Interview with Simon Rouby, nominated for his animation feature ADAMA
What is ADAMA about and what was the initial motivation / idea?
ADAMA is about a kid becoming an adult while discovering the world! He has to leave his small village to search for his brother, and finds out that there is a war going on in the north, the First World War.
Choosing this environment for the story was a way to reflect on the shared history between Africa and Europe in the past century until today, while telling a universal coming-of-age tale.
I wanted the audience to understand throughout the film that we are speaking about the historical fact of the "black force", the use of African soldiers in WWI by the French army, but keeping Adama's child point of view. He is a young boy, he has never seen a map before, he doesn't read the world in geographic or political terms, but with his personal impressions and culture.
Can you describe your unique form of CG animation with 3Dsculptures and how you used it in combination with other forms of 2Danimation techniques?
Julien Lilti, the scriptwriter, and myself have worked on the script together at an early stage, and our idea was to tell things in a very subjective way. Many choices have been made around this idea and the style of the film was created to fit the story.
The film has both a poetic and a realistic aspect, and I wanted to blur the lines between human beings and animated characters. This is why I used clay sculptures for the faces: that way I got the balance I was looking for, with the asymmetry, the imperfections it brings. Using these 3D scanned sculptures for the characters and painted/2D backgrounds was a way to create a depth of field, to keep the camera’s view through Adama's eyes and perception. The use of ferrofluids, sands and inks for the war scenes results from the same intention: war in the film is lived as the last step of Adama's initiation journey, a phase in which he will have to face his fears, and a new birth into adulthood.
The making-of clips explain that much better than I can do here, but I could say that I didn't care much more about the boundaries between 2D, 3D and "live action" than Adama cares about boundaries between Mali, Senegal and France! We hope that the film will be seen as a cinematographic proposal more than an animated film.
How was the work process from the first idea to the finished film?
And what were the main challenges along the way?
It was a 7/8-year process. It took a lot of perseverance. I met Julien in 2007 and we started working on his idea. Naïa Productions came on board in 2010 and we developed a trailer together. The funding was a major challenge, because the film doesn't really match the usual categories, it is both aimed at young audiences and adults, it has a black protagonist, it is a kid’s story into war ... It was also my first film, Julien Lilti's first film, Naïa Productions's first film, the first film made on the island of Reunion in the Pipangaï Studios etc... It is the kind of project that fits the proverb: "We didn't know it was impossible, so we did it!"
This makes it even more special to us and I think people can feel that energy when they see it - the film has imperfections, but it makes it human, just like the clay figures.
The story of your film is at the same time an adventure for children but also reflecting political situations. What audience did you have in mind?
As I was saying, and as risky as it sounds: both young and adult! Our audience starts at seven to eight-years-old and has no upper limit! We always maintained a double layer of reading: children follow the adventure, the road movie, the need for Adama to find his brother. Adults see the correlation between this and the situation of economical migrants today, the political aspect of the use of colonial forces, the reflection about the absurdity of war ... Overall we want each and everyone to have an emotionally uplifting experience about roots and identity and to come out with food for thought.
Who do you consider your influences – artists, animators, directors?
There are so many. I am like a sponge and sometime not even aware of my own influences. I like Yuriy Norshteyn's work a lot, giants like Mœbius, Hayao Miyazaki, Rodin ... For this film it went from Andrei Tarkovsky's IVANS’S CHILDHOOD to François Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS, of course films by Souleymane Cissé like BRIGHTNESS, we watched a lot of Jean Rouch's work too. In literature, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Amadou Hampâté Bâ ... Ask me tomorrow and I will give you ten different titles! It was a long process and we grew up with the film, we have been influenced by everything we found that could relate to the film and the different subjects: brotherhood, war, colonialism, clandestineness, identity, and, of course, childhood.
What do you think is unique about animation "Made in Europe" and what are the main differences to “big players” in Hollywood or Japan?
There is a constantly growing number of great animation filmmakers in Europe right now. In France, my feeling is that it has a lot to do with education: many very, very good schools. In terms of animators, you can find such great skills in Paris right now, in all fields of animation, 2D or 3D based works. Regarding our uniqueness: we develop prototypes! We are in a very eclectic landscape where we have more and more author based films, with a clear vision and new proposals that don't necessarily fit any traditions. Comparing that to the "big players", I think our strength in Europe is the diversity, and having a funding system that allows films to have a great deal of consistency between the look and the story. I have great admiration for Pixar films, and for Ghibli, Satoshi Kon, or Mamoru Hosoda's works, but I like the fact that we don't imitate them in Europe, we make our own films and they all look different.