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The Oscars: Gracia Talks 'The Lady and the Reaper'

Javier Recio Gracia discusses life and death as it applies to his Oscar-nominated short, The Lady and the Reaper.

Check out The Lady and the Reaper in the 2010 AWN Oscar Showcase!

The Lady and the Reaper was an R&D project to solve technical challenges for the upcoming feature, Goleor. All images courtesy of Kandor Moon.

The Lady and the Reaper, a frantic comedy about the fight between death and a doctor over the life of an old lady, actually began as a $1 million R&D project at Kandor Moon. A contest was held at the studio in Granada, Spain as a way of testing the stereoscopic capabilities for the country's first 3-D feature, Goleor, about a young man on a quixotic quest to become a medieval knight. Javier Recio Gracia, a storyboard artist, won the contest and the result was The Lady and the Reaper, which was co-produced by Antonio Banderas. Meanwhile, Banderas will co-produce and lend his voice to Goleor, an ambitious and technically bold $30 million project, which will be directed by Manuel Sicilia, who also helmed Kandor's first feature, The Missing Lynx. I spoke with Gracia, about his animated adventure, which is Spain's first animated Oscar entry.

Bill Desowitz: What does this nomination mean to you?

Javier Recio Gracia:

For me personally, it's an enormous honor to have this recognition of my work and the work of my colleagues at Kandor Moon. And I never expected to get this far with our first short. For the studio and the backers of the studio, it's very important to demonstrate that this kind of recognition is possible of the work that is being done here. And I'm hopeful that this nomination will also draw attention to the talent and skill of the people working in animation in Spain and that animation can continue to gain recognition here as a very important art form.

BD: And what was the atmosphere like for the announcement?

JRG:

We called all the press in the region where we lived and we took a chance and invited them to come watch the nominations with us -- we projected the telecast on the wall and we opened a bunch of champagne and we were determined to drink it regardless because just reaching this point had been so significant for us. And then, of course, when the nomination was announced, everybody went absolutely berserk. We also had prepared a web conference with Antonio, who was in L.A. So it was one of the happiest days of our lives and it was happy having Antonio on the screen congratulating us.

Javier Recio Gracia was inspired by the death of his grandmother to enter the short contest at Kandor.

BD: What inspired the idea of The Lady and the Reaper?

JRG: At the time of the contest, I watched as my grandmother was fading away, and looking around at some other elderly people, who, perhaps as well, were having their last moments in life in a less idyllic manner than my own grandmother. It made me start to think about this idea. And I thought it would be a lot more fun to treat the subject matter with humor.

BD: Did the story come easily or was it a struggle?

JRG: In this particular case, the story came out straight. I storyboarded it and it flowed really naturally from beginning to end without any great difficulty.

BD: What were some of your biggest challenges?

JRG:

There were technical challenges that came up because it was a trial to for our rendering of hair and also cloth and textures. But we found solutions to all of those issues as they were coming up. So the team was completely new to it so there were the challenges basically of being pioneers here and learning on our own.

BD: What animation software did you use?

JRG: We transitioned from 3ds Max to XSI and we tested Arnold towards the end of it as well and are now using it at the studio. I'm not the best person to talk about technical issues.

The Looney Tunes was a definite influence.

BD: What was the directing experience like for you?

JRG:

I storyboarded the whole film and I made an animatic, so it was good I was able to take two months off to essentially draw the whole film and essentially see how it flowed in movement and how it all was working in transitions and so forth.

BD: And working on the characters and backgrounds?

JRG: I would draw the basic idea for all of the characters, and Oscar Vargas would do the final design because I didn't have time to do them all on my own. Another colleague from the art department, Francis Porcel, drew the backgrounds

BD: The elderly lady reminded me of Mr. Magoo. Was that a conscious influence?

JRG:

I intended her to have the feeling of someone like Mr. Magoo: someone you could take and hug immediately. And I was actually thinking of The Little Shop of Horrors when I designed characters like the doctors and nurses: people who are very selfish and doing things for their own glory. With regard to The Reaper, I wanted him to be immediately identifiable, but I also wanted to find a bit of the ridiculousness in the character to make him a little more exciting and fun.

BD: How difficult was the character animation?

JRG: It was a little tricky because we didn't want the old lady to have a Pixarish look. For example, the doctors and nurses have eyes very much like you'd have in 2D. And that's tricky to do in 3D because it adds more work on the eyebrows. And The Reaper was a challenge because in 2D you could deform it and do all kinds of things to make it expressive, but in 3D he required the animators to work within confines that made it more challenging to be expressive.

BD: Was there a Day of the Dead influence?

JRG: Yeah, the Mexican part of it was important. I was inspired by the Mexican rituals of death. I wanted it to be highly identifiable.

BD: Any other noteworthy influences?

JRG:

I wanted to pay homage to the tradition of The Looney Tunes and those cartoons, which many of the young people today have less exposure to.

BD: What are you working on next?

JRG: Right now I'm working as a storyboard artist on our next feature, Goleor, and for now I'm just making sure the film gets made and, after that, we'll see what comes.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

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