Black Behind the Ear is an animated visual representation of Elizabeth Acevedo’s poem “Hair”. This poem uses hair as a metaphorical element to represent the internalized racism and racial amnesia predominant in the Dominican Republic, a place that owes African slaves for much of the island’s racial, and cultural heritage.
In 1833, one of the most well-known Dominican poet Juan Antonio Alix wrote the poem “El negro detrás de la oreja”. The poem became so influential that the title of the poem became a colloquialism meaning someone with the black behind its ear means that has an African ancestry but hides it.
The concept of this project was born from this phrase. This project embraces heritage rather than ignore it. It hopes to change “Black Behind the Ear” from an insult to a prideful descriptor, giving the audience an uplifting perspective of themselves.
Poem by: Elizabeth Acevedo
Throughout the making of Black Behind the Ear the visualization of the story along with its animation style changed from what was planned at the beginning. The first storyboard intended to be more abstract inspired by botanical shapes where everything would be symbolized to go along Elizabeth Acevedo’s voice.
While doing more research on the target audience and finding more cultural references the design shifted form to include more symbolic figures that would accurately express, the feelings and phrases within the poem. Keeping the abstract concept intact the visuals became more significant and deeper in meaning.
Previous style frame:
In the latest version, the visuals shifted from an abstract and delicate shapes to more aggressive symbols and representation of the words said in order to create an aggressive feel along with representing femininity in the Caribbean.
The style and transitions transitioned towards stop motion animation style and stylized shapes and textures. Making the piece have an “crafty, handmade look and feel” in order to represent the struggle the ancestors had to go through to fight for their rights.
Choosing the color group for Black Behind the Ear was one of the most important decisions made. During the first half of the piece, the girl is in denial because of what her past generations (represented by the mother in the poem) has taught her. This dark emotional stage where she tries to escape to her true self and is represented with colors reminiscent of nighttime. The colors are cold with the exception of the character’s hair to contrast with the darkness and to symbolize the strength of their heritage.
The second half comes as a sunrise to represent the awakening of the girl’s mind towards something being wrong, trying now to run from all the stereotypes and beauty standards her past has set on her and looking forward to become self-aware. This stage is mainly based on warm bright colors which usually are used for optimism, passion, aggressiveness and strength.
Animation & Texture
The main challenge for this entire project was the animation part, since it was the first time I tackled frame by frame animation with several illustrated details.
The first step was to animate the overall piece, then polish, and since the entire style was based on using chalk-like textures I had to go back and texturize every frame. At the end around 3,000 frames were uniquely worked on.
The audio version used for this project is a live voice recording of Elizabeth Acevedo by
A glimpse of the latest projects I've worked on during the MFA in Visual Communication Design