, André Holzmeister
Sound Design & Music: Edu Luke and Elisa Gatti for Hefty Audio.
Character Design: Jonathan Marshall, André Holzmeister, Adhemas Batista
Concept Art: Jonathan Marshall, Adhemas Batista
Storyboards: Jonathan Marshall, Adhemas Batista
Animatic: Ricardo Almeida, Guilherme Neder
Project Manager: Luiz Abud
Render Wrangler: Rodrigo Henrique
Rendering Sponsored by: RebusFarm GmbH / Renderservice
Special Thanks: To our families and wives

This film is dedicated to all 1.5 Billion people that live in conflict areas

One thought on “Malak and the Boat – André Holzmeister

  1. Bravo…amazing work for a great cause! It’s lovely and moving.

    Big props to Rebus too.

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