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In Conversation with Georges Schwizgebel - Part 2

In this, the second of a three part series on the work of Georges Schwizgebel, we look at his pre-production process.

Storyboard page from Romance by Georges Schwizgebel. (Courtesy of Georges Schwiagebel.)

In Part 1 of this four part series on the work of Georges Schwizgebel, we looked at the inspiration behind the making of his recent film Romance. In this, Part 2, we look at Schwizgebel's pre-production process.

After plotting out the storyline, Schwizgebel’s next step with Romance was to begin the visualization of the film on thumbnails sketches. He works small at this stage, with 26 thumbnails to an A4 sheet. Each thumbnail represents a number of frames, that number being determined by the pacing of the music. In the case of Romance, each thumbnail sketch represented one-third of a second (or 8 frames) which equaled 1 beat of the music.  (The Rachmaninoff music was played at 180 beats per minutes which equals 3 beats per second which equals 8 frames per beat.)

The preliminary sketches or thumbnails are fascinating to examine. For the beginning of the each cycle, where the central characters move through time and space while the camera rotates around them (classic Schwizgebel) he has diagrammed the vanishing points and direction of movement in each thumbnail. It’s like he is choreographing a dance of two partners - the character and the camera.

From these thumbnails he moves on to storyboarding where he begins to fine tune the animation. He makes multiple line tests (20 for his last film), each one progressively more precise as he moves from thumbnails to developing the boards. The final tally for Romance was 8 pages of storyboard drawings, 18 boards per page. 

For his current production, rather than drawing multiple boards on one sheet, he is creating boards on individual slips of paper 78 x 43 mm (3 x 1.7 inches.) This allows him to use a light table when doing the in-betweens, and to easily shoot them under the camera for the line test.

Sometimes the movement of the camera is so complex that he must plan it out carefully in advance. For 78 Tours Schwizgebel drew out ellipses at varying angles to indicate the positioning of the characters in relations to the camera. Some of these plan views are so complex they look like technical drawings for an engineering project.

Animation as we know is not the speediest of mediums and Schwizgebel takes a year just to get from concept to completed board.

In the next part of this series we look at production and funding of Schwizgebel’s films.

Georges Schwizgebel - A World in Motion, Part 1

Georges Schwizgebel was born in 1944 in Switzerland. Winner of many awards and prizes including the Swiss Film Prize in 2002 for The Girl and the Clouds, he has created 16 animated films to date. He is a principal of GDS Studio, which is a co-producer on all his films.

If you want to learn more about Georges Schwizgebel, get hold of Olivier Cotte’s superb book Georges Schwizgebel: animated paintings (2005) published by Heuwinkel Publishing, ISBN 3906410188.

The NFB has an interesting and informative interview with him on the making of Retouches (2008)

You can watch two of Schwizgebel’s films, Jeu and L'homme sans ombre for free on the NFB’s website. You can also purchase SD and HD download versions these films from the same site for minimal cost.

Should you want a DVD for your collection, there are three available from the NFB store: 

1) a compilation disc with 13 films beginning withLe vol d’icare (1974) and concluding with L’homme sans ombre(2004)

2) Retouches (2008) 

3) Jeu (2006) 

Schwizgebel’s most current filmography is found on the GDS website. Follow Georges Schwizgebel > Filmography.