Skip to main content

Narrative Animation

Leo Metcalf

I grew up in Madagascar and then worked for a decade on radio programmes on health, environment and education in Madagascar and Afghanistan. 

In 2017 I made the experimental documentary DisAstro

DisAstro explores capitalism and the economic crisis in Greece through the echoes they leave on the landscape. DisAstro premiered at Jihlava festival in the Czech Republic in 2017. In 2018 it won "Best Experimental Short Film" at The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Film Festival in India and was shown at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

In my two years at the RCA I taught myself how to animate in both 2D and 3D in order to make my two VR films.

I am interested in pursuing further research into the crossroads of ontology, phenomenology and Virtual Reality.



Leo Metcalf website

Degree Details

School of Communication

Narrative Animation

I am interested in human consciousness.

We live in three coordinates in space, one in time, which we access through our five or more senses (balance, pain etc.) and our memory. We exist on one particular physical scale and timescale amongst many others, and exist both as a singular and a plural intelligence (networks of neurons) within idea networks (language and culture).

Basically, I am interested in what it means to be alive.

Currently I am exploring what it means to remember, how it feels to remember, using the medium of Virtual Reality.

My first year animation, The Everything Move (2019), explored the representation of childhood memories. I drew childlike animations on paper, which were then scanned and composited in VR, immersing the audience in the story.

My second year film A time before (2020) explores the make believe worlds of childhood and encourages the audience to delve into their own past, combining hand drawn 2D animation with 360 degree underwater live action footage. 

A time before - Overcapture Trailer for a VR film
Drifting in and out of sleep, a man, Olly, looks back through his childhood memories. He and his sister Sally used to play strange make-believe games to escape the cruel reality of their parents’ fighting. During one of these games they wonder if they have slipped into another world.

'A time before' (2020) is a VR narrative film exploring memory and perception which blends hand drawn animation on paper with 360 degree live action underwater footage.

The film examines how we are who we are based on things that happened to us in our childhood that we cannot remember let alone understand.

If you have a VR headset (even just a google cardboard) and want to watch the full film, please get in touch.

Directed, Filmed and Animated by Leo Metcalf / Sound Design Harry J N Parsons / 3D Animator Ming Rang Bai @noodleshack / Composer V.R. Alevizos / Voice Actor Sister: Anouk Lawless-Monnot / Voice Actor Mum Grace Manning / Voice Actor Dad David Crump @bear_crump / Narrator’s Voice: Leo Metcalf / Trailer music Kettel /
Assistant Animators: Michelle Brand / Lisa Cruz / Lucie Levrangie @lucie_lev / Megan Dupont / Jáchym Bouzek / Katya Koroleva


2D animation on paper, video, 360 video


03 min 7 secs
AnimationchildhoodconsciousnessDreamsembodimentMemoryOther worldsPerceptionTraumaVRWater

Still Frame 1

Still Frame 2

Virtual Reality (VR) is an ideal medium for exploring the concepts of perception and memory in narrative storytelling, by using what filmmaker and author of Virtual Reality Filmmaking, Celine Tricart, calls “presence” and “embodiment”. These unique facets of the VR experience refer to the feeling of actually existing in an environment, as well as physically interacting within this new world.

However, during my pre-production research for my Royal College of Art animated VR film The Everything Move (2019), I quickly discovered that a type of orthodoxy exists in much of the literature about VR which asserts that the medium is poorly suited for the telling of non-interactive plot-driven narrative tales.

Some authors propose that given the audience’s freedom to look around, making sure that they catch all the necessary plot points presents a challenge. Many also feel that the use of dialogue and voice over can be problematic, as the 360 visual experience makes it difficult for the audience to concentrate on any voice. Additionally, it is often argued that the audience will have a strong desire to interact with their environment, and VR experience must therefore be physically interactive.

I assert that there is a missed opportunity in the use of VR for telling narrative tales. Tricart’s definitions of “presence” and “embodiment” refer to the unique physical sensation of experiencing a VR artwork. I propose an expanded definition of these terms; instead of focusing only on physicality, I use presence and emotional embodiment as narrative strategies.

Presence — that feeling of actually existing within the story’s environment — provides exciting new possibilities for storytelling by placing the audience directly in someone else’s shoes. In my film, The Everything Move, the audience experiences the work from the point of view of a small boy. Seeing through his eyes allows the audience a chance to empathise, especially as they experience the trauma of divorce from a child’s perspective, creating a type of “emotional embodiment”.

Rather than using slick CGI, The Everything Move uses rough childlike animations done on a paper to draw the audience into feelings of childhood, engendering strong emotions through form, as well as through story. Providing the audience with a journey that is emotionally experiential negates the need for them to catch every nuance of the story to enjoy the film.

Finally, the simple ability to look around is enough in itself. Many “interactive” VR experiences can feel quite gimmicky — using physically interactive elements purely to showcase the technology.

I advocate for a personal, emotionally empathic approach as a means to explore ideas of perception and memory in narrative VR storytelling.

My second year film, A time before (2020) explores these ideas further. I seek to engage the audience both in their bodies, by trying to get them to yawn (based on the two siblings yawning) and feel as if they are underwater; but also in their minds and personal experience.

Participative rather than interactive, turning the screen black, I ask the audience to actively remember their childhood, and from this experience, consider their thoughts on memory.

A dance between experience, story and ideas, 'A time before' (2020) could perhaps be described as a participative VR essay film.
First Sketches

First Sketches

Thanks for dropping by

Building the forest scene

Building the forest scene

Background paintings

Background paintings

I filmed the videos and 360 video in the River Lea and the lakes around Cheshunt, on the outskirts of London.
Everything Move (Trailer for VR film)
Launch Project

The Everything Move (2019) VR experience

The woods


A young boy caught in the trauma of his parents' divorce rummages through a box of his journals and is swept into a whirlpool of childlike, hand-drawn memories.

The full 360 degree film is 4 min long. It is available if you click the second image, however is best watched in the youtube 360 app on a mobile headset (such as a google cardboard) or higher end VR headset.


2D ink and pen animation


44 seconds

In Collaboration with:

Sound Design
Voice actor: Dad
Voice actor: Mum
Voice actor: Sister

Previous Student

Next Student

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
Royal College of Art
Registered Office: Royal College of Art,
Kensington Gore, South Kensington,
London SW7 2EU
RCA™ Royal College of Art™ are trademarks
of the Royal College of Art