Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Couleurs Françaises - Prélude

When I think of beautiful color work in current animated features, I think of French titles first. Last year I was delighted by Sylvain Chomet's Illusionniste and especially the wax crayon style of Folimage's Une Vie de Chat. Last week at the Fantoche Festival in Baden, I have seen more films that confirmed my impression.

It has become a pleasant tradition to see the latest Studio Ghibli production and most often also a new French feature at the International Animation Festival Fantoche in Baden, Switzerland. This year, I was in Baden only one day and I have to admit it was rather a feel-good program I put together: Two Belgian-French features, one reel of shorts in competition, a casual inauguration party on a nearby lawn and finally Goro Miyazaki's nostalgic high school romance Up On Poppy Hill which was advertised exclusively under its original title kokuriko-zaka kara and thus was almost overlooked by many. 

Stop Motion Impressionism
Emma De Swaef receiving her Fantoche award.
Unfortunately I didn't see any of the special programs featuring a wide variety of classic and contemporary Czech films. Incidentally however, I have seen the winning short Oh, Willy... (Emma De Swaef, Marc James Roels, 2012) which I liked a lot. Needless to say that this beautifully lit stop motion film was also Belgian-French.

Even though it lasts for almost 17 minutes and is as slowly paced as Richard Wagner's "Rheingold-Vorspiel" that accompanies Willy's final redemption, these characters and sets made entirely of wool and cloth kept my attention throughout. As you can see in the trailer below, the sets of Oh, Willy come to life through impressionistic lighting that makes full use of the objects strange tactility.

There is a short interview with Emma De Swaef on the Dragonframe Blog (from which I have lifted some of the making-of photos below).

Simulating Soft Watercolor Illustration
The highly anticipated children's film based on Gabrielle Vincent's beloved picture books about the bear and mouse Ernest & Célestine translates the illustrator's warm drawings into a slightly more animation friendly style of open lines and watercolor textures combining hand drawn animation with the possibilities of digital 2D-technology.

Although the character outlines feel a little too sterile at times, the resulting technique has its own charm. Imaginative underground worlds and a whole bouquet of visual ideas serve a gentle story directed by young Benjamin Renner with help from Panique Au Village creators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier who demonstrate that they can handle less frenetic material with equal grace.
Gabrielle Vincent's original style...

...compared to film stills.

A Threedimensional Painting
Although not as good a film as Ernest & Célestine, Le Tableau (Jean-François Laguionie, 2011) intrigued me more than I had expected. The story of a class struggle among fully painted, half painted and just roughly sketched characters within an unfinished and apparently abandoned painting turned out to be all about color.

It might have worked better if the characters would have been traditionally animated instead of the cel-shaded 3D animation (so painfully telling of a low budget production). The characters themselves would have remained one-dimensional nonetheless since all except one were mainly defined by their state of painting and not much more.

But even so the unfinished characters' desire to meet their creator combines themes of Solaris or Prometheus with reflections on the creation of art and matching colors. Le Tableau has apparently been picked up by GKids for a theatrical release in the United States. A reasonably priced Blu-ray is also available on Amazon France.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Kindred Spirits

A lot of different Japanese films are on my mind right now. So on my recent visit to the worthwhile traveling exhibition about Winsor McCay called "Comics, Films, Dreams" (currently at the cartoonmuseum in Basel, Switzerland) I have involuntarily seen more parallels between McCay's and Miyazaki's designing styles than ever before.

Of course, Hayao Miyazaki has acknowledged the influence of Winsor McCay before and reportedly even had a hand in the development of the beautiful Little Nemo pitch that has been spooking around the web during the last few months.

There were particularly two newspaper pages in the exhibition I kept at the back of my mind. The first is a "Little Nemo" page from July 31, 1910 that shows some imaginary animals one of which in particular reminded me of the forest god in Mononoke Hime.


Miyazaki's forest god with the mandrill face can also stretch its neck like a giraffe. Unfortunately I don't have

The other one was a newspaper illustration (June 12, 1921) of an airship that could have been conceived by aircraft fan Miyazaki himself.
The caption reads: "Hundreds of thousands now living will cross the ocean and go around the world in such flying boats as Mr. McCay shows in this picture."

Picture taken out of Miyazaki's 2009 manga biography "Takinu Kaze" about aircraft designer Dr. Jiro Horikoshi which his next feature is rumored to be based on.

There is a comprehensive catalog available (well not really available any more since it has already gone out of print) that goes far beyond anything that has ever been published about McCay in German.