To create a 3D animated movie that won’t look pale in comparison to American blockbusters, you have to either be mad or way too sure of yourself. With his last film Dragon Hunters, Guillaume Ivernel proved himself to be a bit of both. But the real challenge that awaits the French director is raising the 27 million euros to produce his next movie, Soul Man, in which a sexy afro-disco heroine take us on an investigation throughout a futuristic city. Because the idea of cruising through space while listening to Diana Ross has always secretly got us excited, AMUSEMENT met with the director. A fan of Space opera? Get ready for a Space Shaft.
Why the choice of this funky 70′s setting? Were those years really that cool?
One speaks better about what they know… Back then I was a fan of Starsky and Hutch. It was a real revolution for its time, and when I was around ten, my parents kept telling me: “you can’t watch this, it’s too violent.”
… that makes us laugh now.
It makes us laugh, but back then it was the equivalent of Miami Vice or CSI. Then I switched to Shaft and Dirty Harry when I was 14. It was also a time when I started listening a lot of funk and soul music, I got really immersed in that world. Science fiction often takes place in dark and cold settings, that lack rhythm. I wanted something very colorful. What is good with soul and funk music is that it can be both festive and melancholic and that’s why I thought that blending this atmosphere with a science fiction setting could be fun. I am not the first to try this anyway: a series like Cowboy Bebop adopts a very close approach. This is one of the best Japanese series I’ve ever seen. Again, they don’t make “anime”, they juste make movies.
Otherwise, is it hard to succeed in the animation field in France?
It’s a very expensive medium. In live action movies, you can always get by and use cheap tricks. But in animation, whatever you do, the required budget is always quite substantial, especially when you want to think a little bit outside the box. I think a lot about the target audience for Soul Man, we want to reach both teenagers and forty / fifty year-olds who grew up with Starsky and Hutch, but we’ll never have the same budgets as the Americans do. The problem is that when a viewer pays for a ticket, the movie could have cost 20 million euros or 100 millions dollars, it doesn’t matter, he just wants to have a good time. Some people thought that my previous movie, Dragon Hunters, was an American film or an international production, they thought it was comparable with the quality of a Pixar production. For me this isn’t true, because we did it on a shoestring , but we reached our goal, to attain level of quality.
Are you more into Dreamworks or Pixar?
For a long time I would have said Pixar, but both studios do amazing things that are quite different, which is good. I’m not a Shrek fan, but that’s personal, technically there is nothing wrong with the film. But when Dreamworks started to make movies like Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and Dragons, I felt there was something interesting starting to happen there. Regarding Pixar, besides The Incredibles, Monsters Inc. is my favourite. The story is simply killer: monsters who heat their town with the cries of children, I don’t know where they got the idea, but well done guys! Otherwise, the last movie I liked was Drive. There are things there that could also end up beeing used in Soul Man, like all the contemplative stuff that I could not fit in a short trailer. Drive has some really good cinematography, no cliché action effects with 40 cuts in 3 seconds, that can be tiresome, even if it’s great to look at when it’s done well.
How do you see the animation field in 10 years?
The French TV show Les Guignols has a great catchphrase: “You are in front of the precursor of the Internet, good evening”. This is increasingly true, and the movement has advanced super fast. What will happen with video games, movies, TV, 3D holograms, frankly I have no idea. But I hope it will engage artists as it is often they who can make a change, contrary to what many people say. Look at Avatar. Back then, the french movie-theater network “UGC” had not switched to digital screens yet. Three weeks before Avatar’s premiere, they finally ended up equipping all their rooms with 3D technology. This is the power of an artist like James Cameron. If he has not done this, I’m not sure we could even speak about 3D today.
Then, there is no wall between culture and entertainment?
Entertainment should not come to the point where it simply replaces culture, but today it is essential to work on promoting stuff, making sure things are beeing said on the internet, making partnerships with brands like the one we have established with LG, it’s all very important. There are already some overseas websites that are starting to talk about Soul Man. An American women also made me aware of something important: how many black heroines do you see in blockbuster movies? We have either Jackie Brown, or supporting roles. I say that there might be something to do with it, even if I started work on Soul Man a year before.
Disney tried that with a black heroine in The Princess and the Frog.
Right, and it’s funny that Disney had the guts to do it. Maybe Soul Man would end up being the adult version (laughs).
Soul Man does not use motion-cature technology, or even a storyboard. Why?
I wanted to keep a “hand made” feel to the animation, to make sure it’s realistic but not to the point of beeing troubling, as is can be the case with the motion-capture applied to fantasy characters. The storyboard is just a packet of information on the framing, editing, what the characters will experience during each scene. However using a 2D storyboard in a 3D world is almost an aberration, because it lacks the essential information that’s added by this third dimension.
The Nintendo 3DS can adjust the 3D image, or even let you disable it if it hurts your eyes. Would you like to see movies where you can adjust the 3D?
No, as it was settled by the filmmakers, presumably they know what they want. This would be like the opportunity to recalibrate a film and live-edit it. But while working on Soul Man, I realized that for some sequences the 3D is strong and can give headaches, and for some others it is not pushed far enough. Current 3D level work well in the trailer, but I’m sure we can go further and make it even more fun.
Your work looks esthetically is very close to video games. Is this intentional?
It’s funny because it’s a world that interests me for sure, and that I find really exciting. Some film directors should be afraid, because I see more and more games offering better experiences than movies. I have little time to play video games, but I can experience them when I visit friends. It’s true that I am often told that my work is reminiscent of video games, I think this is due to the the fact that computer-animated images have been mainly used in video games. What we share in common with video games cinematics is that we don’t feel like making “cartoons”, we just make movies, period. In fact, I’m a little frustrated with some comments, like a journalist who was speaking about Marjane Satrapi’s “Poulet aux Prunes“, saying “Contrary to Persepolis, this is a real movie.” What does a real movie mean? Animation is a tool, like any other, through which we try to convey emotions : the result is what we call a movie. So I find the notion of real movie or not a bit ridiculous.
You mentioned how Japanese filmmakers were able to create ultra-realistic human emotions in drawn characters. How do you feel about Japanese animation?
The guy who brought much to the animation business, because he was one of its pioneers after all, is of course Walt Disney. Except that in the 30′s, Disney kind of decreed that cartoons were made for children. Meanwhile, Japanese animation makers decided to make films for everyone, targeting all types of audiences: movies for the three years-olds, others for teenagers and adults. When I was aroud five or six, I started watching Japanese productions, and didn’t yet know how to express this feeling at the time, but this is really this particular element that fascinated me. This is why I can clearly claim that Japanese animation is my true culture.
An anime fan then. Your references?
My masters are Moebius and Hayao Miyazaki. If we speak about Japanese anime only, the two that stunned me the most are Miyazaki and Koji Morimoto (famous for his work on Akira or Ken Ishii’ cult music video “Extra“). There is also Katsuhiro Otomo, Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfather) Yosjiyaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll). But I feel a real love for Miyazaki, and I don’t think I am the only one.
What are your favorite movies from Miyazaki?
It’s very hard, we often debate this question with friends and my daughter, who is also a fan. Even if she knows Nausicaa for years now, she again watched it twice last weekend. She can even watch the same Miyazaki movie for a whole week, and I really did nothing to influence her: Miyazaki has an unmatched power of narration and a truly unique sensitivity. What I like most is the poetry that emanates from it, some images that make you want to cry from their beauty, and a way to tell stories about childhood that really moves me. For the record, fifteen years ago, I was already working with Gaumont on a project centered around a relationship between a father and daughter, but it was aborted. At the time, I had not yet had my daughter, but since she has been here, the desire to work on such a subject is stronger than ever.
Soul Man, an animated film by Guillaume Ivernel. Coming soon.