Filmmaker Tal Kantor’s first solo short film uses live-action and hand-drawn animation to tackle the heavy and complex subject of a Holocaust survivor addressing a classroom full of students, sharing a letter he wrote to the pig who saved his life, and how reality, memory, and imagination blend together in one young schoolgirl’s reaction.
Tal Kantor’s moving animated short film, Letter to a Pig, juxtaposes the traumatic memory of a Holocaust survivor with the youthful imagination of a young schoolgirl. Set in modern-day Israel, it blurs the boundaries between connection and attachment, history and politics.
Curious about the layers of sensitively rendered imagery, I reached out to the filmmaker to talk about her process.
Enjoy the trailer and before reading and watching Tal’s insights into the making of her film:
Sharon Katz: You were animation director on several films, one of which won an Emmy and was shortlisted for an Oscar. But this is your first solo film, fully in charge. What was the biggest challenge you faced given that you were only a few years out of school?
Tal Kantor: The first thing was finding a way to deal with such a heavy and complex subject, trying to bring a different angle to a traumatic historical event. On the more technical side there were the challenges of working with an international team, managing them in France and afterwards working together remotely. This was a big jump from the school films, which I did with a small team of friends and family. Also, on the production side there were things I didn’t expect to be so complicated such as working with young actors and trying to film pigs.
On the process side it was how to communicate my intuitive graphic language to the rest of the team so they could understand the internal logic and draw in my style. It required me to break down my spontaneous process and explain it in words. In the end not only did they understand the inner logic of my style, but at a certain point they animated it much better than me.
SK: Tell me about the technique you used. You’re fusing exquisitely drawn and painted imagery with segments of video footage. It’s an intriguing mix of media, each layer bringing very different textures and gestures to the composite whole.
TK: First, I prepared the concept art and storyboard. Then actors were cast and directed at a greenscreen studio, and the live-action footage was edited (by Efrat Berger) as a reference for the animation. Then the animators and I prepared the hand-drawn imagery of the characters according to their initial design, and completed the frame-by-frame paintings on paper which were scanned back into the computer. In the last step, all the elements were merged in software so that they would feel like one organic whole.
SK: So, if I understand then, the compositing melded 3 layers: hand-drawn 2D animation, scans of brush painting on paper, and fragments of live video?
TK: Yes. The characters are hand-drawn frame by frame in TVPaint. The fill coloring of the characters was brush painted on paper and scanned in. And then all the layers were merged in compositing software (After Effects).
The producers, Miyu Productions and The Hive Studio, are releasing four Behind the Scenes episodes of the making of the film.”
In an AWN exclusive, the first two episodes have just been released:
Episode 1 - The Making of Letter to a Pig, Episode 1: The Story
Episode 2 - The Making of Letter to a Pig, Episode 2: The Technique
SK: What did the video segments bring to the film that painting and drawing didn’t? Were you referencing historical footage? Reality? Or did it have some other meaning for you?
TK: The video clips, documentary photographs, and archives were important to me. Mixing them with 2D hand-drawn imagery brought together reality, memory, and imagination, which paralleled for me past, present, and the subconscious.
This technique allowed me to trace the mechanism of memory - how we remember certain details clearly while others fade or change in our minds. And it allowed me to create a hybrid of something that was both realistic and dreamy at the same time, and to emphasize the characters' points of view. For example, when the central character Alma is in class, she listens to the words of the survivor but only when she finally really looks at him are the details of his face and identity revealed. These different visual languages, line, expressive brushed paint, and video/photography allowed me to express the inner emotional experience of the characters in light of historical reality.
SK: Your first independent film, huge responsibility, managing a big international production team, and an almost overwhelming subject. How on earth did you stay resilient through it all?
TK: Well frankly sometimes I didn’t. It was really challenging and many times I just couldn’t see the end. Or I was a frustrated by the complexity of the process. But the team was a very big support. That was a discovery for me: the strength of a good team, that they can carry the load with you on this journey, and support you in blurry or uncertain moments, offering good words, good critique, good advice. It’s the biggest lesson I took from this production, to put together a team that has your back.
The award-winning short animation Letter to a Pig was written and directed by Tal Kantor and produced by Miyu Productions and The Hive Studio. Kantor’s debut film, it has so far won 36 awards Including Grand Prix in Anima Brussels, Best Short Film at the Israel Academy Awards, Best Narrative Short at Ottawa Festival, Liv Ullman Peace Prize at Chicago International Children's Film Festival and is currently a runner up for the Oscars.
Letter to a Pig is available on The Animation Showcase.
Her student films include the award winning In Other Words.