Director, animator and story artist Alex Bernas’ latest film, Sex Moves, sets out to be an antidote to pornography and the unrealistic portrayals of sex we’re often subjected to. Inspiration for the film came after Bernas read a recent study that reported how more and more UK teenagers are watching porn to ‘learn what to do’, which troubled the creative.
“I’m sure we can agree that the sex portrayed in these films is unrepresentative and, at its worst, is aggressive and unnatural,” says Bernas. “Unlike the act itself, these films lack any semblance of humour or awkwardness. I wanted to add a bit of goofiness into the visual language; my film is about the sex but subverts the tropes of porn.”
Navigating through a bright, multicoloured world, the film starts with the narrator asking strangers how to have sex. It leads to a cast of eclectic (and randy) characters acting out how they like to do the deed as a flurry of romps and innuendos ensue.
The aesthetic is typical of Bernas’ fondness for bold colours and striking design, and here he borrows from a pop art colour palette with simple character designs made up of basic but malleable shapes. “This means that the characters are uncomplicated and easily identifiable despite the brevity of their scenes,” explains the director. “Keith Haring was a big inspiration for the colours used and for the use of clear, black linework to delineate the characters.”
As well as Haring, Bernas’ work in general is influenced by the many cartoons he watched in the 90s such as Hey Arnold, Ed, Edd and Eddy and The Simpsons. “As a habitual doodler I’m always drawing goofy faces with exaggerated expressions, and I reckon you can see the artefacts of my childhood obsession in my films,” he says.
Bernas gave himself a month to make Sex Moves, spending about a week designing and boarding it out, and then working with a small team over two weeks on the animation. “Giving myself a time limit forced me to make quick decisions, which made the whole process more intuitive than deliberated,” he explains. “Once I’d landed on the film’s concept, I had the framework to speedily make any creative decisions.”
For the sex moves themselves, Alex first took to miming in front of the mirror to work out “suitably evocative (but clean) movements” and then moved on to watching a lot of Marcel Marceau and interpretive dance videos on YouTube for further inspiration. “I didn’t want the sex moves themselves to be smutty, so porn wasn’t a viable source of inspiration,” he says, and it’s why the film is crammed with so many suggestive and saucy gesticulations.
Of course with this suggestiveness, the biggest challenge for Bernas and his team was to keep an air of innocence and avoid it being too seedy. “A big part of that was keeping all the sex moves opaque and open to interpretation,” explains the director. “The characters had to keep their clothes on and couldn’t actually perform any graphic sex acts, instead using visual double entendres and sound effects to convey what they were miming.… The animators focused on exaggerating the characters’ movements and emotions to heighten the sense of fun and create something cartoonishly positive.”
A big part of the film’s charm is the music and sound design, which saw Bernas work with frequent collaborators, composer Lindsay Wright and sound designer Sashko Potter Micevski. Bernas was keen to avoid the onomatopoeic ‘bow chicka wow wow’ type sleazy porn groove and instead settled on something more melodious and cheerful. “We wanted it to carry the action forward, reacting to the increasingly bizarre pantomimes on screen before its eventual climax,” says Bernas. “The sound design was tricky, it had to be visceral but not too gross. Sashko recorded a whole host of different squelches and fleshy thuds and slaps, and we balanced these with natural, diegetic sound. The happy music and disgusting sound effects compliment each other nicely, making sure the film is never repulsive.”
Represented by Partizan, London and LA-based Bernas has worked with big brands including Nike, Apple, Amazon and Google. Sex Moves is just as polished as his commercial projects, and provides a welcome dose of fun and weirdness during these uncertain times. “I’ve been stuck in my apartment for three weeks now, I’m going bananas,” says the animator. “Goodness knows I could use a laugh.” His hopes for the film are simply to make the audience chuckle, but also to open up the conversation around sex and to embrace the more funny, awkward and squelchy moments that happen during it.