written by Barbara Robertson
Nine of us gathered in the lobby of the elegant Sofitel Hotel in an industrial park in San Carlos, California somewhere south of the San Francisco airport, to begin the Bay Area leg of the Oscar Tour.
The nominees at this first meet and greet were: Kunio Kato, age 31, the director of “La Maison en Petites Cubes;” Konstantin Bronzit, age 43, the director of “Lavatory Lovestory;” and three “Oktapodi” directors, Olivier Delabarre 28, Quentin Marmier 26, and Francois Xavier Chanioux 26.
The other four were Ron Diamond, of course, Eric Riewer from Gobelins, the school in Paris where Delabarre, Marmier, Chanioux and the other three directors - Emud Mokhberi, Thierry Marchand and Julien Bocabeille - made “Oktapodi,” me, and Takizawa Tsuyoshi, Kunio’s terrific translator and the guardian of Kunio’s film on a 35mm reel in his carry-on luggage. Ron was enchanted with the idea of Taki walking through the airport carrying the reel and no one around him knowing they were that close to an Oscar nominated film.
We all climbed into Ron’s gigantic white rental van for the ride to the nearby restaurant. Cue sound effects: A swirl of languages: English, Japanese, French, English with a Russian accent, English with a French accent.
Taki and Kunio had arrived in San Francisco from Tokyo earlier in the afternoon and Konstantin had flown in from St. Petersburg. It was the first time in the U.S. for both.
Konstantin said, “Who would believe this? I always dreamed to be in America and I always dreamed to make animated films. The circumstance for why I’m coming here for the first time is incredible. How could I have dreamed of this?”
In Russia, he explains, there are no animation schools. “The only possibility to learn animation is in a studio,” he says. In St. Petersburg, Konstantin is the director for a large studio called Melnitsa (The Mill), which employs around 200 people who create commercials, features, and so forth. Once a year, the studio advertises for people who can draw. The lucky few they hire attend three courses lasting three to four months each and in return agree to work in the studio for a certain number of years.
But when Konstantin was a child, even that opportunity for learning animation wasn’t a possibility. “I taught myself,” he says. He started with flip books.
“When I was eight years old, someone showed me a flip book and from that moment, I lost myself,” he says. “I drew tons, dozens, of flipbooks.” His first flipbook “film” was a cowboy and Indian fight. “The Indian won,” he laughs.
When he was a bit older, Konstantin discovered a theater near his school that showed old animated films. “I fell in love with Disney animation,” he says. He couldn’t buy video of the films, and there was no animation on television, so he took a 16mm camera into the theater, sat in the last row, and filmed the features. Those films became his teachers. “I drew every frame on paper, step by step,” he says. “It was craziness. But, it was the only way.”
Konstantin and Kunio sat across from each other at dinner and realized as the evening wore on that they take very different approaches to filmmaking. Konstantin’s Oscar nominated film “Lavatory Lovestory” is a study in minimal black and white line drawing, but he also created the film “The God” using 3D animation. He starts with the story and then finds the style. “I work in any technique,” he says. “It depends on the project. I am free from style. After ‘The God,’ I realized I can make anything. I was free.”
Kunio, on the other hand, starts with a vision and then finds a story.” For example, his Oscar nominated film “La Maison en Petites Cubes” began with a vision of small houses on top of each other with water rising. But, Kunio found his way into animation through drawing. “I was always drawing,” he said through his translator Taki. “From the time I was a little boy I was drawing on a notepad.” When it was time to choose a university, he chose Tama University, an art school. In his third year, he took an animation class. Now, he’s one of four directors at Robot in Tokyo, all of whom work mainly in 2D.
“I may want to have a character be 3D someday,” he says. “But for that, I would go to the 3D people.”
“Oktapodi’s” directors are 3D people – or, at least, they were for that film, created during their graduation year at Gobelins. Since graduating, while their film has been winning awards at many festivals, they’ve all scattered to various studios, working, as Quentin explains, “Intermitent du spectacle” – a few months here, a few months there. Olivier has been a character designer for “Monster in Paris,” directed by “Bibo” Eric Bergeron and created color scripts at Mac Guff, among other stints. Quentin has been a concept artist at Ubisoft, created music videos at Add a Dog, and taught classes at Gobelins.
Ron and Eric coached the animators, all of whom will be facing a barrage of press people as Oscar night nears. “They’ll ask you what’s next,” Ron said.
“I don’t know,” Quentin answered.
Ron suggested instead, “You could say, ‘I’m looking for the right producer.’”
“Yes,” Olivier said. “That’s a fact. I do have ideas and I am looking for a producer.”
Eric added, “OK. But, keep your cards close to your vest.”
Then Ron asked Konstantin. His answer: “I’ll have a rest.”
“Not a good answer,” Ron said. “You have to have an answer.”
“I have some ideas,” Konstantin said.
“That’s better,” Ron said.
“I am doing a feature film,” Konstantin said.
Eric joined in. “Yes, good. You have projects.”
“For little Russian children,” Konstantin smiled.
Then everyone turned to Kunio. Taki gave Kunio’s answer in English: “He’s working on several projects and looking for the right producer.” And, we all laughed, but in fact, we quickly learned that it’s true. He is working on several projects and is looking for the right producer.
But Francois had perhaps the best answer when Ron asked him what he wanted to do next. He said, “I would like to work for you. Whatever you want.”
Ron answered, “I want to see your work. We need someone right now.” And then he added, “You know, it’s good to say you have ideas, but it’s also good to want to be in a nurturing environment.”
And with that, or at least soon after, the waiter brought us all our bills and it was time to leave.