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Today, 25th September: 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% 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’re 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 practice legal, but it’s 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’s 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. The Born Free Foundation, said: “It’s 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 couldn't be prouder of the final result.”


Client: Matt Smithers, Head of marketing and fundraising, Born Free
Agency: ENGINE
Executive Creative Director: Paul Jordan
Creative Directors: Steve Hawthorne & Katy Hopkins
Creatives: James Hodson & Jason Keet
Agency Producer: Stefanie Forbes
Account Handling: Eve Bui, Tom Butler, Katie Gould
Planning: Laura Sammarco
Social: Gemma Glover & Jack Cartwright
Production: Blinkink and Zombie Studio
Animation and Visual Effects by: Zombie Studio
Directed by: Daniel Salles and Paulo Garcia
Executive Producers: Bart Yates, Natália Gouvea
Cinematography by: Lucas Barreto
Sound Design: Ben Leeves at Jungle
Musical Intro: Alex Wilson-Thame
Song: ‘Born Free’ performed by Matt Monro licenced by Soho Music
Animation producers: Marcio Lovato, Antonela Castro, Leticia Harumi
CGI Lead: Yohann da Geb
Storyboard and Animatic by: Saulo Brito
Lead Modeller: Mauricio Sampaio
Animation Director: Bruno Monteiro
Animators: Bruna Berford, Bruno Santos, Christian Weckl, Conrado Testa, Francisco Catão, Hannry Pschera, Jonathan Edward, Leonardo Felix, Leonidas Maciel, Marcos Elias, Michel Denis Da Silva, Rodrigo Dutra
Colourist: Marcio Pasqualino


Creative Circle Award - Bronze
Creative Circle Award - Silver
Eurobest Award Bronze


  • ENGINEClient
  • Alex Wilson-thameMusical Intro
  • Antonela CastroAnimation Producer
  • Bart YatesExecutive Producer
  • Bruna BerfordAnimator
  • Bruno MonteiroAnimation Director
  • Bruno SantosAnimator
  • Christian WecklAnimator
  • Conrado TestaAnimator
  • Daniel SallesDirector
  • Gemma GloverSocial
  • Hannry PscheraAnimator
  • Jack CartwrightSocial
  • Jonathan EdwardAnimator
  • Katie GouldAccount Handling
  • Katy HopkinsCreative Director
  • Laura SammarcoPlanning
  • Leonardo FelixAnimator
  • Leonidas MacielAnimator
  • Leticia HarumiAnimation Producer
  • Lucas BarretoCinematographer
  • Marcio LovatoAnimation Producer
  • Marcio PasqualinoColourist
  • Matt MonroPerformer
  • Mauricio SampaioLead Modeller
  • Michel Denis Da SilvaAnimator
  • Natália GouveaExecutive Producer
  • Paul JordanExecutive Creative Director
  • Rodrigo DutraAnimator
  • Saulo BritoStoryboard & Animatic
  • Stefanie ForbesAgency Producer
  • Steve HawthorneCreative Director
  • Yohann Da GebCGI Lead
  • * Creative CircleAwards Body
  • * Paulo GarciaCreative Director/owner
  • * Ben LeevesSound Designer
  • * eurobestAwards Body
  • * Engine
  • * Jason KeetCreative
  • * Marcos Elias3D Animator
  • * Jim MoffattCEO
  • * Tom ButlerAccount Manager
  • * Eve BuiBusiness Director
  • * Francisco CatãoAnimator
  • * James HodsonCreative
Annual 2020 GoldTHE BITTER BOND: BORN FREE REVEALS BRUTAL REALITY OF SOUTH AFRICA’S ‘INSTAGRAM LIONS’ IN ANIMATAnimation Project featured: on 26th September 2019 Project featured: on 12th August 2020 Contributor:

Engine has been a Contributor since 23rd October 2017.

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