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“We want to represent an internal landscape, a visual, emotional, abstract landscape. 

But if you go too far with animation you can lose the humanness, the little inflections, so when we talk about ‘casual fantasy’, it’s not about working casually but making sure the situation is casual so that you digest it almost unconsciously. It’s not about crazy sci-fi aliens, but a belief in the everyday magic. We love magic, and we love storytelling and fantasy.”

So says Karni Arieli, one half of live action/animation duo Sulkybunny (aka Karni & Saul). Her husband Saul picks up her thread. “Its about how you shoot, how you light, how you put animation into live-action. Casual fantasy means we don’t give fantasy a special treatment – it’s just there, wrapped up in everyday life.”

We came from different worlds and collided. I was from live-action rather than animation. Saul sat in his underpants for two years, trying to work it out.

Everyday life for the couple seems to comprise the meticulousness of their craft with the freewheeling invention of their art and the patience to parent two young children and keep their marriage on the happy track. A full schedule, then.

Above: Karni Arieli and Saul Freed, images taken by Yuli Freed.


They came to the UK in 2002, having met at a small Israeli art school, the Midrasha. Saul wanted to be a painter, Karni a photographer. While she went on to study at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy, graduating in photography, Saul took the self-taught route to animation, which basically meant a lot of time sitting still, reading. “We came from different worlds and collided,” laughs Karni. “I was from live-action rather than animation. Saul sat in his underpants for two years, trying to work it out.” 

We like to find concepts that are rounded, that bring you back to something deeper, philosophical.

Their first work in the UK came via fashion photographer Nick Knight and Liberty, the “top people’s store” where they made use of an in-store camera that had been set up so shoppers could style and take pictures of themselves. “We used that as a platform for a shoot,” says Karni. “The guards were circling us and there we were in knickers with some acrobats and dancers. And then Nick asked us to do a shoot on a mobile, a stills film for his Showstudio site. I got Saul to help me and that was the first thing we did together.”

Since then they’ve made Bafta-nominated short films for Channel 4 and the BBC, cut strangely emotive spots for Dab radio, and delivered truly magical music videos. “We’ll use any tool to bring a story and magic to life,” says Karni. “We’ve done stop-frame, pixelation, camera trickery, clay, time-lapse, CGI, 2D photography and film… Its all in our tool kit. But really it’s in the heart and eye. Those are the key tools. Then you just play.”

Katie Melua – Perfect World

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Above: 2016's Perfect World promo for Katie Melua


If we could animate that sense of play for you here at shots, we’d probably have the couple dissolve, laughing, into the exquisite sugar-snow land they created  for Katie Melua’s song Perfect World. Their story of a mother and child, a lost toy and a kindly bear is evoked via a winter landscape that feels as real inside as it is so clearly fantastical from without. 

We go with our gut instincts and what we feel close to, and that and our techniques evolve together.

“We pitched the idea of a sugar snow land and a story of a mother’s journey and then infused it with fantasy and more magic, trying to link the musical and the visual,” says Karni. “That’s when the magic really happens. It’s audio-visual sex, like the scene when the deer lift their heads and the choir kicks in…” 

Although done in CG, the duo worked hard to make it look otherwise. “Computer graphics can do anything in the smoothest easiest way it can,” says Saul. “So it’s a lot of work to get in there and disturb it so it looks like something you intended it to be. We try to make things move as they would move in the stop-frame world. We always ask ourselves, what material was it made of, what light shines through it?”  

Click image to enlarge

“Our animation is more grown-up than a lot of others, more emotional,” adds Karni. “As humans, we have imperfections, and we strongly believe that we connect more to imperfection. We’re so bombarded by perfected imagery today that we are just numb, and that does not bring out emotions. If we’ve made anyone feel out there in the world, we’ve done our job.” 

They certainly did the job for Israeli singer Sivan Talmor. When she first saw their video for her song Sad Heart, she burst into tears of recognition. “It was a whole world made of out of sound wave graphics,” says Saul, in which they placed this young woman walking through every animated impasse they throw at her.

Sivan Talmor: Sad Heart

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Above: Sivan Talmor's Sad Heart promo


“What I love about the storytelling is that you have two levels,” says Karni, “the physical, where she is walking on a sound wave that is also a landscape, and the other level that represents the internal emotional journey of an artist, the falls, the climbs, the diving – that’s a journey we reflect on personally. And it just touched on a nerve of saying something that is unsaid. We like to find concepts that are rounded, that bring you back to something deeper, philosophical. People crave narrative, but you also have to starve them of it so that they engage with it. That taking away and giving back of a narrative is what we do in our short films, too, like Flytopia.” 

An adaptation of Will Self’s short story, Flytopia is a striking merging of live action and animation, in which a man enters into a pact with the all the insects in his house. A sticky end awaits, including a punishing bout of fly sex, in fly vision. “We’ve never shot a sex scene,” laughs Karni, “except with the fly woman.” As for the insects, “we were shooting anything we could find. We had an animal wrangler for the flies, but he failed and so Saul spent hours and hours animating them.”

Karni and Saul – Flytopia

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Above: An adaptation of Will Self’s short story, Flytopia.


Adapting to chance, circumstance and budget is key to their creative process. “We use a lot of trickery and making do and figuring things out,” says Karni. “That’s a large part of our career. How to be self sufficient. We go with our gut instincts and what we feel close to, and that and our techniques evolve together. So it’s really organic. The work takes us on a journey.”

Short Film – Skinmeal

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Above: The duo's Channel 4 Random Acts film, Skinmeal.
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