Im­promptu and Im­pro­vised

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Ale Abreu an­i­mated

Bone idea at a time, cre­at­ing a pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal pow­er­house of a movie that has a good shot at an Os­car nom­i­na­tion. By Tom McLean.

oy & the World is the kind of fea­ture that proves some ideas can only spring to life via the wide-open cre­ative can­vas of an­i­ma­tion.

The brain­child of Brazil­ian an­i­ma­tor Ale Abreu, Boy & the World de­buted at the 2013 Ot­tawa In­ter­na­tional An­i­ma­tion Fes­ti­val, and has since racked up such im­pres­sive hon­ors as the An­necy fes­ti­val’s Cristal Award and Au­di­ence Award in 2014. Now it’s come to the United States for a lim­ited the­atri­cal release via GKIDS and is in se­ri­ous con­tention for an Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

Boy & the World tells the story of a boy who sets out from his small vil­lage home and searches for his fa­ther in a world that is at times soul-crush­ingly cruel and at oth­ers mag­i­cal be­yond words.

Abreu wrote, an­i­mated and edited the non-di­a­logue film mostly him­self, of­ten cre­at­ing the film on the fly.

Starts with a Sketch In­ter­viewed via email through a trans­la­tor, Abreu says the project be­gan when he was work­ing on Canto Latino, an an­i­mated doc­u­men­tary project ex­plor­ing the history of Latin Amer­ica through its protest songs. He was flip­ping through his sketch­book and saw a draw­ing that stood out in an un­usual way.

“What at­tracted me, more than the ac­tual char­ac­ter, was the sim­ple, rough and ur­gent way I’d drawn him,” says Abreu. “The feel­ing I had was that the boy in the draw­ing was wav­ing at me, call­ing me to dis­cover his story.”

Abreu left the doc­u­men­tary and be­gan chas­ing this new vi­sion, a process he de­scribes as like work­ing a jig­saw puz­zle.

“I made the film prac­ti­cally with­out a script, work­ing di­rectly through an­i­mat­ics, based on sen­sa­tions I had, which I would then trans­form into story frag­ments,” he says. “I then tried to con­nect th­ese frag­ments in search of some greater mean­ing. In this man­ner, I be­gan dis­cov­er­ing char­ac­ters and their con­nec­tions.”

A key el­e­ment Boy & the World re­tained from Canto Latino was a po­lit­i­cal point of view. “I think that this spirit of protest per­me­ated the making of Boy & the World up un­til a cer­tain point, and then the story be­gan to take on a more univer­sal as­pect,” says Abreu. “But it’s a story of the op­pressed. A boy looks for his fa­ther in a glob­al­ized world, which drags peo­ple along like ob­jects. This child could be from any coun­try in the world where poverty is en­demic.”

An Or­ganic Look Abreu says 90 per­cent of the an­i­ma­tion was done at his small stu­dio in Sao Paulo, Brazil,


Moomins on the Riviera


Moomin were ac­tu­ally cre­ated mostly for the Bri­tish mar­ket and pub­lished by the Bri­tish As­so­ci­ated News­pa­pers from about 1954 to 1975. The most suc­cess­ful Fin­nish comics ever pub­lished, Moomin ran in more than 40 coun­tries, across 120 pa­pers with about 20 mil­lion daily read­ers at the height of its pop­u­lar­ity.

From the Source Moomins on the Riviera — a hand-drawn fea­ture — is based on one of the orig­i­nal comic strips and fol­lows the Moomins as they, along with Lit­tle My and Snork­maiden, have a jour­ney across the sea that leads the fam­ily to the Riviera, where their loy­alty to one an­other is put to the test. As Snork­maiden gains the at­ten­tions of a play­boy in the south of France, Moomin must con­tend with his own in­se­cu­ri­ties.

This was the first fea­ture film based on Moomin and it was first re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2014 to cel­e­brate the 100th an­niver­sary of the birth of its cre­ator. The movie did well enough that there have been con­ver­sa­tions about pos­si­bly making an­other film based on the comic strips, says Hemila.

The Clas­sic Look Along with the fam­ily and es­tate of Jans­son, the film­mak­ers worked to main­tain the charm­ing, hippo-like char­ac­ters in their orig­i­nal form — which with their soft lines and wa­ter­color pal­ette seem a gen­tle way to make to make so many state­ments and ob­ser­va­tions about cul­ture. There was no thought given to rad­i­cally chang­ing the look.

“We made a pro­posal for a film that stayed true to the look and ideas that were in the comic strips, and this was im­por­tant to keep the style that was es­tab­lished in the be­gin­ning,” says Hemila.

“It was im­por­tant for the writ­ing to be like the writ­ing in the comics, too, be­cause if you’d read them, as I did, you’d want to have that same feel­ing in the di­a­logue,” says Harju. “It’s part of what I loved about them grow­ing up.”

Hemila and Harju also agree on one of the se­ries; core val­ues: tol­er­ance.

“When you take them out of their own place and they are around other peo­ple from dif­fer­ent places, you see them strug­gle with it,” says Harju.

“I think (tol­er­ance) is an es­sen­tial mes­sage in Tove Jans­son’s texts and even more rel­e­vant now again than some years ago,” says Hemila. [

Formed in 2013 from es­tab­lished com­pa­nies Mike Young Pro­duc­tions and Moon­scoop, Splash En­ter­tain­ment has decades of an­i­ma­tion ex­pe­ri­ence that it is fi­nally bring­ing to the the­atri­cal arena with the Jan. 15 release of Norm of the North.

“We hope that if it’s a suc­cess for us — for all the part­ners — that we’ll be aboard to do oth­ers,” says pro­ducer Ni­co­las At­lan. “Maybe one ev­ery two or three years.”

The movie is about a polar bear named Norm who heads to New York City with his three lem­ming pals to try to stop a de­vel­oper from build­ing con­dos in his arc­tic home. Di­rected by Trevor Wall and writ­ten by Jack Don­ald­son and Derek El­liott, Norm of the North fea­tures the voices of Rob Sch­nei­der, Heather Gra­ham, Ken Jeong, Gabriel Igle­sias, Loretta Devine, Michael McEl­hat­ton, Colm Meaney and Bill Nighy.

Pro­duced for a lit­tle more than $20 mil­lion, Al­tan says he sees space in the mar­ket for this kind of movie. “There is a good busi­ness model here,” he says. “The ex­pe­ri­ence we have in

part­ner Tel­e­gael in Ire­land.

Do­ing It Live Splash worked ex­ten­sively on the an­i­matic, in­cor­po­rat­ing video ref­er­ence into the plan­ning of ev­ery scene. “It’s not mo­tion cap­ture; it’s real live-ac­tion ref­er­ence,” says At­lan. “We had real peo­ple play­ing each part — even on the dance scenes, we had a chore­og­ra­pher cre­ate the dance scenes and hired very good pro­fes­sional dancers.”

The ref­er­ence went to As­sem­blage in Mum­bai, In­dia, for the an­i­ma­tion work. Some of the post-pro­duc­tion was done at Tel­e­gael, but most of it was done in Los An­ge­les, At­lan says.

Splash’s ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing on tele­vi­sion an­i­ma­tion made the tran­si­tion to work­ing on a fea­ture project rel­a­tively easy.

“On a movie, you’re push­ing as far as you can the com­edy and I think on a TV se­ries you’re pressed by time be­cause you’re do­ing 26 half hours in 18 months, so some­times you don’t have time to push as far as you want the story or the an­i­matic,” says At­lan. “We pro­duced ( Norm) in a bit more than two years. We knew the an­i­matic was go­ing to be our main tool, so we really tried to push it as much as we can.”

The step into the an­i­mated fea­ture mar­ket is a big one for Splash, At­lan says. “I hope it will bring our com­pany to the next level. We are very happy about it.” [

Di­rec­tor Ale Abreu uses an­i­ma­tion to make a po­lit­i­cal point in the ac­claimed fea­ture film Boy & the World.

Tove Jans­son’s Moomins are tempted by the de­lights of the French Riviera.

Norm of the North is a com­edy toon with an eco­log­i­cal bent, as Arc­tic crit­ters fight Big Ap­ple busi­ness.

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