‘Mind My Mind’ Director Offers Window Into Mind Of Man With Autism – Deadline

With her first animated short, Mind My Mind, Floor Adams hoped to offer a glimpse into the mind of a person living with autism, who relies on social scripts to make his way through the world.

A film about “how having a brain that is wired differently affects your social life, and particularly your love life,” the short centers on Chris, a young man with social and emotional limitations, who falls for a woman named Gwen. Relying on Hans—a little man inside his brain, who serves as his information processor—as he pursues a new romantic relationship, Chris finds himself thrown into a social jungle, where he’ll have to contend with the sensory overload that’s always throwing him off.

A story deeply rooted in Chris’s interior world, Mind My Mind was very well suited to Adams’ medium, rendered ultimately in beautiful 2D hand-drawn animation. Seeking to provide viewers with an understanding of what it’s like to live with autism, Adams was at the same time challenged to figure out how to tell her story visually. While experimenting with notions as to what the world inside her protagonist’s head might look like, Adams was also challenged to visualize the nuances of interpersonal communication—the kinds of subtle moments that occur everyday between people, often guided by rules that go unspoken.

DEADLINE: How did the story for Mind My Mind come to you? Why was this a film you had to make?

FLOOR ADAMS: I used to be a teacher for autistic students of animation, and during the same period, I fell in love with someone who got diagnosed with autism later on, which was kind of this werird situation. You’re teaching autistic students and thinking you totally get it, and at the same time, you’re really connected to someone who has the same thing, but you’re not aware—and he wasn’t aware, as well. He felt, There’s something wrong with me, or something strange about me, and as well, everyone’s got their difficulties, and everyone’s different. So, it’s not that big of an issue. But it turns out, it was, so it was really a surprise.

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I wanted to show the world what it means to be autistic, and [what] it looks like from an inside perspective—the things you don’t see from the outside—and there’s a whole world going on sometimes, which you don’t know. It’s only when you speak to people with autism that you know how it works for them, because to them, it’s like their normal, regular situation. Certainly, when you ask, “Well, how do you feel about this? What so you think about this?” you get the answers. So I thought, I know something about animation, and I know something about autism—so, I think I have to be the person who tells this story.

DEADLINE: Was it a challenge to figure out how you were going to be able to tell this story?

ADAMS: It was a tough journey, to come to this, because I had all these characteristics of autism in my mind, and I did a lot of research, and spoke to many people with autism, like my students—but also, former students—and also, the guy I dated, and a friend of mine. Everyone has friends with autism, I think, or on the spectrum somewhere. Then, I had all these characteristics, and I wanted to combine them—but then you get this sort of hyper-autistic person that has nothing to do with reality anymore. I really wanted to portray someone who’s not really stereotypical, or less stereotypical, but you have to be stereotypical in some sort of way. Because otherwise, people don’t get it at all, when it’s too subtle. So, it was really tough to figure out, combining all these elements and creating an appealing character who’s into warplanes. Then, all the elements like camouflage and [social] scripts…I think it took me one and a half years to write the story.

DEADLINE: How did you flesh out a sense of who your main characters were, and the unique passions they share with one another?

ADAMS: I asked all the people I was interviewing at the time about their special interests, because that’s one of the main characteristics of autism. So, I had all these nice stories like, “Well, I’m into trains,” or “I’m into wars—the Second World War, guns, violence and stuff like that.” [Laughs] Also, my ex-boyfriend was into F-16 warplanes, fighter jets, and he went out to spot them with people. He felt really comfortable around these people because they were so much like him, so I thought, Well, that’s nice, to do something with these airplanes.

A still from animated short 'Mind My Mind'
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But I wanted to create something visually interesting. So, I thought about many planes hanging on the ceiling. Those fighter jets didn’t interest me that much, just because they were pointy things. They’re not really nice shapes. [Laughs]. I’m interested in the Second World War as well, and I’m interested in German airplanes. They’re really big and old, and the stukas make this sound when they die. I thought, Well, that should be [Chris’s] ringtone. Also, I wanted to create an appealing character—like a nice man—and relatable, in a way.

For Gwen, I think some people ask me if it’s me. It’s not really me, but I wanted to show someone who is really accepting, in a way, and social, and therefore likeable, and I also wanted to give her little, quirky things. I thought about chameleons, and I went into the chameleon subject myself. You know, I don’t have autism, but I do things like that. Chameleons share their emotions and communicate through color—they’re not camouflaging, but communicating. To me, it made perfect sense to combine those things together like that—the camouflage, airplanes and the chameleons.

DEADLINE: How did you come to your concepts for how the world of this short film would look and feel?

ADAMS: That was a long journey, as well. I first thought about the script. Where are all the locations he needs to be, and are they open, are they hidden? Gwen needs to come into his house, and she’s not allowed to see what he’s doing, so there should be separated rooms. During the time I was designing those backgrounds, I think I was in New York, so I took some elements of the buildings over there. We’ve got a local zoo where me and my kids often come, so the interior thing in the zoo where the chameleons are is based on [a space at that zoo]. I thought, Well, this is a nice thing, that also was there when I was young. So, it’s a familiar place to me. I used the old entrance as a reference. They don’t use [that] anymore, but it’s still there; it’s like a hidden part of the zoo. The coffee dining thing is based on an old building in the place I live in, inside of the Netherlands, which was bombed during World War II. I only know this from pictures, so I used some reference things.

DEADLINE: What was your approach to designing the busy world within Chris’s mind? How did you think through ways of expressing the way in which Chris’s mind works?

ADAMS: Autism is like an information processing problem, so I thought, Well, the images Chris is seeing [within his mind] have to be formidable, in a way. He needs to process them, and he’s not allowed; he’s not able to see them right away. He needs to take his time, because [some] people with autism…When I say “people with autism,” it’s like a small part. I don’t mean to generalize, because that’s a very slippery slope sometimes. But [people like Chris] tend to respond later, or process things later than you’d think. So, I know a lot of people say yes when they don’t know if the answer is yes. They’re saying yes because they expect the other [person] to hear something from them. Then, in their head, it goes on and on, and they just come up with an answer like five minutes later. So, I wanted to visualize that.

A still from animated short 'Mind My Mind'
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I also wanted to visualize the whole scripts part. Like, you go into a situation, and you have this script. They’re not robots, but it’s like you know how to behave in certain situations, and it’s quite hard to change that. When someone knocks on your door, or when you go into another room, or when there’s a party, and there’s a teacher and a friend and a neighbor, all [in the same space] together, things get blurry, or you don’t know how to act or respond to things.

I wanted to visualize that, but I also wanted Hans to [experience a delay in helping Chris process a new] situation. The world inside his head needed to be convenient, but not too convenient for him. That’s why there’s a staircase to another room, and the books had to be in another room. His house needed to be in [“airplane mode”]—everything needed to be planes around him, airplanes, and I was thinking, Well, what do we do? Do we have little screens somewhere? How can I show that the thought of planes is making him dysfunctional, in a way? He’s not able to do anything else than talk about planes, or do something with planes, and I thought it was a puzzle, in a way, to combine everything. I was living on the internet quite a lot to check like, how does it look like, a house in a head? And there’s nothing you could find. Nothing. [Laughs]

I was looking for some sort of inspiration, because [this visual space] never existed. Now, to me, his world seemed so normal—like, “Of course it is this way, because it is this way.” But it’s not, because when I look at my old sketches, I see the whole process behind it. It’s tiring when I look at it—like, how did I do this? How did it all come together? I have no idea. You should see my notes, and my scribbles, and my drawings. It was a long road.

DEADLINE: Could you discuss the kinds of animation techniques used to create the short, with its 2D, tactile feel?

ADAMS: Well, I wanted it to look like my sketchbooks, [with the use of] pencil. Then sometimes, I used watercolor. But when you do this, you have to do it on paper, and it takes a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of trees. So, we used a French program a lot of animation studios use. Then, I was [able] to create a pencil, according to your needs. It allows you to create it all with your own pencil brush, which we did. All the animators drew with the pencil brush, which was kind of hard, in a way, because there were all these tiny holes in the lines. With this animation, we had problems with that, because it didn’t work all the time. A lot of drawings needed to be colored [by] hand, really coloring like a child.

A still from animated short 'Mind My Mind'
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I wanted to make backgrounds with watercolor, as well, but it also was kind of hard to do so, because it takes a lot of time, and you can’t correct things the way you want. We tried some things, and in the end I thought, Well, let’s do it digital right away. Then, we’ll see how it will look in the end. The process is basically the same, because you have to draw layer by layer, as well, to get the same effects. Then, we used a watercolor paper texture on top, [and blended] it in, to give it a more analog feeling on the big screen.

Also, all the hair and all these things, it was like, Oh God, why did I do this? Because we had to draw them, line by line. In the beginning, we were saying, “Oh, this is a good idea,” and then I was thinking, Wow, it’s really time-consuming. But I think I would do it the same, if I did it again.

DEADLINE: What did you learn from making Mind My Mind?

ADAMS: There was a lot. I think collaboration is very interesting and nice, and I learned that I can’t do [everything]. I can do a lot, but there are people who are way, way better in things than I am, and it’s really nice to combine all of these strengths of people to make the best thing. I think that’s maybe the biggest lesson. I think also something I learned [is that] when you do a project like this, it’s like a long marriage. It’s really tough, and it takes years and nights, and you get gray hair. But in the end, it’s so rewarding when someone says they like your film, and people start emailing you like, “It’s me in your film. I want to show it to my parents, and my friends, because you just described the way I feel.”

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