Born Free Foundation has launched an emotive film to show the brutal reality of the life of a lion ‘raised for the rifle’. Following the success of this summer’s blockbuster remake, people are falling in love with lions all over again, but most are unaware of the shocking truth of life experienced by many of South Africa’s lions.

At least 70 percent of South Africa’s lions are born in captivity and bred for tourists to hug and take photos with. When the lions grow too big for cuddles they are sold to trophy hunters and shot in ‘canned hunting’ facilities. At no point are they ever free to roam. Not only is this cruel and inhumane practise legal, but it is flourishing in South Africa.

‘The Bitter Bond’ is a 2-minute animated film, created by ENGINE in collaboration with Zombie Studios and Blinkink, that aims to raise awareness of the issue of canned hunting and prompt the public to sign a petition to urge the South African government to stop the practice.

Set to the Academy Award-winning song “Born Free” performed by Matt Monro, the film tells the story of a lion keeper and her cub that ends in the ultimate betrayal. Showing how those who are responsible for raising and nurturing a lion are the ones ultimately responsible for – and profiting from – their death.

ENGINE creatives James Hodson and Jason Keet’s film relies on misdirection, leading the audience to feel the keeper is a positive presence, until the last moment when it is revealed that she has profited from the lion’s death in the coldest way imaginable. Animation was the perfect technique to bring to life this misdirection, to show how lovely the lion’s life seemed and contrast it with the grim reality.

The film’s unique animation style is the result of three months’ work by Zombie Studio, who combined the richness and beauty of hand-crafted sets with 3d animation for the film.

To add to its emotional impact, the film references poignant and moving stories that have grabbed the headlines, such as the story of Cecil the Lion, and captured people’s hearts, with the reunion scene where the lion sees and runs to the keeper who raised him, taking its cue from the famous YouTube clip “Christian the Lion”.

Virginia McKenna OBE, Co-Founder of the Foundation, said: “It is no life for a cub. Torn away from its mother a few days after birth; raised in a so-called sanctuary; made to pose for selfies with tourists seduced into parting with their hard-earned cash for that ‘once in a lifetime experience’; and then shot for ‘fun’ as a discount trophy to mark some ‘brave’ hunter’s moment of delusional triumph, with the remains being shipped to the Far East for lion bone wine.

“Is this really a life for a lion – of any age? Shame on us – this has to stop! We hope this powerful film, which exposes the full horror of what is happening, will inspire people everywhere to join our mission, urging the South African government to end the great betrayal.”

Paul Jordan, Executive Creative Director, ENGINE Creative said: “‘The Bitter Bond’ tells the shocking story of the relationship between lion cubs and their handlers. The film is cleverly designed to work in two ways. Firstly, to make tourists think twice before handing over money for selfies with lion cubs. Secondly, to get everyone to sign Born Free Foundation’s petition to get the South African government to end this great betrayal and finally put a stop to canned hunting.”

Paulo Garcia, co-founder and Chief Creative at Zombie Studio said: “When we read the script for this campaign, we saw this project as an important opportunity to inspire change. We always challenge ourselves to experiment with new aesthetics for each job. For Born Free we chose to mix techniques. We went with 3D animation for its fluidity and the room it allowed for expressive characteristics and combined it with the beauty and richness of detail from camera-captured, and motion-controlled scenarios. We could not be happier of the final result.”

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