Miyu adapts Haruki Murakami’s stories with new animation technique in “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”
Speaking to a captivated audience at the Annecy Festival on Friday, director Pierre Földes, producers Tanguy Olivier and Emmanuel-Alain Raynal, and artists from French company Miyu Productions previewed footage during filming of “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” animated adaptation of a handful of stories by Haruki Murakami which seeks to translate the idiosyncratic style of the Japanese author like no feature film has to date.
Murakami is a world of sex, surrealism and cigarettes, a liminal space where flights of fantasy are never but a sleepless night filled with jazz. This is the world that Földes seeks to recreate with his first feature film, a Franco-Canadian-Benelux co-production of 6 million euros (7.1 million dollars) which received the Eurimages prize at the Berlinale 2016.
According to the synopsis on the Cinema Defacto website, which is producing alongside Miyu: “A lost cat, a chatty giant frog and a tsunami help an unambitious bank employee, his frustrated wife and a schizophrenic accountant save Tokyo from ‘an earthquake and find meaning in their lives.
A composer by training, Földes began working on the project while living in Budapest with nothing else to keep him busy. “I managed to get in touch with Murakami,” said the director, “who really liked my approach and my idea of adapting many of his short stories into an interconnected feature film.”
For a while, Földes refined the particular style of his project, developing character designs and cinematic approaches until he felt ready to send a moodboard teaser to the Cartoon movie pitch session. Once accepted, he had to create a bespoke animation style on the fly, essentially reverse-engineering from the tools he had available.
By the time Miyu signed on to produce, the filmmaker’s technique was already firmly established. “Until then, Pierre had done everything himself,” says Olivier, Miyu production manager. “Our bet was that instead of adapting these techniques, we would marry them and make them our own, finding a way to adapt them to a whole team. “
The technique is as follows: After filming live-action references for each shot, the animators would swap the actors’ heads for a 3D model of the character’s face, then trace the outline in pencil and revive the facial expressions, coloring the outline at the very end.
“The animators had to unlearn everything they had learned at school,” says Olivier. “By taking them out of their comfort zone, by making them use tools that they were not used to using in this way, we were able to meet Pierre’s style, which is to subvert some of these animation tools.
“Instead of putting motion capture dots on the actors’ faces, the challenge was to take a step back and let the animator [recreate them], says Földes. “Our chosen medium is 2D, which expresses a certain style. The 3D heads are there to define the character, but they should be kept expressionless. Then we went to see the animators themselves to interpret the facial expressions of the actors.
After filming the live-action references in a Montreal studio, the filmmaker returned to France to bring the moving images to life. Today, he is waiting for the easing of border restrictions before returning to the Canadian city to supervise the compositing work.
As production nears the finish line, the director will soon begin composing the soundtrack for the film and will soon be launching a Kickstarter campaign – found at blindwillowsleepingwoman.com – to fund what he calls “orchestral sound design.”
Meanwhile, the film’s producers are starting to look further. With The Match Factory already on board as a sales agent, Miyu founder Emmanuel-Alain Raynal began to consider possible festival seats. Raynal tells Variety that the film should be finished by next spring, and mentions, about Cannes, “This is Pierre’s first feature, so all the selection would be open to us.
The best of variety
Sign up for the Variety newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.