Adrian Leung
London

Silverback, BBC Feature Documentary
2024




‘Silverback’ is an observational documentary following the award-winning cinematographer Vianet Djenguet as he fulfils his lifelong dream to embed himself within a gorilla habituation. With unique and rare access to Kahuzi-Biega National Park, home to one of the largest primates on Earth; the critically endangered Eastern Lowland gorilla. Djenguet takes us into this magical world as he films in the park across an extended period, allowing him to build vital relationships with both the animals and humans who call Kahuzi-Biega home, bringing their stories to life as never before.

Animation was used to reconstruct Vianet's memories and backstories, as a house fire tragically destroyed most of his family photographs during a period of instability in the country.
Out now on BBC iPlayer.
Role

Independently carrying out Initial Pitch, Art Direction, Storyboard and Design through to Animation and Compositing.

Working directly with BAFTA nominated director Miles Blayden-Ryall (Life & Death Row: The Mass Execution) and Oscar-winning producers at Off The Fence (My Octopus Teacher) for the BBC, France Televsion & Xumo in association with Featuristic Films.






Soundtrack: “Vianet’s Dream” by GUNS







Breakdown

Animations for 9 backstories were created to cut inbetween interview footage.

Vianet has an extremely rich backstory that plays into the motivation for his mission to the DRC. Vianet’s backstory also reveals tensions and conflicts he feels about his work, and how his career choice impacts on his immediate and wider family. 




Vianet's World
Vianet Djenguet, born in Congo-Brazzaville.

During a period of extreme conflict in the country, Vianet's family home was destroyed. A house fire turned his family photographs to ash.


Vianet's First Steps
Where the market meets the rainforest, Vianet, at just two years old, disappeared. A frantic, community-wide search for young Vianet rushed through the market and beyond. Peculiarly, Vianet had taken his first steps whilst missing. He was found and safely taken to the police station.

Vianet believes the forest gave him the strength to stand and walk for the first time. Making the forest his "positive totem." Where he feels the strongest connection to nature and to his inner self.


Grandad Bonifas
Bonifas, Vianet's maternal grandfather, was a tall and charismatic figure, deeply respected by his community and family. Serving as the family's Patriarch, Bonifas, fostered unity during challenging times.

Vianet admired Bonifas, viewing him as a central pillar of strength for the family.





Birth of Vianet's Passion
Recognising Vianet's interest for animals, Bonifas gifted him ten chickens for his tenth birthday. Spending all his free time caring for them, Vianet successfully raised over 100 chickens.

Bonifas' gift set young Vianet on a path of passion and respect for animals.


Grandmother's Fear
Superstition, along with generations of tribal tradition instilled a deep-rooted fear of gorillas within Vianet.

According to his grandmother's beliefs, gorillas were demonic creatures, serving as "negative totems". Such negative totems influenced popular culture such as the release of King Kong.


Moving to Paris
Vianet was 16 when the family immigrated to Paris for his father's career.

Fuelled by an absence of nature and wildlife grew a potent sense of isolation. His connection with his mother, whom he watched wildlife programs with, served as a comforting reminder of home.





The Death of Vianet's Mother
Following Bonifas' passing, Vianet's mother became the matriarch. She soon fell critically ill, remaining in Paris for treatment as her family returned to Congo.

Vianet stayed with his mother during her final months, bonding over their shared love for wildlife shows. Honouring the matriarch, Vianet follows his dream as a wildlife cameraman.


Family Torn
Absent in both patriarchal and matriarchal figures, the family dispersed across the globe. Consequently, close relationships with brothers and sisters faded.

Despite Vianet's career successes, failure to keep the family together served as a shameful burden.


Missing The Birth of His Son
The anticipated arrival of Vianet's second child was met with the opportunity to film the rare birth of tiger cubs in China.

Despite the rare cubs birth being a remarkable career highlight, Vianet was faced with his personal paradox of success. A successful career called for more time away from his family.

Vianet received a photo of his new-born over text. Missing his son's birth continues to haunt Vianet.





BTS



At the pitch stage, a design direction was created - To create a series of work that is Dream-like, Multi-Layered, and Transcendent. It should feel like an impression of a memory.

Once the script was sent over from the director, each backstories were broken down to themes, feelings and emotional arcs. A bank of reference images were collected and the design process began.

During the design process, it was crucial that the imagery highlighted key narrative beats, and visualised metaphors. Capturing Vianet’s memories and emotions by using movements and creative expressions, bringing a sense of immersiveness and sincerity that viewers can resonate with.





Iterations of storyboards were drawn to figure out design, pace, and shots required. They were also used as placeholders in the edit of the film.

© Adrian Leung, 2023
All Rights Reserved