December 13th, 2013

Billy Jang, CG Artist at The Mill, recently traveled to Kenya with Brush With Hope to create a film about a girl from a poor neighborhood in Mombasa and her hopes for the future. Brush With Hope, hosted by Mtree, is an international project that brings together artists and designers from around the world to teach art to children in developing countries.

Billy explains how he got involved with the project below.

A Bit of Background

After graduating from college, I decided to help people in difficult situations through various organizations and projects. Since starting at The Mill in 2011, I have traveled to Korea to film a program that teaches kids in an orphanage. I got involved with Brush With Hope this past summer and created a short video to bring awareness and support to the program, while also helping the children.  The weeklong project brought together artists from across the globe to teach painting to around 150 children from ages seven to twelve in Mombasa, Kenya.

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The UN media team joined Brush With Hope in Kenya in 2012 and broadcasted the project through UN News. In 2012, about 15% of the participating children were orphans as well as HIV positive. The great thing about the program is it exposes the children of Mombasa to new experiences, allowing them to not only try different things but also learn to express themselves more freely.

Arriving in Kenya

When I arrived in Kenya, I was shocked. I knew that some countries in Africa were poor, but I didn't realize how difficult life is for the people. The children play barefoot, surrounded by trash. They eat very unhygienic porridge as their daily meal (If there is any to spare). One day, while searching for a location to shoot the film, I was greeted by a local woman. She started to tell me something with hand gestures. I couldn't understand what she was trying to get across, but after a few minutes of talking to each other, I realized she was begging me to take her child to the school.

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Making the Film

After tons of walking and searching in Mombasa, I found a beautiful place to shoot. I was looking for a place where I could truly show the beauty of Kenya, a place where people maintained laughter and happiness despite the harsh conditions. At a Brush With Hope class, I met seven-year old Salama. She had amazing eyes and a great energy, and seemed like the perfect choice to represent the children of the town.

The video is a short, simple teaser featuring a girl going to school.  I wanted to show what the program is intended to do: give hope for the future. Many videos and films about Africa depict only the harsh part of life, making the audience sympathize with the story so that they will be moved.  My main goal with this film was to show the beauty of the people. Through working with the children of Mombasa, I wanted to teach them to dream bigger and express themselves freely as this is the key to developing innovative solutions to meet the challenges in their local communities.

Capturing the scenery was key for this video. I had to capture the living situation of Salama.  Since the video was of a girl in a poor neighborhood having a hopeful day, mood was key.  I wanted the gradual change of color to tell the overall story. Going from purple tone to a bright yellow tone was the main color script. Dramatic lighting was used in the beginning and light blooms and flares were used to make it look soft and cozy. The frame was focused on Salama to maximize concentration for the audience.

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Overcoming Challenges

I came across a few challenges while filming. The children get so excited when they see a camera! They follow you wherever you go just to see what you're doing. When twenty kids follow you while trying to shoot a sunset shot, you have to tell them to stay away from the camera. I was working solo on this shoot so it took some time to get the children to relax.

The sun was covered with clouds, which also made filming quite difficult since I only had few hours.  I used a Canon 650D which was not very good with the low light situation so I made bounce lights with LED lights and matte plastic bags. The process of filming was not easy but thankfully, Salama was a natural talent.

The Result

Salama and the other children of the town grew brighter and more confident as my week in Kenya ended. All of the experiences and personal stories were very touching.  Given the fact that I only had two days for location searching without transportation and five hours for shooting, I was more than grateful to have such a great result.

My experience on this project has motivated me to do something meaningful.  Art has the ability to give children hope and the capacity to dream.  I am currently in the process of planning a fundraising exhibition to help children in Kenya. Proceeds from the exhibit will be used to buy hygienic materials the children desperately need. I plan to bring them to the kids during next year's program.

Watch the film below: