18 juin 2020

"Le Passant", my big Annecy Film Festival Crush

Cet interview s'est déroulée en anglais, la Version Française se trouve ici.


This year, the Annecy Film Festival is taking place online. It gives you the unique opportunity to discover the very best of international animation films. In the Short Films competition, "De Passant" struck me for its powerful storytelling, and also for its cinematic qualities. I wanted to share my discovery of this gem with you, even if you cannot view the film right now. And to be clear, the teaser is not representative of the film, because it tries hard not to spoil anything and thus, shows almost nothing.

So I asked a few questions to Pieter Coudizer, a director/animator who also turned out to be a rabid moviegoer. His use of light, lenses and camera movements are simply mesmerizing.

Your film seems a perfect example to illustrate the lateral traveling camera.
What came first in your head? The concept to do a film "only" with lateral travelings, or the story, happening along the same street?

I think the story and the idea to do it using a lateral traveling actually came in my head at the same time. First of all: the story is based on something I saw when I was very young and that has never left my mind. I witnessed the real event with a 'real' lateral traveling, not on a bike, but walking past it. So in my head the story could only be told in this way. 
The context, in a way, is the most tragic aspect of the whole story: no matter what happens, life goes on. With the unedited, continuous traveling, I wanted to bring that fact to the foreground.

Aside from rolling along the street, with foliage between your characters and your camera to create depth, your camera seems handheld AND zooms in & out. Did you study live footage? How did you proceed to get this incredible fluidity? I mean, apart from motion blur ;-)

Actually, with a handheld camera I filmed a mark I drew on a wall, and then mapped that real handheld-movement to the animated image. The zooms where animated separately on top of that movement. It was a very difficult process to get everything timed just right, especially because the render times where very long. The images where so heavy that I could not check anything in real-time. I would render for 7 hours, then check it, notice a mistake or a timing that wasn't perfect, make the changes and render it out again, until I was satisfied. 
But to answer your question more succinctly: all of the different types of camera movements in the film where filmed or animated separately and then added on top of each other. I would render out a pristine lateral movement, then ad the handheld-movement, and then zoom-in and out on that image.

Regarding blurs, some parts of the pictures have chromatic aberrations and/or are slightly out of focus. It adds pure cinematic qualities while establishing a sort of a low-fi aspect. Did you want to "destroy" the pristine 3D look & feel? Or was it for another reason?

Most modern, digitally animated films have a very clean look. I wanted something more textured, maybe even imperfect. To me it creates a feeling that is slightly closer to reality. But it is also a way to make the image feel more lively. Actually, there is a real inspiration for this way of treating the image: Alexander Sokurov's film "Faust" which won the Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Film Festival. That film is shot digitally and then heavily color graded and manipulated in post-production. 

Sokurov not only uses heavy diffusion filters, but at certain points in the film, he also stretches the image out. I thought it looked fantastic, almost painterly and so tried similar things on my own images.

The lighting follows and underscores the dramatic arc of your story, beginning in a vibrant summer afternoon and ending under a massive storm. How did you grade these effects during the animation?

I simply used a lot of layers of color – probably more than fifty – I placed on top of the animation and changed the opacity from beginning to end. Blue colors for the rain sequences, and yellow/orange for the sunny moments. I also aplied a diffusion effect to bloom out some of the sunlight.

The water during the storm is rendered with exceptional care as both dense and very detailed, especially on the bus stop. How did you arrive at such a result? I know it's a detail, but it speaks for the rest of the movie's clever and inspired Artistic Direction.

For some strange reason, I really love rain, both in movies and in real life, so it was very important for me to get that atmosphere right. A couple of years ago I bought a secondhand Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. I used it to film real rain in front of a dark sky and I put it in the film, together with animated rain. Mixing elements that are animated and heightening them with subtle live-action footage is another way to make it feel more realistic. The water on the street and on top of the bus stop is fully animated.

Some short answers:
Software used:

A combination of Fusion and After effects for the compositing and Toonboom for most of the animation.

Length of production:

Before the production we aimed at 6 months. But when we started it became quickly apparent that the film was very ambitious on a technical level. Finally, we finished the film in 15 months.

Who are your Masters in live-action movies and in animation?

I am a cinephile. I watch almost a film each day. So There are a lot of filmmakers I admire. I prefer those that have a very distinct style. From the top of my head: Tarkovsky, Ozu, Fellini, Mizoguchi, Robert Bresson, Bela Tarr, Akira Kurosawa, Dreyer, Michael Haneke, Sergio Leone, Bruno Dumont, Dario Argento, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Lars Von trier, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, David Lynch, etc. Yes, it's a very 'cinephile' list of names.

In animation I really love the films of The Quay brothers and Yuri Norstein. The texture of their works really inspires me. And I enjoy almost everything that comes out of Studio Ghibli, from Miyazaki to Isao Takahata. My list of animation is shorter than live-action, but I feel that's because there are less animated feature films with a distinctive style. 


The Online Annecy Festival offers an impressive content for only 15€. Discover the film for yourself.
Pieter Coudizer's Vimeo

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