“Confusion Through Sand,” an animated short film created by Ornana Films and directed and illustrated by Danny Madden, is so much more than a war story. It’s also so much more than than just an animated video. In the nine-minute film, anger, fear and panic coalesce to create something all too rare in portrayals of war: a genuine depiction of feeling.

The idea for the story began to develop when friends of the production team started returning home from tours overseas, and through their experiences, the story emerged. Perhaps its because the story was drawn from so many experiences that the unknown protagonist is so compelling — it could be anyone in the audience.

“The idea going into it was you can project your own face to it,” Madden told the Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff. “Nothing is concrete about it … hopefully by designing the character like this it would [allow] all people to be in that position a little more viscerally.”

After fleeing his attackers, the unnamed main character is spotted by a pair of teenage boys who smile and wave. Even without a single spoken word, it’s clear that he has a brief crisis of conscience. Maybe they’re spotters? Maybe they’ll give him away? Maybe they’re innocent kids who will get hurt if they stay near him? All these thoughts go unvoiced, but not unfelt as he levels his rifle at them, finger off the trigger, and scares them away.

The rapid juxtapositions cause the audience’s perspective to lurch jarringly, catching a glimpse of the ankles of an unknown soldier walking through dusty and familiar Middle Eastern city streets, then leaping to wide eyes behind goggles as a sand storm blows past.

As Madden explains in a short video about how the animation was made, each panel is hand drawn on recycled paper, all 6,500 pages of it. After each illustration is made, and then gone over again with markers to add color, backlit photos are taken of each individual sheet, bringing the grainy brown hue to life. Considering the size and scope of the project, it’s not surprising that it was nearly two years in the making.

“We found pieces of recycled paper that, when you held them up to the light, looked a lot like a sandstorm,” said Jim Cumming, a producer with Ornana Films, in a Washington Post interview. “The form fit the story.”

Watch the entire film here:

Confusion Through Sand from ornana films on Vimeo.