Protecting the Planet in Mia and the Migoo
There's more than one cinematic Tree of Life to experience. Aside from the highly anticipated Terrence Malick opus coming May 27, there's Jacques-Rémy Girerd's second animated feature, Mia and the Migoo, currently playing at the Laemmle Sunset in LA in an English-language version featuring the voices of John DiMaggio, Whoopie Goldberg, Matthew Modine, Wallace Shawn and James Woods. In fact, Modine is producer of the English-language version along with distributor GKIDS (The Secret of Kells). Mia and the Migoo pits a young girl in a fight to save the ancient Tree of Life in a construction site, assisted by the shape-shifting forest spirits called the Migoo. Girerd, founder of the French animation studio, Folimage, talks about his creative choices and why Mia and the Migoo means so much to him.
Bill Desowitz: What are the origins and inspirations for Mia et le Migou and how did you get the financing?
Jacques-Rémy Girerd: A tree planted upside down that really exists, which I actually saw in the Republic of Benin, near Ouidah. A 300-year-old Iroko (type of tree), with roots above-ground and foliage below. This tree is an important symbol of regional peace ever since the wars of the King of Abomey in the 18th century. We were able to raise a budget around $10 million, which means that we could not waste anything.
BD: How did you conceive the story, the characters and the essence of the fable?
JRG: The tree led to the script. I created the script around that image. And also around the two main characters, Mia and the Migoo, the weak and the strong, who switch their character traits.
BD: What were the biggest design challenges in figuring out the look of the characters and the world?
JRG: The character that was most difficult to create was the Migoo. The Migoo is not a spirit, a golem, nor a god; we had to find its form and its material. We didn't want to make it a gentle plush monster. The idea that he could be made of mineral, vegetation and animal materials guided our research.
Throughout the course of a year, we came to many different forms, none of which really worked. It wasn't easy to balance a film with tiny little Mia and a huge giant. This is how we came to the idea of changing the size of the character, so he is sometimes small and sometimes large. That resolved a lot of stuff with the mise-en-scène and what's more, we were freed from having to come up with a definitive form.
JRG: At Folimage, we have always admired and been inspired by our French painters. The impressionists, for example, left indelible traces on our collective unconscious. In their pictorial approach, their way of managing color and light, managing contrast, questioning realist colors, purifying forms. The fragmentation of brush strokes suggests the forms and shapes. We no longer see the original model, but we can imagine it. It exists as an abstract, otherworldly vision.
More than Matisse or Van Gogh, it was actually Raoul Dufy that most inspired Benoit Chieux, the graphic designer. Raoul Dufy isn't well known in France but his work is spectacular and strong. He truly invented a style of his own. He's a little bit different from the rest of the impressionist genre. His style gave us paths for research. Benoit and his team knew how to take this and create their own style for Mia, which demanded months of work to finalize.
BD: Tell us about the animation process and its challenges and how it compares with your other work.
JRG: This film maybe could be compared to my other films - L'enfant au grelot, Ma petite planète chérie, La phophétie des grenouilles (Raining Cats and Frogs). I think that you can find a tone in common among these films, a way of animating that is very close. Regarding the illustration, each film is unique, because we like to start from zero each time -- we question everything. This method is risky and expensive, and it's also a little destabilizing for the teams at Folimage, who have to relearn everything, but it's our way of not boring ourselves, of renewing ourselves, to always be children making a film for the first time. To put ourselves in danger in order to survive.