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Hungary / Slovakia

Tibor Bánóczki, Sarolta Szabó • Directors of White Plastic Sky

“We wanted to study the paradox of sacrifice”


- First presented in the Berlinale’s Encounters section, the film is a spectacular post-apocalyptic animated feature that deals with key environmental issues and numerous ethical questions

Tibor Bánóczki, Sarolta Szabó  • Directors of White Plastic Sky

The directors of the Hungarian-Slovakian animated film White Plastic Sky [+see also:
film review
interview: Tibor Bánóczki, Sarolta Szabó
film profile
, Tibor Bánóczki and Sarolta Szabó, which was first presented in the Berlinale’s Encounters section and is now one of the nominees for European Animated Feature Film at the European Film Awards (see the news), break down this spectacular post-apocalyptic feature for us.

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Cineuropa: White Plastic Sky delves into key environmental issues and timeless ethical questions. Could you elaborate on the inspiration behind merging post-apocalyptic visuals with philosophical themes, and what messages you hope viewers take away regarding the relationship between humanity and the environment?
Tibor Bánóczki, Sarolta Szabó:
We would like the audience to come away from our film with more questions in their mind than answers. From the very beginning, our core concept was questioning the meaning of life on Earth and whether the life form of homo sapiens is the most superior of them all. What if our main purpose in the future will be to preserve any kind of life on this planet, pushing ourselves and our human survival into the background? We wanted to provoke our audience with an ending that is very unusual in dystopian stories.

We built the story around the motif of “metamorphosis”. Hybrids of plants and humans are the most poetic and intriguing ones. Plant life seems much more mysterious than animal life, and there are more and more studies on how trees and plants feel and communicate. We look with constant awe at the majestic tranquillity of the trees; we admire their seemingly eternal existence. This kind of life is still almost difficult to grasp for us humans.

The film employs a combination of 3D models and manual rotoscoping, resulting in a visually spectacular and unique style. Can you tell us about the creative decisions behind choosing this particular technique, and how it contributes to the overall narrative and atmosphere?
Using a mixed animation technique and rotoscoping felt like a good match for the film’s theme, conceptually. Exploring different life forms (humans and plants), the film is also a kind of hybrid itself, existing between animation and live action. We used CGI for the backgrounds because it was really important to create a believable world, and it also allowed a lot of freedom for the cinematic language, the lighting, texturing and camera movements we wanted to use. The 3D gave us the possibility to create the dystopian world we have as well as imaginative places like the Plantation or the Granum.

During production, we were aware that the sci-fi genre needs a certain production quality in order to reach its audience. It would never have been possible for us to make this story through a live-action sci-fi film, in our industry. Although White Plastic Sky is a fairly “budget” film, we had the freedom to be imaginative, and we managed to create any scene we wanted.

The protagonist, Stefan, faces ethical dilemmas related to the voluntary implantation process and his wife's decision. How did you approach developing these ethical quandaries within the narrative, and what insights do you hope the audience gains into the complexities of personal choices in a dystopian future?
We really wanted to study the paradox of sacrifice – whether humanity is able to choose between the higher stakes on one side, and family or matters of the heart on the other. Is it possible to sacrifice ourselves, our children or our loved ones for the greater good? Or is it only an illusion to think that we could? Throughout the film, all of our characters are facing these dilemmas. We hope audiences will find that they resonate with the kinds of issues we face today in our everyday lives.

Besides the philosophical questions, the poetry in metamorphosis offered a great motif for love. Through the long lifespan of trees, we were able to give our main characters, Stefan and Nora, something they would never be able to experience as human beings: a seemingly endless love. We hoped this would give our audience some kind of relief and hope.

Can you discuss the decision-making process behind using rotoscoping for this film and how you worked to ensure that the emotional depth of the characters translated effectively despite the unique visual style?
We believe that every animation director starts to envision their film in their head during the writing process. Early on, we were sure that this story needed very detailed and nuanced character animation, and it needed to be as realistic as possible. We wanted to work with professional actors and actresses to interpret our characters the best way possible.

Obviously, we've seen many animated films using the rotoscope technique, but we had to find our own method to animate the scenes. Our animators had to draw every second or third frame of the characters by hand. For us, it was important to have a hand-drawn feel for the animation as well as to preserve the acting as much as possible.

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