Persevering, with Delicacy
Director Claude Barras faced technical and emotional challenges in adapting a heartfelt and sensitive tale into the award-winning feature My Life as a Zucchini. By Karen Idelson.
ry. The director knows his shots last an average of nine seconds, rather than the three-second average, and he believes greater emotion can develop from taking his time in each moment rather than hurrying along to something else. He’s also more interested in emotion and action in most cases.
For the color choices, the director also followed his bent toward a realistic look that would place the audience in the experience with the characters and reflect the directness and realism in the story and dialogue.
“I worked on the set colors with the head of painting, Cécile Milazzo, as well as with the DP, David Toutevoix, so that there could be a progressive evolution throughout the film. The more the film progresses, the more color there is,” writes Barras. “We feel this very strongly when Zucchini visits his old apartment which is a jump backwards in the continuity of the colors.”
Authentic Voices Since the film is so carefully centered on the lives of the children in their foster home and the relationships they develop, voice casting also became crucial to getting the emotion and tone of the project just right. And Barras came to some interesting conclusions about how to create that feeling in the casting of the project.
“For the choice of children, Marie-Eve Hildbrand (who supervised all the stages of voice work, from casting to editing and including directing the actors) convinced me that it wasn’t necessary to allow myself to be guided solely by their tonality but by the cohesiveness of the group,” Barras writes. “We chose the children for their differences in age and for their personality; they were not supposed to play a role, but to be themselves instead, at ease with the people around them.”
The film is ultimately designed to reach out to those children — or adults who were once children in a similar circumstance — who are coming to terms with difficult or tragic events in their lives. This story doesn’t pull away from any sadness or the real impact of what happens to the characters, and that’s by design. Barras aims to give those children some hope with his film: “For My Life as a Zucchini, I began with the premise that we have all known one or more abused children, whether among our friends, our acquaintances or our family — and that is just the tip of the iceberg because the subject is taboo. Beyond being just a tribute to these broken childhoods, to courage, resiliency and friendship, I hope from the bottom of my heart that this film will make it possible for those concerned to speak, to remove, even slightly, some of the taboos, to help children detect distress in their friends, to not be afraid of solidarity, and that they think about how to pull through and to help each other in avoiding violence.” [
peteered on set along with the clay body of the monster.
“There are also a few shots in the movie that are 1:1 with the illustrations. And we used them as a basis not only in the motion but also in the lighting to get the look and essence,” says Domenech.
A Rig of Twigs The monster was comprised of a single rig, but the face and body were made of individual pieces. The body was comprised of muscle groups, branches and roots, and everything connecting it. “While the animation was done, we would run a simulation to get movement on it. Also, the wind was constantly blowing, so the tiny tendrils of the branches were moving so everything has a bit of life in it,” says Domenech.
Naturally, there was a long process of R&D to find a new way of rigging the face of the monster to allow all of the pieces to slide. And ensure when he would change expression, they would settle into the next position and not collide with each other. However, the eyelids needed to be kept solid and fleshy (essentially younger and fresher wood) to gain the proper emotion for extreme close-ups, so MPC made an anthropomorphic concession for that.
MPC used ZBrush for modeling, Maya for animation and Katana and RenderMan for lighting and rendering.
“As far as the need to be stretchy, we didn’t have to worry about that so much because that was dictated by the model,” says Domenech. But there was a lot of detail texture to be done in the face. It also had a layer of moss with different colors — slightly redder and slightly greener. And there were pieces of wood with a different finish to it, some were dryer and some were wetter.” Emotional Transformation The transformation, meanwhile, from tree to monster provided another challenge. This entailed two models coming together to become one — the tree and the monster. Also difficult were sequences at the end when the monster gets agitated with Conor about telling the truth concerning his innermost desires.
“His facial proportions changed into a more of a porcupine-like finish,” says Domenech. “So we had these growing branch technologies to get the branches to come into the spaces in between different parts of wood on his face and grow into little spikes and make him more menacing in profile.”
The animators not only studied the video reference of Neeson, but also recorded themselves doing action on top of a table leaning over to get a better sense of weight when the monster finds himself on a precipice.
Inspired by an English legend called “The Green Man,” the monster personifies the landscape rising up to tell us stories as a big and powerful force of nature.
“The monster also represents that part of your personality which you haven’t yet come to terms with, so I believe (visual effects) engages audiences more when you go back to how things were done in the first generation of moviemaking,” says Bayona, who will next tackle the Jurassic World sequel. Bill Desowitz is crafts editor of IndieWire (www.indiewire.com) and the author of James Bond Unmasked (www.jamesbondunmasked.com).
certain scenes, such as Ethel’s death, inhouse “because they were so sensitive and because they had to be absolutely correct.” Creating a Wider World But the biographical aspect wasn’t the only challenge. “When we started this film we thought, Ethel and Ernest, oh that’s good, just two characters,” Mainwood says wryly as he flicks through a level-arch file featuring 613 character designs of the two protagonists and their son maturing over the course of 40 years. “Of course, they age and they have different clothing and all that. And there are actually quite a lot of incidental characters as well.”
Aging the characters was especially difficult in light of the chosen animation style, which was simultaneously realistic and simple, for example using dots for eyes and minimal lines on the face. “You had to do it just in things like the chin getting a bit more jutting as they get older as the teeth wore down, or the nose getting a little bit longer, or the neck getting a bit more dipped in the shoulder,” says animation director Peter Dodd. “Gradually, they get a little bit smaller and a little bit more pinched.”
The crew also was conscious of preserving the book’s unintended application as a historical record, since it documents the lives of an ordinary family during one of the most turbulent and progressive epochs in human history, encom- passing World War II, the arrival of the atom bomb, and the sexual liberation of the 1960s. “I think it’s fascinating to follow the lives of a couple who were born when horses were on the streets of London — they were born at a time when there were no airplanes, no cars — and then they grew up and lived through to the point where they see man landing on the moon,” Deakin says. “I mean, [
and crew that we have here was appealing to all of us,” he says. “It was really just about finding the right, compelling project to do that with and when this little gem showed up, we jumped at the opportunity.”
The Eisenbergs worked on several drafts of the script, which was then revised further into its final form by Joe Stillman, a veteran of the Shrek movies as well as TV hits like Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill.
Figuring out what style of animation to use was a major decision, Viscardi says. “We knew we could make a 2D movie, we knew we could make a CG movie, and we were also big fans of stop-motion and those stop-motion holiday specials from when we grow up,” he says. The final result was choosing CG, but using it in a way that brought the textures and feel of stopmotion into the project as well.
That decision led to the production hiring as director Max Lang, who directed The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom — both Oscar-nominated animated shorts — as well as episodes of The Amazing World of Gumball.
Executing the desired look required some research, with one of the leads on the show suggesting the GPU-based Redshift render engine as a way to save time. “The processing time is reduced to a fraction of what we normally have to deal with,” says Steinberg. That allowed the project to be more iterative, but also allowed it more bandwidth for rendering detailed images and including technology like global illumination. The result was to “create a whole atmosphere and a richness to the production value of the movie that’s closer to movies that are put out theatrically than to some of the TV work we’ve done before,” Steinberg says.
It also allowed more of the work, including lighting, rendering and compositing, to be brought in-house at Nick’s Burbank studio, while character animation was handled at Bardel in Vancouver. The crew numbered about 25 on the project.
“The lighting in the movie is really beautiful and there’s so many wonderful textural details,” says Viscardi. Solving for Locomotion One of the major challenges in animating Albert is that the characters are all potted plants.
“We have characters that don’t have legs and arms, so to speak, so how do you literally get them from point A to point B?” says Viscardi. “We had so many conversations about the pots, how they should move, how they should hop, how they can slide, how they can turn. … And you have characters that have in a way multiple arms with all the branches. Do you activate them or do you just focus on one or two each to be more traditionally arm-like?”
Additionally, the story is a journey that starts out on a small scale and builds to a conclusion set in a huge city. “That posed certain challenges of how do you capture New York and that kind of scale with all of the detail that we would want to have in it?” says Viscardi. “Those were challenges, but I think we found the right way to address those challenges and succeed despite them.”
With the final touches being put on the show in advance of its Dec. 9 premiere, Viscardi says he hopes Albert scores well with audiences and also shows the industry the quality of animation Nickelodeon is producing. “We hope people get to see it and admire it for the quality we’re bringing to it,” he says. [
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
A Monster Calls Focus Features Release Date: Dec. 23 Director: J.A. Bayona VFX Supervisor: Félix Bergés
million U.S.) Director: Duncan Jones VFX Supervisors: Bill Westenhofer, White, Jason Smith Effects Studios: ILM, Hybride Technologies, Rodeo FX, Base FX, El Ranchito, Volta, fx3x, Virtuos Awards Chances: This game-based movie made a huge splash overseas, with its effects taking fine advantage of exploiting the potential this extremely popular game presented. The visual thrills make this movie a bit of an outlier, but its innovative approaches are just the kind of thing that could appeal to the more technical-minded members of the VFX branch.
Alice Through the Looking Glass Disney Release Date: May 27 Box Office: $299 million worldwide ($77 million U.S.) Director: James Bobin VFX Supervisors: Ken Ralston and Jay Redd Effects Studio: Sony Pictures Imageworks Paramount Release Date: Nov. 11 Box Office: $56 million worldwide ($45 million U.S) as of Nov. 22. Director: Denis Villeneuve VFX Supervisor: Meggie Cabral Effects Studios: Framestore, Rodeo FX, Oblique FX, Hybride Technologies, Reynault FX, Alchemy 24, MELS Visual Effects, Folks, Fly Studio Disney Release Date: July 1 Box Office: $178 million worldwide ($55 million U.S.) Director: Steven Spielberg VFX Supervisor: Joe Letteri, Guy Williams Effects Studio: Weta Digital
Ghostbusters Sony/Columbia Release Date: July 15 Box Office: $229 million worldwide ($128 million U.S.) Director: Paul Feig VFX Supervisor: Peter G. Travers Effects Studio: Sony Pictures Imageworks Disney Distributor: Buena Vista Release Date: Aug. 12 Box Office: $142 million worldwide ($76 million U.S.) Director: David Lowery VFX Supervisor: Eric Saindon Effects Studios: Weta Digital, Double Negative, Crafty Apes, Exceptional Minds, Peerless Digital Imaging Warner Bros. Release Date: Aug. 5 Box Office: $745 million worldwide ($420 million U.S.) Director: David Ayers VFX Supervisor: Jerome Chen Effects Studios: Digital Domain, Lola Visual Effects, Mammal Studios, Mist VFX Studio, MPC, ScanlineVFX, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Applied Arts FX Studio IMAX Release Date: Oct. 7 Box Office: $55,000 worldwide Director: Terrence Malick VFX Supervisor: Dan Glass Effects Studios: Method Studios, Double Negative, One of Us, Locktix
X-Men: Apocalypse 20th Century Fox Release Date: May 27 Box Office: $544 million worldwide ($155 million U.S.) Director: Bryan Singer VFX Supervisor: John Dykstra Effects Studios: Cinesite, Digital Domain, Exceptional Minds, Hydraulx, Legacy Effects, Lola Visual Effects, MELS, MPC, Rising Sun Pictures, Solid FX [
TAcademy to weigh a record number of qualifying movies in deciding who to announce as the nominees on Jan. 24.
he Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Nov. 11 a record 27 features have been submitted for consideration in the Animated Feature Film category for the 89th Academy Awards. That’s a sharp uptick over last year’s 16 nominated features. The submitted features, listed in alphabetical order, are: The Angry Birds Movie April and the Extraordinary World Bilal Finding Dory Ice Age: Collision Course Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV Kubo and the Two Strings Kung Fu Panda 3 The Little Prince Long Way North Miss Hokusai Moana Monkey King: Hero Is Back Mune Mustafa & the Magician My Life as a Zucchini Phantom Boy The Red Turtle Sausage Party The Secret Life of Pets Sing Snowtime! Storks Trolls 25 April Your Name Zootopia
TList will be winnowed down to five nominees after December screenings for members of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch.
he Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Nov. 23 that 10 animated short films will advance in the voting process for the 89th Academy Awards. Sixty-nine pictures had originally qualified in the category.
Members of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch viewed all the eligible entries for the preliminary round of voting. Branch members will now select five nominees from among the 10 titles on the shortlist. Branch screenings will be held in Los Angeles, London, New York and San Francisco in December.
The 10 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies: Theodore Ushev, director (National Film Board of Canada) Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, directors (Quorum Films) Jan Saska, director (FAMU — Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) Franck Dion, director (Papy3D Productions, National Film Board of Canada and ARTE France Cinema Department) Leo Matsuda, director, and Sean Lurie, producer (Walt Disney Animation Studios) Alicja Jasina, director (University of Southern California) Robert Valley, director, and Cara Speller, producer (Massive Swerve Studios and Passion Pictures Animation) Patrick Osborne, director (Google Spotlight Stories/ Evil Eye Pictures) Alan Barillaro, director, and Marc Sondheimer, producer (Pixar Animation Studios) Marie-Christine Courtès, director, and Ludivine Berthouloux, art director (Vivement Lundi! and Novanima)
The summer of 1987 is notable for many reasons, not least of which is the publication of the first issue of Animation Magazine! Thirty years later, those of us who work at the magazine are thrilled to celebrate this milestone with our partners, readers, advertisers and the rest of the animation industry.
The big party will occur this summer in the June issue — planning is already underway — but with this being the first issue dated 2017, we’re going to get things started now and carry it all through the year, starting with a retrospective of back issues that provide an amazing time capsule of both the magazine and the animation industry it covers.
We encourage you to share in the fun. Old issues will be available for reading online and, for those of you who still love paper the way we still love paper, printed magazines are still available for purchase in limited quantities online at our web shop.
Let’s start, appropriately, at the beginning. The premiere issue of Animation Magazine was published in August 1987 along with the program for the second Los Angeles International Animation Celebration.
The festival, which ran from 1986-2001, was the first major animation festival in the United States. The magazine was inspired by the overwhelming response to Animation News, a newspaper that was distributed to the animation community for six months prior to the launch of the first issue of the magazine, to promote the Tournées of Animation, the short-film compilations produced by the magazine’s founder, Terry Thoren.
For those of you who weren’t around, the 1980s was a time before the internet. When animation fans were lucky to get one major studio feature a year, TV animation mostly still aired only on Saturday mornings, and CG animation was in its infancy.
A good example of the way things were occurs on page eight of the premiere issue, which features a report on rumors that the $7 billion CG-animation industry was dying, in spite of predictions that it would grow to be a