Chomet Talks The Illusionist
BD: There's something very reminiscent of 101 Dalmatians. Talk about the design and color palette.
SC: Yes, I'd been working with a Danish art director [Bjarne Hansen] and basically the Danish have the same kind of light as Scotland -- and he was perfect to recreate the very difficult Northern lights. And we used the same technique on 101 Dalmatians: basically hand-drawn backgrounds and then color it in Photoshop or Painter. At the same time, I wanted the backgrounds to come to life: I wanted to feel the air, to feel the wind and the change of lights when the clouds are passing on the mountains. We used Digital Fusion on top of the gorgeous backgrounds he's made. It's not made for animation, but it's such a great tool. We managed to actually bring some atmosphere to the backgrounds. And if you take the DVD and accelerate it, you can actually see how much the lights are changing. You can feel how much more dramatic the light scenes are in the film. Even if you are inside your apartment, the light coming in is always changing. With animation, you can change everything: you can change the weather. To film in live action in Scotland is a nightmare because the lights change all the time.
BD: What was it like animating the magician and the girl and all the performers?
SC: Well, we had one Spanish animator who was just in charge of The Illusionist on stage, and another animator was in charge of the day to day life of the character when he was in the city. And they worked with other animators who had scenes with assistants and in-betweeners. And for the young girl there was just one main animator and a lot of secondary animators. And then for some of the other characters, I always tried to keep one character per animator because sometimes the character varies too much and we don't recognize him. As you know, 2D animation is a very long process because you first have to learn to draw the character and then how they're going to move, so after two years he will know the character by heart. And after a while, the animators know the characters better than I do and they try some different things which I wasn't thinking of.
SC: It was challenging and caused us a lot of difficulties -- you have some very long shots where it's difficult in animation to follow a character walking round. And you are farther away from the characters.
BD: You have to work harder to create a sense of intimacy?
SC: Well, yes, but animation doesn't just work with the expression on the face but with the body language, and it's more like the theater. It makes it for very natural relations, also.
BD: What was the most difficult story challenge?
SC: To establish Jacques Tati straight away in the film: to recognize him but at the same time make him strikingly different from his other films. More melancholy. When I read his script, I had a strong feeling of something very strong and very moving about him. In a way, it's a different experience, I suppose, for people seeing the film. I really wanted to go more toward the cinema that Tati had been doing; that the Japanese directors did, which is something gentler. And of course, we are in a very aggressive period right now with 3-D and you can do whatever you want with the camera. But because the film is talking about the musical, I did something to make it feel a bit like a musical.