"A cross between Indiana Jones and Jules Verne"
by Fabien Lemercier
- We caught up with the directors of highly successful animated film April and the Extraordinary World, the winner of the Cristal Award for Best Feature Film at Annecy, in Paris
More than seven years after the adventure began, April and the Extraordinary World [+see also:
interview: Christian Desmares and Fran…
film profile], the first animated feature film to bring the world created by the famous writer and cartoonist Jacques Tardi to the big screen, is hitting cinemas. Before the release of the film in France by StudioCanal, we met with its two directors, Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci (who also produced the film with Marc Jousset and co-wrote the screenplay).
Cineuropa: How was the film born and how did you go about developing the screenplay with Benjamin Legrand?
Franck Ekinci: I’m friends with Benjamin, who’s one of Jacques Tardi’s storywriters. They both had a scenario in mind for the film pitch: a world in which scholars disappear, which is stuck in a rut because there’s no creativity or innovation. Benjamin already had a clear vision of the main characters and he came to see me, as he didn’t know whether it would be better to make a TV series or a feature film. Tardi didn’t have any experience in animation either. There was also talk of basing the story around the 1914-1918 war. We talked about it and after much reflection, opted for a feature film and the character of April as she struck us as the most accessible of Tardi’s work, the more adventurous world of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a cross between Indiana Jones and Jules Verne. It didn’t take us long to make a teaser using Tardi’s comic strips and we went to Cartoon Movie in Berlin in 2008 to pitch the film. It was there that StudioCanal came across the project and got behind the idea. Then the problems started (laughs): we had to develop the storyline, make a pilot, find funding and make the film, which kept us busy from 2008 to 2015.
What did you like about the idea of using uchronia?
F.E: I really like the historical period between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the 3rd French Republic, and the idea of being able to take this and modify it, giving you a world that doesn’t exist, was intriguing. Moreover, the film is about science, which is also interesting in itself. Then there’s Tardi’s entire world, a lot of themes from which are incorporated into the film. He didn’t really intervene when we were writing the screenplay, but presented us with ideas afterwards during the visual conception stage, tweaking the way we were telling the story here and there. He also made a kind of mini storyboard that allowed him to ‘map things out’ to a certain extent, to sketch out the characters and settings.
Was it a challenge to turn Tardi’s work into moving images?
Christian Desmares: Tardi’s drawing isn’t particularly suited to animation. There were little things we had to simplify. For example, in drawing, when you go from a front view to a side view, the character needs to remain consistent as they turn. In illustrations and cartoons, these little things aren’t as important, and a character’s ear, for example, might appear a little bigger in a side view and a little smaller in a head-on view: it’s not a big deal as it’s the comic strip boxes that string together. In animation on the other hand, as the drawings are all linked together, if you’re not careful, you get a very distracting ‘morphing’ effect.
What was your approach when it came to the settings, colours and texture of the images?
C.D: For everyday objects that weren’t affected by the uchronia of the film, we took note of how Tardi drew them in his comic strips, which allowed us to replicate them in the correct style. And for everything affected by the uchronia of the film, we based ourselves on the research that Tardi did especially for the film, in particular these very graphically rich comics trip storyboards, even though he couldn’t look over the entire film as he wasn’t always available. Regarding the colour, if we look at the Adèle Blanc-Sec albums, we have a rather limited palette, predominantly made up of ochre, green and red, pretty flashy colours set against a generally grey and desaturated backdrop. And that’s what I went with. It helps the narration, as certain, often symbolic objects stand out with their colours. Finally, for the texture of the images, I used covers of Tardi’s Le Cri du peuple and Nestor Burma albums as inspiration. I thought the images deserved to be made into moving images instead of just remaining on paper.
Aside from Tardi’s universe, what were your other influences for the film?
C.D: Miyazaki was our main point of reference. First of all for stylistic reasons as there’s a real affinity between his and Tardi’s worlds, especially the steampunk aspect when we think of The Castle of Cagliostro, the Howl’s Moving Castle or the Sherlock Holmes series. And Miyazaki’s visual influences are rooted in French illustrator Robida’s work, just like Tardi’s are.
(Translated from French)