Polish animator Aleksandra Korejwo muses about life, animation, music, Disney and her salt of many colors.
"I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing--that it was all started by a mouse."--Walt Disney
For me, it all started with salt. Everybody knows salt. It is a common material. But for me, it is more than just salt. In this material, I discovered my new way for Art, my new way for animation. There were many years of research and hard work. People often ask me, "How can you do such difficult animation so fast? It is impossible." But I have been working for this moment all my life.
Before my great meeting with animation, I studied painting. I learned to play the violin and I wrote poetry. My first thought was to create unity between painting, music and poetry. I could see that it was possible in animation art film. It was a great event in my life. But it was not enough just to know about it, I wanted to do it.
I have been developing my own technique for many years. The most important thing was finding the method of coloring salt. I found it. It is a complicated process, but the effect on film is great.
The next task was finding special tools for my unique material. It happened suddenly when I visited the zoo.
I don't like looking at animals behind bars, but I know that some animals need man's protection. It was spring and the bird's feathers were dropping down onto the grass. They were long, strong feathers. I picked up a few and said, "Thanks" to the condors. After that, I formed the feathers in many ways and I have chosen the best ones, which I use to this day. Sometimes, the direction of your search can lead you to a surprise!
The Movement, The Color, The Form
My search for unity between painting, music and poetry began during my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, where I did a lot of short musical compositions "without music." My belief was that the music could exist only in the viewer's imagination. Instead of from the sound, the music appeared in the movement, the color, the form! People said: "It is really colored music for our eyes."
At that time, I studied the works of John Cage. I prepared special scores for film, but I didn't note musical notes. I noted form, color...they were my notes. I was groping in the musical world, but I knew intuitively that it was a good way.
One day, something new happened. I was showing my film to a group of friends, but they had decided to give me a little surprise. When my film started, they switched on some music (it was some old Greek music I had never heard before). They wanted to see what the effect would be with my film. It was just a joke pairing this casual music with my silent film. My friends (and I) were so surprised when we could see that the synchronization was absolutely perfect!
My silent film became a "sound" film; a great event from the history of cinematography was being repeated in my own life.
From that moment, I began my new adventures with the greatest classical music composers. I started creating films with music. I "noted notes" and translated them into frames. My new scores were different than before. In my silent films, I created only one musical line, for movement. Now I had two lines: music and movement. The most important thing, was finding the relationship between the two.
Sometimes there was absolute synchronization, but sometimes I needed a counterpoint for a film idea. I was learning to understand the composers' ideas and share my ideas with them. I tried to be very humble and to, very subtly, rediscover the composers' personalities.
My parallel life motif which I was pursuing at this time, was to create films for children.
Colored Changing Pictures
When I was a child, as my family tells me, I used to watch Disney films and I would paint something like storyboards. My Mother laughs: "You used to sit on the floor and draw some rectangular frames with colored changing pictures inside." At that time, my Grandpa sent me a lot of coloring books with Disney characters. I loved Disney's "soft animation."
When I think about Walt Disney, I know that he felt movement. His characters really lived in his imagination. I believe the most important thing in animation is to feel movement.
Therefore, before I start with a film, I always work around the film. I paint a lot, I make drawings to find the best movement for each element. I like to study movement in nature. I prepare my special scores for films, of course. I change my psyche and my mind for new movement in a new film. I work with my camera "face to face," it is very important to have movement in mind.
The Travels of AKO
Before I started with my first children's film, The Travel of AKO, I had thought about making a series for children. Disney was my inspiration, and I wanted to make films just like he did. The Travels of AKO is about three friends. The first looks like a yellow circle and is a very happy, optimistic "person"; the second, which is a blue triangle, is an enthusiastic, reserved, cold person; and the last is a very active and sometimes nervous person with a pink, square form. They appear and disappear, transforming into other forms--good play for children.
Fairyland in Salt
Kids often visit me in my studio when I do my animation. They love to play with me and create forms from fairyland in salt.
When I was making my next film for children about seven little colored ducks (from Julian Tuwim's poem, "Hard Calculation"), I studied ducks walking in the country. My idea was to transmit from the screen to the child a visual knowledge of color theory, the process of additive and subtractive mixing of colors, through a good, humorous story.
I was pleased when the organizers of the International Animation Festival in Annecy, France, invited my film to the event.
Later, I came back to making films for music, especially classical music. In 1989, I made The Weaver to the music of Stanislaw Moniuszko, for which I received the Award for Animation from the Association of Polish Filmmakers.
After that, I made The Swan to the music of Camille Saint-Saëns. The idea for this film was born in Annecy, during the Festival, where I sketched swans gesturing near the lake. As I walked along the canals in this pretty town, I was fascinated by the pure white, majestic birds.
In my film, I wanted to achieve absolute perfect synchronization between music and painting. My film would also synchronize the ballet of a swan and a young girl.
I had to be a choreographer as well. Many ballerinas say The Swan is the most difficult composition for ballet. For this film, I received two awards: The Special Prize for Perfect Transposition of Music Into Pictures given by the Jury of the Festival of Films for Children and Young People in Poznan, Poland (1992) and Grand Prix for the Best Animation Film (Under 10 minutes) given by the International Jury of the Festival of Animation Films in Shanghai (1992).
At the Shanghai festival, I met many people from around the world, and many famous animation personalities. At that time I became an ASIFA member.
My next projects were the films, Ave Maria to music by Schubert and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik--Romanze Andante to music by Mozart.
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was a film about the sometimes sorrowful life of Mozart. After the filming, I too, experienced sorrow, when it was discovered that all of the film had been overexposed due to a problem in the camera. I had to start all over again, but it was not the same film. In my technique, I animate directly under the camera; I destroy the first picture to create the second. When I finish, all that remains is the dirty salt on the floor. The life of the material exists only in movement, and only for a few minutes, but I hope it remains forever in the imagination of the audience.
My next film was Exultate Jubilate Alleluja (Hallelujah), also to the music of Mozart, followed by On the Beautiful Blue Danube to the music of Strauss. For this film the organizers of the International Animation Film Festivals in Canada, Portugal and France invited my film to their festivities.
Hollywood, The Soul Of Film
After my film was shown in Annecy (France) a man came up to me and said; "Congratulations"--It was Ron Diamond from Acme Filmworks in Hollywood. We began talking, I didn't listen to anything else during that evening ... Hollywood always makes me think of the soul of film--and Walt Disney, of course.
I was excited about the possibility of working in Hollywood, but I didn't believe it could really happen until Ron called me. Now, I know that he is a brilliant manager and producer. He found me work that was very well suited to my personality. I would make four films for the Austin Lyric Opera in Texas.
There were four 30 second commercials to Opera music: La Traviata, Tannhäuser and Lucia di Lammermoor. I had to chose 30 seconds from each of these operas for the films. Many ideas appeared in my mind. I think, I chose the best parts for my technique.
Now, when I think about my good fortune in meeting Diamond, I am reminded of my aunt who inspired me to create the film On the Beautiful Blue Danube. She was interested in my films. When I visited her, she would pour coffee for me in a very pretty cup with a beautiful, delicate design on it and we would talk about my films. She became very ill and on the last night before her death, she gave me that pretty cup for memory. That cup became a film star.
I often think about the parallels between my life and my films. Perhaps, one day I will make a live-action film about these parallels.
Synchronizing With My Life
Every film has a different story and synchronizes with my own life. My most recent film project (a three-part collection from the Bizet opera Carmen: Carmen Suite, Carmen-Habanera and Carmen Torero) was born in a little town in Spain called Huesca. The International Film Festival there had invited me and my film. I could feel the warm Spanish sunlight on my face and also in my heart. I saw fiestas which took place in the moonlight. In the morning, I observed the sun above the brown-red Spanish land. Of course, before I started making the films, I studied the Spanish flamenco dance.
Also, before I started on the first Carmen film, I lived on a ranch. Everyday, I made lots of drawings among the horses. My lovely horses used to come to me and look at my drawings or paintings as if they were mirrors. It was very funny for me and I think for them also. I had to draw very fast because the horses (especially one of them) wanted to eat my drawings.
My professor from the Academy of Fine Arts used to say, "Keep your sketchbook in your pocket always." I try to make sketches every place I go. It is my principle. I keep my flipbook in my pocket.
I am very happy that I can participate in animation festivals, that I can travel to other countries. There are many places for interesting, sometimes surprising meetings with wonderful, sensitive people who are making art films more and more beautiful.
There is one heart of animation art shared by all film directors, animators, cameramen, good producers and enthusiastic people who love animation film.
Each animation festival impresses my mind and heart with a deep sign. I try to note these impressions with drawings and write them down. When the last Annecy festival ended, I wrote a short impression:
"The day after the end of the Annecy Festival: I am sitting on a bench at the side of a lake. Only the swans are unchanged. The surroundings get altered, decorations change, the water in the canals has fallen low. People are walking faster. Trucks, cruising the park, make noise. Even pigeons are more uneasy and are looking inquiringly.
"Only the swans are swimming quietly certain of their presence. My heart is full of conversations and animated forms. I am breathing the presence of people I saw (maybe it was too short to understand, too short to remember). Yet I can still observe the animation of life. The animated film is going on.
"The swan as question marks, maybe it is enough to sail along the route of God?"
The Ocean of Life
This story is only a little drop in the ocean of life. My life and work really makes me think of the ocean. Maybe every film is just like one wave? Always the same rhythm, but a different story, a different, unusual sound and form.
When I was teaching students at the Academy of Fine Arts they asked me, "You very often make films around ballet, dance, opera; what is the most interesting area for you?" My answer is, "Every moment is unusual for me. How amazing is movement in nature. I observe it often and I find ideas of the harmony in it. There is an incredible dialogue between creating shapes, sounds and movements.
"It is a great play of many instruments, of many feelings. The fantastic combination is joyful and sorrowful, dramatic and humorous--the true poetry of life. I feel like I am just one element from that composition, from that landscape. My body speaks the same language, which is sometimes called dance, ballet or pantomime."
And all the time, I am looking for the point of meeting between poetry, movement, music and painting. I see that point not only in music films, not only in ballet or other dance, not only in opera. I see that point everyday in my life. When I walk across the meadow, when I look at the ocean, and at the noisy intersection.
I think the most important thing is to be able to observe movement in its variety and still learn by looking at the world through artists' and children's eyes.
Alexsandra Korejwo is a filmmaker based in Poznan, Poland.