Traditionally, we associate animation more with the unreal, with the fantastical. To narrate a historic event in a realistic way is an interesting approach. Did you want to show that the animated short film can be used to treat any subject?
Before all else, I see animation as a medium, a technique, and not as a style or genre. From that point of view, all types of worlds and stagings can be associated with animation. I chose this medium because this is what I’ve worked with for the last 10 years, and in my opinion, it is the best tool to express my ideas, my desires, which in all honesty would sometimes be difficult to produce using real images. Also, I think that animation possesses a specific language, its own code. Certain editing rhythms, certain framings, or simply the graphic style chosen by the director are why I love this technique. After that, I’m not a militant for more realistic animation. I chose this method because it is what was suitable for the film and because this somewhat lyrical, realistic tone that we find in certain film classics (Kazan, Preminger…) attracts me and influenced me in making Le Mans. But the path of realism is the choice I made for this project. If I make other films, perhaps they will be less anchored in reality. This medium has to remain as open as possible in my opinion. The only thing that I might find deplorable is that for the public at large, animated film is seen as a medium for children. I hope things will evolve beyond that.
Regarding the subject of your film, it is interesting that you chose to focus on the intimate side of the story and the relationships between the characters instead of the spectacular aspect of the event. Can you talk about this choice?
The first thing I thought when I learned of the 1955 Le Mans tragedy was, “How did these drivers dare to continue racing after such a tragic event?”. I wanted to make a film about it, so I did a lot of research. I put myself in the place of these drivers. I’m not excusing what they did, but I think I now understand better how in a sport like this, the passion consuming you can cause you to lose sight of reality during the time of a race. And, because I wanted the viewer to follow the same path as I did, the film needed to show the drivers’ side, confined in their boxes, absorbed by the race and far away from the tragedy that is playing out on the other side of the wall that separates them from the public. And to be honest, if I had chosen to highlight the spectacular aspect of the event, I would have had to represent that unbearable moment where the public gets mowed down by the explosion. For those who know what happened, it’s that image that sticks with us. But, it’s personal, I struggle with the idea of representing and reproducing horror in animation. It doesn’t necessarily bother me in certain other films, but I find it difficult to do in my films.
The animation of your characters is particularly subtle. How did you work on the animation to restore their humanity, their passion, and their pride so precisely?
Above all, I was lucky! I was supported by a team of truly talented animators. Axel Digoix, Geoffrey Lerus, Paul Lavau, Daniel Quintero and Alice Dumoutier gave more than I ever could have imagined. The only thing I asked them to do was to always do less. Less stress on every movement as is the tendency in animation. Remain subtle, even still, and sometimes exaggerate the character’s actions at the right moment, when the scene requires it. I also think that the staging of the film helped the animators discover the humanity in the scenes. Because, through the rhythm of the editing and the shots, we gave the characters time to feel, to go from one emotion to the next. I think it’s especially noticeable in the tunnel scene. Also, as I like a rather minimalistic, rather cold design, I always have it in mind to give a great sense of humanity to the characters in the film through the animation. And I think it’s after a lot of research, through drawings, in 3D, that we finally achieve a result that works well. And today, I feel reassured because it is the aspect of my work that I had explored the least until now.
The project mixes 2D and 3D techniques. Can you tell us more about the techniques you used to produce the film?
90% of the movie was produced in 3D. We used 2D for a few secondary characters and for the effects (fire, smoke…). I’m from the school of 2D, but I find 3D interesting because it seems that there are so many things that remain to be discovered about this tool. And it provides more staging freedom than 2D. It allowed us to test many different ways to film the same scene, with different frames, a new cut… I worked on this with a studio called “Les androïds associés”, who are used to making 3D previews of real filmed images for complex scenes. This is what gives the film its realistic touch. For the technical side, 3D is used in quite a rudimentary way. All the elements (characters, settings…) are textured in Photoshop, without the addition of 3D lighting. Everything is painted “by hand”. All the lighting. So, when a character passes from one atmosphere to another, a new texture has to be painted. It is a lot of work, but that is what gives the film its graphic style.
Are there any particular freedoms that the short film format allows you?
The freedom to make the fewest compromises possible, except for what is perhaps the most difficult, the short duration that must be respected!