não estou porque não posso, senão estaria esta noite na Monstra, Mostra de Animação de Lisboa que este ano destaca o cinema de animação suiço. esta noite o realizador Georges Schwizgebel estará no S. Jorge em Lisboa (um dos seleccionados no Cinanima 2008 mas fora dos vencedores, o que não achei bem na altura). para além dos que aqui deixei então, deixo ainda estes.
You were educated at an art school. How did you come to study graphics? As I had already been drawing regularly from a very young age, making charcoal drawings of horses and then portraits of actresses in Cinémonde, my parents encouraged me to go to the School of Fine Arts. The following year, I corrected this choice by moving to the School of Decorative Arts to learn the profession of graphic designer which I found to be more serious than that of painter.
How did you come to be interested in animation? And how did you learn the specific techniques? My interest in cartoons began after having attended the Annecy festival (not far from Geneva) in 1963, I think. It was during my time as a student of decorative arts. Accompanied by Daniel Suter, we began to take an interest in animation through discussions with a professor who had a super 8 camera. Then I spent five years working in an advertising agency, but before getting tired of this profession, we built a caption stand with the help of a book explaining everything about cartoons. We bought a 16 mm Paillard. It was the start of our studio – GDS. Together with Daniel and Claude Luyet, whom we had met in the meantime, we started producing small cartoons outside of our normal working hours in an old jewellery workshop. That was in 1967. Film makers from Frenchspeaking Swiss television ordered credits of ten to twenty seconds from us for their broadcasts and that is how I (we) learned this profession with shortcomings which are still with me today.
On the other hand, the first film to be recognised is a collective work: Patchwork..., Yes we were at the Annecy festival in 1967 and met Manuel Ortero. He later came to Geneva to view our films and suggested that they be re-filmed in 35 mm at Pantin where, at the time, he had his studio – Cinémation - and then put them all together with his thus making a fantastic community film.
Let us talk about your personal films. They feature recurring elements. In Bienne, where you spent part of your youth, you told me there was a garden, trees, lawns, a swing... The analysis may appear easy but one must recognise that all these elements are found in your films. Yes, but I have a great liking for green lawns with characters lit up by a setting sun; this is also thanks to the illustrations of Milton Glaser and the paintings of Edward Hopper.
Which paintings have had a particular influence on you? Strangely, it was only later when making films that I again took an interest in painting: Vermeer, Michelangelo, Chirico, Hopper, Marquet,Holder, Valloton, Corot, Chardin, Ingres, Friedrich, Beckmann and those already mentioned to talk only of my favourite painters.
Your work also features a lot of birds. In LA COURSE À L’ABÎME, LA JEUNE FILLE AND LES NUAGES, through to ducks in LE SUJET DU TABLEAU… And, in a certain way, it is the theme of your first film LE VOL D’ICARE. It is a very geometric work. How did you come up with this idea? For Le Vol d’Icare, the idea is first of all graphical, that of wanting to imitate lucid newspapers and to associate them with a harpsichord, musical notes, the luminous bulbs providing the movement. For La jeune fille and les nuages, the birds help Cinderella to sort the lentils, it is the story that tells it. Above all, however, I like drawing them because they resemble moving strokes of the brush.
LE MYTHE DE FAUST is another subject frequently dealt with... Le sujet du tableau, initially entitled “Le portrait de Faust” takes its origin from a project by Marv Newland: a long film about Faust produced by ten animators. As my sequence was well advanced, I offered to co-produce it but the project stagnated so I finished the film and sent Marv another storyboard (the long film has never been produced). It is a transposition of the legend of Faust. An old man has his portrait painted as a young man, then this same young man attempts to enter his pictures; he succeeds and follows a young lady in red. When he finally finds her, it is too late and we arrive at the scene of Marguerite in the dungeon. The painter was Mephisto. What mattered to me in this film was to show a painting that moves and which I correct simultaneously, and to quote known paintings or fragments thereof.
In PERSPECTIVES and HORS-JEU, the stroke of the brush is very loose, used freely. In addition, there are only one or two colours per character. You attempt to emphasise the high lights and there is a stroke of the brush that is from one sole holder. Does calligraphy have an influence on your brushwork even if you have westernised it since you do not use Chinese brushes? Yes, I tend to use hard brushes. Those used for oil painting. But I produced these two films well before going to China.
Were you already interested in calligraphy at that time? A little bit. Above all, however, I saw Yellow Submarine in which we experience a sequence made using this technique. You see a ballerina on a horse.
Yes, the sequence in “Lucy in the Sky” painted by George Dunning himself. I found that extraordinary. It made me want to use real camerawork. And then, while carrying out trials, I realised that when you have a perfectly precise movement, you can be very liberal with the brush because the movement is reconstructed. The viewer imagines the precise movement. But if you are too precise with the brush, the result resembles characters covered in stains.
Do you often use real camerawork as an aid for your animations? There has often been talk of rotoscope? I used real camerawork for all of Perspectives and Hors Jeu and of course for the end of Frank N. Stein (taken from the film La fiancée de Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester). I have also used it for some parts of 78 Tours (the little girl on the roundabout,the roundabouts, the shadow on the faces of the couple dancing). For Le sujet du tableau, I used it for the waves, the ducks on the water and the curtains ruffled by the wind. I think that’s all; I have not used this technique any more since and I did not use it for Le vol d’Icare.
On the other hand, however, for Nakounine... I wanted to make a film with all my photos taken in Shanghai, most on my bicycle. I also recorded the sounds of the city (from my bicycle). My initial idea (which I already had in China) was the following: to simulate a cycling trip with camera movements on fixed images whilst the sound is dynamic, and to add animations from time to time. I sorted the photos geographically, those from the suburbs and those from the city centre, as well as by season – winter, spring, summer 1984. All the shots are prints in black and white 18/24 filmed on the caption stand with some animation added (reflections in the water, traffic lights hanging...). Only the last sequence in static shots is taken from the super 8 i.e. arriving at traffic lights where I had to stop, I allowed my image to run, the source of its sound continuing by itself (super 8 increased to 16 mm).
You were in Shanghai, it should be mentioned that you studied Chinese and are married to a Chinese woman... I visited the interior of the country, frequently during trips organised by Fudan University at the time when I was in China thanks to a scholarship to study classical Chinese. That is where I met Yaping, the daughter of the Chinese painter Wang Meigan about whom a French student was carrying out a study. Two years later, we met again in Paris then we got married.
Although your films are sometimes based on scenarios, the cutting is not organised in traditional style for relating. For example, there is very little “cut” in your films but rather large camera movements which smooth out the ideas, the situations. Why do you cut so little? Having to make a cut almost amounts to failure. I myself like to have a sequence shot. I would like to link together the shots in a film with the same ease and the same logic as found in dreams. Sometimes, you are obliged to make a cut in order to make the narrative comprehensible. That is the case in L’année du daim. There are even static shots in this film but ones that are punctuated regularly.
How do you find your transitions between the different elements to be shown? Paradoxically, the editing is quasi the first step in the realisation of the film. First of all, I look for scenes (images) and their succession, so as to arrive at a long sequence plan.
That must be a delicate idea to conceive... I spend a good part of my time with the line test in order to have a vision of the film as a whole, irrespective of whether there is music at the start or not. The ideas for linking noted on paper are tested, improved or abandoned.
One of the films which involves the most obvious movement of the camera when reading is LA COURSE À L’ABÎME. How did you work? In this film, the movement of the camera is primordial and I had to hire a caption stand in Zurich whose movements are computer assisted. It is also important in Nakounine when I attempt to suggest a bicycle trip in the city of Shanghai with the help of camera movements on the photos. But that was filmed in Carouge and even in 16 mm. On the other hand, the movements in all my other films are drawn, with the exception of a forward zoom at the start of Le Ravissement de Frank N. Stein, 78 Tours and Le sujet du tableau in which there is also west-east travel on the waves. There is another rear zoom at the end of Fugue and in L’année du daim short north-south movement enables the discovery of the hunter’s hands holding a baton. I think that is all. In L’homme sans ombre, on the other hand, approximately three minutes are made up of movements on successive decor.
The cutting of LA JEUNE FILLE ET LES NUAGES (which, by the way, includes some cuts) is particularly based on the music. The background and the characters can move at different speeds. Why this dissociation? In La jeune fille et les nuages, it is a principle, the decor moves to the rhythm of the music, three drawings every two seconds (3 x 16 images). It is drawn in pastel and the same for Cinderella when she is a servant. The aim is to underline her changes of status and that can also resemble a second voice (as in music).
Yes, that is typically musical. Cinderella moves with the decor when she is a servant. When she becomes a princess, she is animated normally. I like playing with different stories.
This film is extremely well made. The rhythmics and the links work perfectly. That is probably the reason why it was successful everywhere. When you start from music, you can be inspired by it, not only by the melody but also by the structure of the music, the rhythm. And music cannot change rhythm for everything so there are constraints. I like having this very principle in drawing, i.e. taking modules and making a sequence plan. Constituent elements of music which I respect in drawing.
You see similarities there. Yes, I do.
Very frequently in your films there are just some themes that are used and which become entangled. They can be linked to colour, can be constituted by places or objects, by actions ... And they are developed in the form of a musical counterpoint: I would like to know if this is intentional. Yes, its voluntary, there is a subject in the films but it is a pretext. What really interests me is exploring formal directions (that the film is divided into four for example) and, if possible, treating a theme in an unusual manner. The fact that there are several stories, several interpretations, is voluntary. Even in L’homme sans ombre, which is narrative, there is a certain style of animation at the beginning, then another for the main body of the film and a third for the final part.
There is a much used procedure in “Fugue” beside the counterpoint: first of all, you develop certain themes, for example the man coming down the stairs and the couple who have just been watching the fish on the side of the river or the large poplar trees with their revolving shadows. Then, when these elements have been seen separately, you film them together whist re-using the same cellulose. How did you come up with this idea of creating a graphical association of animations that have already been presented? Having worked on video for the film Cyclades, produced with Claude Luyet, and having appreciated the ease with which the images can be mixed thanks to this support, I came up with the idea of making linked, drawn fade ins – fade outs, of superimposing the shots whilst foreseeing the result. I animated a certain number of nine-second cycles. Once the editing had been decided on, a technical constraint appeared: the cycles drawn on glass paper had to be underneath. There are never more than three cycles superimposed, of the same length (nine seconds) and sometimes the same cycle is realised in two versions: acrylic and pastel. I made great use of the three primary colours in Fugue because I liked the result and also to control the superimpositions more easily. Then, having made this series of cycles, I attempted to find a theme: somebody writing a postcard.
In your films, and above all in LA COURSE À L’ABÎME, one feels a desire to play with constraints… I very much liked La vie mode d’emploi by Georges Pérec and, in a general manner, I am taken in by constraints. I enjoy learning that Bach composed using the four letters of his name B.A.C.H. or that Hitchcock filmed “The Rope” in one single shot. But I do not know Oulipo particularly well apart, of course, from Georges Pérec, Jacques Roubaud and Raymond Queneau. For me, the constraints are a vertebral column, but it is better not to notice them once the work is finished. Sometimes they are also the origin of a project and this is the case in La course à l’abîme: it was about telling a story lasting several minutes using a cycle of some seconds..
How many drawings did you produce for this film? For La course à l’abîme, contrary to what one might believe, there are not several reels of animation but one single one. It is a cycle of six seconds composed of 144 large drawings (6 x 24 = 144). Additionally, I could have been satisfied with 72 large drawings but when the movement restarts at the end of the film, the cycle is twelve seconds and so I use all the drawings (12 x 2 = 24 x 6 = 144). The camera moves in a spiral motion from the outside inwards (like snakes and ladders) at a constant speed equivalent to a screen width every six seconds. This is why it is not possible to realise that it is only a cycle of six seconds, because, when it starts over again, you frame a new portion of the large drawing. On the contrary, at the end, the camera moves back progressively to discover the entirety which moves more slowly and you realise (or do not realise) that it is in fact a cycle of twelve seconds.
Seeing LE SUJET DU TABLEAU, one is surprised by the different picture techniques all developed in a realistic manner. How did you go about using real camerawork? For Le sujet du tableau, there is cut paper, oil painting directly under the camera and cellulose.Sometimes the three techniques are used at the same time. I took Polaroid shots of my brother for the young man and of Yaping for Marguerite. The cycle of birds, trees and fields gave me the idea for La course à l’abîme, third scenario on Faust.
You are one of the rare film makers to be able to live from the films written by themselves. How do you find the financing? I am a producer but only for my own films. I spend two to three months producing a storyboard, a budget, a filming plan and a financing plan which I send to the Federal Cultural Office, to French-speaking Swiss television, to the City of Geneva as well as to Arte France. On the other hand, there is automatic aid calculated as a percentage of that given by the Federal Cultural Office and the French-speaking Swiss television TSR (regional fund) as well as a cinema bonus and a broadcasting bonus made up of a percentage of receipts from a film shown in the cinema before a long film (in Switzerland) or shown on (Swiss) television. There is state aid for a future production to be used within three years. For the moment, this works. I am not rich but I have the fortune to be free and to do what I enjoy doing.