When I think back to the films that kickstarted my fascination with the animated short, Jeremy Clapin’s Skhizein is one that instantly springs to mind. His creative storytelling and strong visual flair for me summed up all that is great with the almost limitless medium. Nearly five years after first experiencing Clapin’s work, I finally got round to speaking to the French filmmaker with the hope of discovering a little bit more about his production methods and his approach to animation.
At about 21 years old I discovered the diversity of animation during an art school trip to Annecy. At this time, the internet was just starting to painfully give birth to its first octets through a 56ko/s modem and there was no way to see animation (different to Disney or other mainstream films) except in this kind of festival dedicated to animation. There were no feature films, only shorts films and I was immediately fascinated by all the narrative and graphical possibilities of this technique.
I studied in the National School of Art Decoratif of Paris (ENSAD), where I learnt a lot of graphic design, typography, illustrations, drawings, silkscreen and print. I was very curious and I think all theses courses were inspiring in a way. I had a lot of friends, most of them were doing graphic design and there was a real emulation between us. School is precious for meeting people and I believe the best quality of this school is that every student can experiment with a lot of things. It’s a little bit anarchic but at the end you can develop your own sensibility due to your personal experience.
It can be a little scary too. I was not thinking that making drawings, animations or films could be a real job. That’s probably why I had a plan B: being a tennis teacher, which I was in fact. I remember I used to go to the art school with my tennis racquet and my basket of balls.
When I left school I decided to split myself as a tennis teacher, an independent illustrator/graphic designer and an animator trying to make his films. Three years later I was doing my first short Backbone Tale and I wasn’t thinking of splitting myself any more.
“I always try to keep my work as disconnected as possible from the art I admire (and of course from the art I hate)”
I don’t know if there is an influence on my work but I love the British phlegm, the English humor – Gary Larson & Monty Python. The sensibility of Koji Yamamura, the singularity of David Russo, the creativity of Michel Gondry. Whilst I try to get inspiration not only from directors but from writers and artists, I always try to keep my work as disconnected as possible from the art I admire (and of course from the art I hate).
Skhizein is the story of a man hurt by a 150 tons meteorite. The impact was so violent than he finds himself thrown out of himself, exactly 91 cm from himself.
His body is now constantly 91 centimetres from where it should be. To open a door, sit down, answer his telephone, etc. he has to perform all of the actions exactly 91 centimetres away from where he normally would. The story started with a simple drawing of a man sitting on a chair. The man and the chair were drawn on two different layers. A layer for the world, symbolised by the the chair and a layer for the character. The result of this combination symbolises an interaction as simple as possible into the world. Because of the position of the character, the chair can be considered real. And due to the chair, the character looks real too. They both need to be here in this place to make it work. And when you decide to slide the layers, things can become very complicate for them, especially for the character.
“With Skhizein I felt confident and I felt free to express my individuality”
Most of time we were two people working on the film. Me as the director, the art director, the guy who makes all the references for the props/sets/models etc., I was doing the animation, the compositing and the editing. And Jean-françois Sarazin (JEF) who was in charge of all the technical aspects (technical director, modelisation, rendering). A few other people provided temporary assistance to make the production faster. I was working from home in a suburb of Paris and JEF was working 400km from me, in Lyon. We worked with 3dsmax and After Effects.
With Skhizein I felt confident and I felt free to express my individuality, but I started to realise that story is nothing without a good way to tell it. I did a lot of research on schizophrenia, meteorites, meteorite impact, and all this mess put together started to make sense for me. And the picture, the looks, the mood of the film just appeared like that in my mind.
A man alone, with his peculiar physique: he has his head held low, looking down at the ground.
In animation, most of the time (except mocap or rotoscoping) we create the characters from scratch. In my film I just need them to do what I want them to do; express emotions, talk, being sad, happy etc… I don’t really need realistic muscles, hairs, eyes, teeth…for what purpose? I think the handicap/afflictions of these characters told me already the kind of story I need to find to put them into it. It’s a kind of game but of course I cannot play the same game again and again.
Good Vibrations is a commissioned film. Even if I had a lot of fun making it and I was creatively quite free (the bird should have died), it’s not a film from my own initiative. It is both a short film and a commercial film & I try to make that clear for people who watch it that they are watching a film for an educational and commercial purpose.
Advertising can be fun to do and it pays your bills quite well. It’s a better experience if you can deal with it and take advantage of it.
Even it’s not monochromatic or black and white, I didn’t need a lot of color information in my films. It makes the picture more complicated and to be honest I don’t need to add another level of difficulty to deal with in a short film. When I see a black & white movie, a few hours/days after and I can’t really remember seeing it in black and white. I think the brain can put or invent colour to the memories, the same thing happens with 3D movies. Except when you are experimenting in the screening room, supporting your heavy glasses, then the memory you’ll keep of the film will be as flat as the others.
Palmipedarium is quite different to my others films. It’s an atmospheric film, based on the evocation of childhood – when you are between two worlds, in the middle of nowhere, trying to connect your young and elusive sensibility to the new one that people expect you to get. The plot of the film is not a starting point neither a finality. I worked with Vanila Seed Studio ( JEF again) and we decided to make it entirely with an open source software called Blender. For now, the short is only in the festivals, it has been supported by a channel and other institutions and you have to respect some exclusivity. I think that the climax of the film really needs the sanctuary of a screening room, I really wanted to make the audience feel somewhat uncomfortable.
Vimeo is great to get exposure and to show your work. I don’t need a website any more (the last one died of old age) – I make films, I show my films, that’s it. It’s also a very good platform to watch films and be inspired by the number of talented people living on this planet. It’s a platform where you can have instant feedback and network with people. Also, the quality is good and the interface clear and I feel that the people behind it (journalists, contributors, the community) are very exigent. Yet, in another way sometimes it can be very consensual. It’s like auto-satisfaction. Self masturbation. Everyone talking about views and likes and there can become a confusion between good films and those with a good buzz surrounding them. The same goes for festivals I suppose, but at festivals the approach to physically go somewhere makes you approach the screening with attention and expectation.
“Festivals depend essentially on the programmer and sometimes they are good and sometimes they are not, there are no rules”
As a spectator, I need to be captivated – to dive in and be in the middle of something. The luminescent screen in front of me, the exit doors behind my back, the people around me who are all feeling the film in their own way and all this helps to give the film power. Of course the most attractive things with festivals is that you can travel, share and interact more easily with people and other directors and most of time you are very well received by the organiser. This is always a good experience and sometimes you can win money if your film is awarded a prize and that can be very useful. However, festivals depend essentially on the programmer and sometimes they are good and sometimes they are not, there are no rules.