TED Fellows

Constructing kinetic worlds: the futuristic films of TED Fellow Kibwe Tavares

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Photo: Ryan Lash

Kibwe Tavares combines his training as an architect with his love of storytelling and animation to create futuristic 3D animated/live action films with social and political depth, creating incredibly detailed, vivid, and kinetic visual environments to entice audiences. His short film, Robots of Brixton, distributed on the internet, won a special jury prize at Sundance. And his film studio Factory Fifteen will soon release Jonah, about a giant jumping fish in Zanzibar (trailer shown, bottom).

Tell us about Robots of Brixton

It’s an event that happened at the start of my childhood. This event helped give the black community a voice, and helped put me in the position as the young black academic that I was when I made it. I thought it was an important story to retell, but I used tools I’d been working with, like character animation and visualization, to retell it so that it wouldn’t be such a stereotypically black project and more accessible to wider audiences.

How do you integrate architecture into your films? 

Normally the city – or whatever the environment the setting is in – becomes very important, because everything happens somewhere. The city almost becomes a secondary character, which I’ll build up or design or exaggerate through my storytelling. The city and the design of the project is really as important as the story for me – almost as much as the story.

Did the spark of inspiration come from the set design or the story idea?

It was the story to start with, and then it was how I would execute that using my skill set. But the style is intrinsic to the story: it’s the stamp that I put on it.

You clearly have a real science-fiction aesthetic.

I’ve got the aesthetic, and I used to be well into manga. As an architect, you’re always thinking about the future, too. You build in narratives that are in the future, because you’re always thinking, “When I design a building, I’m designing it for what happens 10, 15 years into the future.” And when you start looking at the future, it’s hard not to have that kind of science-fiction element.

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