Balam: Culturally and Historically Aware Animation

Kelly King
4 min readMar 29, 2023

Animation is not a monolith. The story and the aesthetic style of an animated film can be integrated in a variety of ways precisely calibrated to elicit an emotional response. While that definition can certainly be used to describe any film, animated ones are capable of a visual approach wider than most, from crude by design to those nearly indiscernible from live-action. Producer Joshua Powell has spent the past two years collaborating with Director Guillermo Casarin and Julia M. Quiceno on Balam, an animated film soon to be released. Though not available to the public until June of this year, the press has been afforded the ability to witness this remarkable production which infuses fast-action storytelling with a culturally informative plot. Balam is crafted in a remarkable manner that is thrilling and tugs at the heart strings. There is a sweet spot in storytelling where social information, history, and science are communicated with a riveting plot and suspenseful action; this is where Balam resides.

Joshua Powell confirms that he immediately accepted the position as the film’s producer upon hearing Director Guillermo Casarin’s pitch. Along with fellow producer Julia M. Quiceno, the trio of filmmakers embarked on a journey to bring the tale of a young girl descended from Mayans to audiences everywhere. Powell concedes that this was his first time producing an animated film (he is known for his work on productions such as Jack and Lou: A Gangster Love Story starring Primetime Emmy–nominated actress Linda Hamilton, and others). He notes, “I was so excited by the story and the style that Guillermo wanted to use to deliver it. It took us six months just to find a studio and another year-and-a-half to create everything but it was justified when you witness the final product. Certain animated films have the power to connect with both children and adults and I think this is exactly the kind of film that Balam is. Countless meetings and overseeing the schedule and progress of the deliverables, that’s all worth it when you watch the film and see that it is so perfect.”

(Concept art from Balam)

In the opening scene of Balam, a young girl is more interested in her phone than in the stars her father wants her to view through his telescope. When she wanders off in search of a better signal, she finds a trapped exotic cat who becomes the catalyst for a mind opening adventure. In the process, she learns about her own inner strength as well as her Mayan ancestors. The Animation of Balam was done by Magic Hammer & EME Animation. Both of these studios are based in Mexico. The aesthetics of this film are certainly stylized but they come from a place of authenticity. The look is exciting and the characters have a unique quality, something that is essential to the greatest animated productions. As a producer of Balam, Joshua Powell felt quite passionate about it retaining its cultural identity and took great measures to empower this. He states, “For two years we developed many iterations and drawings of the character concept art, the script, and the storyboards, which evolved into a full on Animatic rendering. Our main character, her father, and the spirit animal which educates her on the history of her people; these were crafted with great care to deliver the message in a precise manner. Unlike live-action, the images and narrative created come entirely from pre-existing drawings and designs allowing for a much greater sense of ‘control’ in that whatever you create or want to happen before the animation process begins WILL happen as long as its within budget! The first time I saw a clip from film after being fully rendered was so memorable for me. After months and months of seeing this still image, roughly sketched and outlined, with only some basic blocking movements, it had evolved into this fully textured, lit, and composited clip. it was simply breath-taking and it showed me why animation is worth the wait.”

(Producer Joshua Powell)

--

--

Kelly King

An LA based writer with more than a decade as a staff writer for NYC based Drumhead magazine, Kelly is also a contributor to a number of outlets.