Talk by animation director Michaël Dudok de Wit

I recently had the fortune to attend a talk by Michaël Dudok de Wit at LCC, the now legendary director of Academy Award winning feature and short films ‘The Red Turtle (2016)’ and ‘Father And Daughter (2000)’. He showed his work and discussed his process of developing a story.

He began by showing his advertising work and ‘Father and Daughter’, the beautifully crafted short. Then he talked about being approached by Studio Ghibli to make a collaborative feature. He discussed the early development of the pitch he showed in Japan. His early experimentation with mediums and techniques. He spoke about his inspirations in old French book covers, and the decision to make it semi realistic.

Michaël Dudok spoke about the trip he took to an island in the Caribbean to do field research. And stressed how important research is to make a successful film and one that has a sense of authenticity. He showed footage from his trip and how that translated into ideas for the film. This included wading birds, the crab, the scenery and an encounter with a turtle that led to the main idea for the film.

The Red Turtle Shot Development
The Red Turtle Shot Development

He discussed his return to France and creating a studio from scratch for the film. He stressed how important it was to have the right team to work with as this could make or break a film. He also spoke candidly about the long time they had to find the perfect team and to fulfil needed roles.

Then he spoke about developing the final assets for the film, the different variations on the characters, the colour palette including that of the turtle and even a map and structure of the island. The island structure allowed him to create logical lighting for the island depending on the time of day. He also spoke about creating the many beautiful environmental effects for the film.

All in all it was an incredible experience to get insight into the inner workings of a well crafted animation film.

‘Costume Quest’ and talking about otherness

‘Costume Quest’ is a new cartoon by now legendary Burbank, CA animation studio ‘Cartoon Frederator’. The studio is known for creating shows like ‘Adventure Time’ and ‘The Fairly OddParents’.

Screenshot from the new cartoon show.

The show is an adaptation of a role-playing video game by the same name and is beautifully animated with a muted color palette and wonderful score. I was enjoying the show with many people comparing it to ‘Gravity Falls’ which has become a catch all for any new cartoon that shows the potential to be good.

Image from the original game.

The show revolves around four children that find halloween costumes that allow them to transform into their avatars and this is used to defeat ‘Repugniants’ that are monsters that become powerful from eating nougat. It’s a fairly straightforward ‘defeat the bad guys’ plot. This is until the show gives us the origin story for these ‘Repugniants’, In the episode ‘Ghosting’ we get this long exposition explaining where the monsters came from, “Since the beginning of time monsters have crossed over into our world. In the dead of night portals open between our world and countless others. Now most of the monsters that come through these portals are good, and only want to start a new life here on earth, but 100 years ago some monsters arrived with more diabolical intentions. The Repugniants, they came to Auburn Hollow looking to steal every last ounce of our famous candy nougat, nougat transforms them makes them more powerful, with the nougat they could have formed an army strong enough to take over the universe but 4 brave kids in magical costumes stepped up and stopped them. The Repugniants were defeated and ran back home, but some of them however decided to stay and complete the mission no matter what!”

This early episode introduces a very different dimension to the ‘monsters’ in the story and bears striking similarities to the current narrative around how illegal immigrants are coming into the United States. It may be that I am reading too much into this, the newest episode reveals that the costume shop owner who is helping the children in one of the ‘good monsters’, but is scared to reveal this to all the children.

Graves, Tombs and Cremation grounds

In preparation for my final project which is based around the tomb of Jamali-Kamali (Jamali Dehlavi being a 16th century Indian Sufi poet and Kamali being an unknown person he is buried next to), I have been thinking about eternality and what societies and religions choose to value.

Unknown Soldier from World War I being taken from the USS Olympia at the Washington Navy Yard and transported to the US Capitol to lay in state. On November 11, 1921 the body was intered at Arlington National Cemetery (photographed by E.B. Thompson)

There are the tombs of unknown soldiers in the US or the remembrance poppy flower pins in the UK. The zoroastrian Fire Temples where bodies are consumed by vultures, the tantric buddhist Gompas where monks are laid in seated meditative postures with people going to look for their reincarnations and there is the ‘Capsula Mundi’ project by the Italian designers that comes on the heels of the environmental movement.

There is also the famous ‘Dia de los Muertos’ celebration in Mexico that has been adapted by various films such as ‘The Book of Life (2014)’ and ‘Coco (2017)’ or games like the now iconic ‘Grim Fandango (1998)’ a click-and-point adventure a beautiful late 90s noir low poly 3D aesthetic.

There is late British author Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, which injects the fantasy world with heavy dose of dry British humor. Here DEATH appears as a character, has wants and needs, feels loss, regret, boredom and even adopts a child. The series has been adapted into animation and games that attempt to capture this unique perspective.

When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, she had a Sikh/Hindu funeral where her body was burned on a pyre by my father and uncle with my either family standing around, crying and singing prayers. To me seeing her body disappear into the flame and then picking up her ashes including pieces of unburnt bones with my hands was part of the healing process and getting closure. I know the thought of this would irk most western people where death is hidden behind closed coffins and make-up and cremation urns. So now in India there is a debate over a traditional funeral or an electric cremation.

Chaitanya Tamhane and Somnath Pal’s short ‘Death of a father’ follows Pal’s experiences when his father passes away and is burned using electric cremation.

The film I’m working on is around an Indian Sufi tomb, which has a complex relationship with death to put it mildly, I hope I am able to do it justice.