The South African feature Khumba typifies the emergence of new animation territories which have benefited from the expertise of more historical players.
The same can be said for The Congress which relies on the experience of the Belgian Walking The Dog studio for its animation.
As for Cafard, it has preferred an artistic and technical choice, mocap, which allows it to stand out in spite of a tight budget.
Oggy and the Cockroaches, the Film draws the best from another type of expertise – the production of series – while still accentuating sound design.
Marc du Pontavice is the President of Xilam Animation and the SPFA (Union of French Animated Film Producers). He started his career at Gaumont where he co-founded Gaumont TV (1991-95) and created Gaumont Multimédia in 1995, renamed as Xilam Animation in 1999. He is currently working on the adaptation of Oggy and the Cockroaches which will be released in summer 2013.
Finally, Marc du Pontavice is the director and founder of One World Films, a fiction features production company.
Animator, Supervisor and Animation Director Olivier Jean-Marie directed the TV series Oggy and the Cockroaches, The New Adventures of Lucky Luke and Space Goofs (season 2) before working on the feature Go West, a Lucky Luke Adventure, selected for Annecy 2008. Recently he has written and directed the feature Oggy and the Cockroaches, the Movie which will be shown at the open-air screenings on Le Pâquier on Thursday 13th June, at 10:15 pm.
"My commitment as a producer is to assist wilful film makers to create their desires, help them to go all the way with the project and find the means to do it. At least, that is what I did by helping out on the production of Cafard. Jan Bultheel is a real auteur and has made a quality film with a very personal style that took a lot of hard work to produce."
After a number of years making commercials and music videos Jan Bultheel began working on animated films for kids with the international co-production Hareport, shown in 2009. Cafard is his first feature to combine new technologies with new work procedures.
Director of animation
Yoni Goodman was animation director for Ari Folman's film The Congress from 2011 to 2013, managing the work for 7 animation studios worldwide in Israel, Luxemburg, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Philippines.
Walking the Dog
Éric Goossens founded the Brussels-based production company Walking The Dog in 1999 with his partner Anton Roebben. The studio has produced many animated series and films, including two Oscar nominated features: The Triplets of Belleville and The Secret of Kells.
Walking The Dog and EuropaCorp are currently working on Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, due for release in 2014.
Anthony Silverston is one of the partners and Head of Development at Triggerfish Animation Studios. In addition to writing and directing Khumba, he was one of the writers and producers of Adventures in Zambezia, winner of the Best South African feature at the Durban International Festival in 2012 and nominated for two Annie Awards.
Raffaella Delle Donne is Head Writer at Triggerfish, where she writes, generates and oversees development of new content for the studio. She is co-writer of the animated features Zambezia, winner of the Best South African feature at Durban International Festival in 2012 and nominated for 2 Annie Awards and Khumba, winner of the UK Council/NFVF-funded scriptwriting competition and selected for the No Borders International Film Market in New York. Her articles have been published in both national and international publications.
Mike Buckland has over 15 years experience in CG animation, from commercials to feature productions such as Zambezia and Khumba. His broad background in all aspects of the CG production process has enabled him to structure the crew and develop the pipelines necessary to facilitate the animation process at Triggerfish. He is also responsible for the Creative and Production teams in the studio.
Triggerfish, Khumba, couagga, South Africa, Folman, Congress, live action, Walking The Dog, Tondo, Cafard, cockroach, Bultheel, mocap, Xilam, Oggy, sound design, Pontavice.
How is it possible to offer original visual and narrative worlds without necessarily possessing the economic power of the American majors or utilizing lower-cost labor from emerging countries? Here four examples of outstanding productions will help provide answers to this question.
Khumba, the feature film presented by the South African Triggerfish Animation Studios, was part of the official Annecy selection this year. Previously, the studio produced Adventures in Zambezia, to be released in French cinemas this summer. Khumba will be distributed by Metropolitan and is scheduled for an April 2014 release.
"Khumba is the fifth animation feature produced in South Africa," explains Mike Buckland, "and the first one directed by Anthony Silverston, based on a scenario by Raffaella Delle Donne." Triggerfish Animation has been in Cape Town since 1996 and, at the start, it made stop motion shorts. As the producer recalls, this shift towards digital animation only took place in 2005, "opening horizons for a move to features. Animation is pretty much a newcomer in South Africa," he says. "When we began production on Adventures in Zambezia, we made plenty of mistakes that we hurried to change for Khumba's production."
Raffaella Delle Donne gives a brief outline of the plot: "A sub-species of zebra, the couagga, lived in the southern lands of Africa and was denoted by the distinctive feature of only having stripes on its neck and chest. Hunted by the Boers, the species died out at the end of the 19th century and several research scientists are now trying to revive it. For me, the fate of this animal seemed to be a metaphor for South Africa and its own history. From that premise, I wrote the story of a young zebra born with only half of his body stripes. He's determined to find the missing ones – and to earn the respect of his herd – and so sets off on a far-reaching journey throughout the land." To finalize the scenario, Triggerfish contacted one of the co-authors of The Lion King, Jonathan Roberts.
One of the main challenges tied to the film's budget – about 10 million dollars – was to avoid creating a limited environment with a skimpy number of species. In the end, Khumba depicts 17 species and 42 characters, for 96 different animals in toto.
"We worked hard on personalizing the zebras," director Anthony Silverston explains, "and they all have their own specific stripe patterns reflecting their personalities." He adds: "For each species we dwelled on the modeling and rigging of the main characters which we pushed to the max and then rolled out according to the profiles."
Many concepts were treated directly in CGI with ZBrush, once again for reasons of scheduling optimization. The sculptures were then directly painted. Once this step finished, the modeling phase turned out to be more complex than foreseen: "We had to redo the models' typology, with lots of touch-ups, before we got it right," the director recalls. Among the questions dealt with: should the eyes pop out or rather sink into their sockets? What about how the stripes should look? "We drew directly from reality before pushing the stylizing in several directions. By the end, the rigging and modeling teams had exchanged intensively."
"We also needed to get the polygons moving in the right way and for that we examined how real animal skeletons work," the producer notes. "For the facial aspects, we decided to add a number of controllers with 'faceshapes' so that the fur would follow the animals' movements, without our having to animate it by hand."
Generating fur and feathers was also a bit tough. "We created a feather- and fur-generating tool based on Softimage Fur that enabled us to generate virtual groups of feathers/hair that could then be more easily animated." Concerning rendering, "for the previous film we chose Mental Ray, but here it did not fit Khumba's needs. After trial and error with various types of software, we opted for Arnold." To ensure that the rendered shots were spot on, Triggerfish carried out low-resolution testing "to examine the dynamics, for one," the director mentions.
In another key optimization step, the studio developed a 'fake fur shader': "The idea was to apply shaders rather than real fur on characters in the mid- or back-grounds to avoid gluttonous computing time." Anthony Silverston admits that the method has its limits: "Sometimes we had fur covering the eyes or eyelids. We had to adjust frame per frame."
Khumba is a quest, which requires lots of backgrounds, even if the desert plays a central role in the scenario. "The pitfall could have been to say: we're depicting the desert, so a simple environment will suffice," Raffaella Delle Donne specifies. "To the contrary: we closely examined what types of plant life might grow in the Karoo desert, where Khumba's adventures take place, so as to develop something quite lifelike."
A plant-creation system was perfected for the basic plant designs, which were then automatically multiplied. Taking a limited number of models, the system suggests a great number of shapes for exponential vegetation variation.
For atmospheric effects, Khumba has plentiful fire footage and one sequence in water. "We chose Softimage ICE which turned out to be fantastic for easily generating FX," Mike Buckland recalls.
Did you use crowd simulation software?
No, but we had a team working solely on crowd shots, with movement and character libraries that could be multiplied infinitely.
In your $10 million budget, what portion comes from public funding?
Khumba was entirely financed by the South African government fund (National Film and Video Foundation), with presales contracted thanks to a trailer.
Cafard is a feature project unveiled at the Lyon Cartoon Movie in 2012, co-produced by Tondo Films, Topkapi Films, Superprod and Tarantula. The script and designs were created by the Belgian director, Jan Bultheel, who will also make the movie. His project is based on the true story of the Belgian Army's ACM expeditionary corps (armored car division) which fought in WWI. This division was eventually forced by the conflict to travel completely around the world to be able to return to Belgium.
"When we started thinking about adapting the story of this incredible journey," producer Arielle Sleutel explains, "we quickly realized there would be many backgrounds to shoot, and many diverse characters. So the only viable medium was animation, carried out with an affordable budget and as simply as possible – thus the refined but simplified look."
To continue optimizing financially, motion capture was chosen as a less-costly solution… but that was not the not only reason: "The movie is first and foremost an actor-strong property," Jan Bultheel notes, "and this may appear to be in contradiction with the animation genre. Yet the pipeline which we implemented aims to leave as free rein as possible to the actors." To enhance this unimpeded approach, the director decided to forego storyboarding but chose rather to hold active sessions with the main actors, working from the script. "We read, we talk over the key elements of each scene and envision the more global narrative arc so as to assess the progression of each of the characters."
The way the motion capture (mocap) is used is also unique: "The gist is to play the scene from start to finish," the director specifies, adding that he noted "the actors' wholehearted satisfaction since they are not used to this type of approach, even with live shoot." The capture is done with no background elements: "I start by searching for any angles, glances, tiniest gestures, even by actors who will not be in the foreground, since all of this helps set the scene's atmosphere. Next I do some cutting and it's only afterwards that I position the décor."
Six scenes have already been finished, for a total length of 12 minutes. With a budget just under 3 M€, backed by Flemish and Walloon funds, as well as by MEDIA and the BNP Paribas Fortis Film Fund, the production should begin in August 2013, targeting a presentation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
How are you going to handle the dialogues?
Sound processing is done with the motion capture, via small mikes worn by the actors. But we do a second pass in order to ensure that we have it right. When we'll start production, a duplicate pass will be done in a booth for top-notch sound.
Besides the financing mentioned, are you awaiting any other funding?
We're waiting to hear on investors from France, with a July decision date. Then we hope to start production in August.
Since your background is in animation, how have you planned to direct the acting?
It just so happens that I worked a great deal with stage theater people for several years, and that is a godsend.
What is scheduling like for a mocap shoot?
On Cafard we hope to shoot three to four scenes a day, in other words one to three minutes each time, daily. Overall, we've planned on 22 days of shoot for a 90-minute final film.
Where will the mocap be done?
We have opted to do it in Angoulême, France, in the SolidAnim studios.
How many people have worked on this film project?
Five people worked on development for two months with me. Later, we'll have to ramp up to ten or twelve people for a year's time for the production per se.
After Waltz with Bachir, The Congress is the second animated feature film by director Ari Folman. In it, he focuses on the female actress Robin Wright in her own role: rejected by the studios, suffering from a string of failures, she receives an offer from Miramount Studios to scan her integrally, leading to a loss of any rights over her own image. We find her twenty years later, in animation, during a congress like no other.
"We wanted a radically different approach from the one taken on Waltz with Bachir, produced with six persons, on a minimal budget," the animation director Yoni Goodman recalls. After having finished a seven-minute development piece, too similar to the style of the previous movie, the director began all over again, using ToonBoom to start out. The inspirations behind this project are many: the Superman cartoon series as well as Hieronymus Bosch's paintings. But the real development soon turns towards the graphic style of Betty Boop.
In order to maintain a given consistency between the live action sequences and the main, or animated, part of the film, "we asked the actors to shoot the entire movie, including the animation sequences, and this finally gave our animators a great number of sturdy acting references."
The animatic was edited "like a movie, presented in theaters, to obtain almost a rough version of the entire story." This double stratum – full live shoot and edited animatics – served as a bible for improving the coordination among the seven animation studios involved in the project (Israel, Luxemburg, Belgium, Germany, Poland, India and the Philippines).
The Belgian studio, Walking The Dog, was contacted to handle the 2D animation of the film, lasting thirteen months: "All of the animation was done with ToonBoom on Cintiq tablets," Eric Goossens recalls, "both because it was more effective, since our teams were used to them, but also because it was less costly. Going back to paper would not only have been tedious but also time-consuming."
There are 270 episodes and four seasons of Oggy and the Cockroaches.
It is broadcast in 150 countries, across the Americas (notably on the three big networks: Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel), in Europe and Asia. The motion picture, Oggy and the Cockroaches, The Movie, also produced by Xilam, will be released in French theaters in August 2013. How can a strong TV property be successfully transformed into a seminal movie brand?
"We had to keep from giving in to the temptation to adapt the feature film scenario from a single episode," Marc du Pontavice, chairman of the Xilam studio, explains "but rather we needed to start with something new: Oggy's always been around!" The Oggy system moves from one period of history to another with the same characters: the cockroaches, Bob the dog, cousin Jack and Olivia. But they appear in different situations, each time as role-play in which Oggy visits various eras of our civilization: Oggy-Magnon or the Fire Quest, Once Upon a Time or the Kingdom Quest, Sherlock Holmes or the Truth Quest, etc.
Production of Oggy and the Cockroaches, The Movie took place over 18 months, with one imperative: to obtain the quality of a feature-length film while maintaining series-production pacing. To succeed, Xilam chose to deal with the stories as one-offs, from writing to compositing. "We determined a strict production schedule," the director Olivier Jean-Marie explains: eleven months of preproduction, seven and a half months for the animation and an equivalent amount for the postproduction tasks.
To be able to hold this delicate balance, the studio purposely optimized its organization, notably in the preproduction phase. "We possess technical and artistic expertise that result from our fifteen years of past experience and the 270 episodes, so we're able to avoid long R&D investigations," the Xilam chairman posits. The teams are structured around an outline that includes a small task force "based in Paris and working like a commando unit, very multidisciplinary, plus over forty artists working under the authority of some staff members. The idea was to establish strongly-independent decisional power to be able to advance fast and well."
For the production phase "the repeat work was made possible due to the vertical integration of our production pipeline. We sent all the animation to Armada, Xilam's Vietnam-based animation studio where there is a close-knit team of one hundred artists, all Oggy experts and all working for the movie. Moreover, we added permanent supervisors who were sent on site to check the artistic consistency and the proper achievement of tasks."
The requisite quality which is obligatory for a feature project also involved the creation of large-scale backgrounds, and more sophisticated animation than for the series. Xilam also chose to use "3D intelligently" with camera mapping.
Oggy's move to the big screen provided a whole new dimension: 3D, "and it wasn't that easy", the director admits. "We had issues with the modeling and especially the rigging." The 'cartoonesque' nature of the cat and cockroach adventures does not always suit the "constraints" of 3D. "We also set up research on the characters' graphic aspects and textures for this move to 3D, while still managing to preserve the series' graphic universe. To do this right, we kept a permanent handle on things, not only on art direction but also on animation."
Oggy and the Cockroaches is a series with no dialogue. This is possible in a short format, but it's much harder to succeed with a 90-minute movie. That's why the sound design and music were so essential. "Actually, there are three score sheets: one for pictures, one for sound design and one for music. What counted was to find the magic mix," Marc du Pontavice confirms. "The sound design provided action, identity and comedy, whereas the music supplied the emotion, continuity and narrative support." Xilam therefore pushed real team work involving "composing to images, with continuous feedback between the music team (composer and editor) and the sound design team. Some 60,000 sounds were chosen to illustrate the film, representing a herculean task of 200 man/days of work for this step alone, lasting six months."
In parallel, music is a full-blown actor in the project, since an 80-strong symphony orchestra was hired to record the original 70-minute score in Paris!
Drafted by Stéphane Malagnac, Prop'Ose, France
Translated by Sheila Adrian
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