a behind-the-scenes Look at Navigating Our Way.
A Tool for Change: Story
As part of its frontline work lifting up all students to pursue their interests, Big Picture Learning (BPL) knew that it needed to tackle the “big picture” when it came to CTE and the skilled trades. In a society that tends to stigmatize and undervalue these career pathways, BPL needed a tool powerful enough to create dramatic social-cultural change.
And that tool was storytelling.
Big Picture Learning teamed up with the storytellers at FableVision Studios to write and animate Navigating Our Way — the first of several films the groups plan to create together. Each film will inspire people of all ages to rethink how they perceive and value vocational education and professions.
Through these stories, we will be challenging society's powerful narratives around race, class, and gender. We will grapple with the false notion that skills-based jobs are often seen as less important, less prestigious, or less intellectually demanding.
We will learn that the people who do this skilled work lead lives of value and possess great wisdom—wisdom they add to and pass on to future generations. They more than make a living—they make a life that they are proud of.
Choosing New Orleans as the setting of the film was nearly as important as the story itself—the city has a rich history of celebrating the arts, crafts, and trades. The deep musical tradition, the booming industrial economy, and the communities that formed around them all gave life to a city that is a testament to the power of the trades. In New Orleans, a career on the docks as a longshoreman is just as acceptable as heading to college; in essence, the lives of New Orleanians embody the core messages of the film. It just made sense that Sylvie and Seymour would find their home in the Big Easy.
The Art and design
With a city as vibrant and iconic as New Orleans, the art and design had to capture the city’s unique atmosphere. Research on New Orleans neighborhoods led the team to base the story in the 9th Ward, bordered by Bayou Bienvenue, the Mississippi River, and Industrial Canal.
Known for its legacy of the trades, as well as being a community full of families, musicians, and tradespeople, the 9th Ward’s spirit was the foundation for the film. Even the warm colors were directly inspired by the sunset seen from the levee.
Sylvie and Seymour are best friends, very much alike and sharing many interests—including a love of water, navigation, and boat building. Seymour and Sylvie were born and raised near the shipyards of New Orleans’ 9th Ward. They meet up nearly every day to play “boats” and explore their shared passion.
One of Seymour’s arms and hands hasn’t worked well since he was a baby, but it doesn’t stop him from playing and building all sorts of boat games with his friend. Seymour is the first in his family to be accepted to college, and everyone in his family and neighborhood are excited. It seems there is no question—he is tacking toward years of more, books, lectures, papers, and tests.
After the school day, Syl and Sy are drawn into the community of trades people down at the Port of New Orleans—builders, carpenters, plumbers, machine and crane operators, and electricians. They are both captivated by the rhythm of the docks: the smells, the sounds, the voices and movements, the organic flow of work from person to person. They learn from a community filled with mentors who model and share how one can use “hands, heads, and heart” to navigate a successful life journey.
When designing the Sylvie and Seymour, we knew the duo had to reflect the city's racial diversity, and make clear that higher learning opportunities—whether a four-year college or the trades—are open to all. Their designs and the script were informed by BPL’s consulting team of New Orleanian educators, and were concepted by Peter H. Reynolds, the NY Times best-selling author and illustrator, and co-founder of FableVision Studios.
As the voice telling the story of Navigating Our Way, the narrator had to breath life into Sylvie and Seymour and the dilemmas they faced. Award-winning actor Wendell Pierce, known for his roles in HBO’s The Wire and Treme, and himself a New Orleanian, intimately knew our characters' story from his own life. The deep understanding Wendell shared of the importance of the skilled trades brought a power and authenticity to the script.