How did you work out the graphic style to get it to aesthetically match cave paintings?
The starting point was choosing animated sand, calling on Hugo and the technique that he’s mastered, in order to dive into the mineral quality of decorated caves. I also wanted to have Hugo try out a new technique – animated painting under a rostrum camera. After that, we used the prevalent characteristics of cave painting: a color palette limited to black, white and ochre, the constant presence of the act of painting visible in the traces left by brushes and fingers, and its economy in evoking a filled space or an empty one, a material, a form… Parietal art is suggestive, working through transformation and omission. It’s a crude art form that doesn’t indulge in unnecessary artifice but that’s also very refined. That was our guiding principle: to find an image that was both crude and refined. That’s certainly what brought us closest to the cave painting aesthetic. But we looked elsewhere too, especially for the scenery. That was created through the interplay of mass, restraint and atmospheric perspective. It’s directly inspired from Chinese ink landscapes, an Asian pictorial tradition that does not actually have any connection to cave painting but which nevertheless has strong similarities to it: economy of representation and the presence of the artist’s gestures, the limited color palette, the omnipresence of nature…
What interested you about the relationship to hunting and predation?
Even before figuring out what story we were going to tell, we had an overarching theme: domination. Hunting and predation are survival techniques based on the domination of one species over another. The human species has partially built itself on this relationship to the world, especially given that during the prehistoric age, survival was impossible without hunting. Even today, and in fact more than ever, each human being must face this question of domination: Do I have to dominate in order to survive? In order to find my place and be myself? Who must I dominate? How? Whether it’s another species or another human… In the end, the short form was a small-scale prism for tackling the subject, with three protagonists: the master, the student and the animal. And anyway, just as survival is impossible without hunting, so is parietal art! The link between hunting and art – what we call the “trace” which gives the film its title – was obvious to us. The film’s symbolic world follows from this theme of domination. Like a form of magic with its “white” component, which helps you to eat, create and survive, and its “black” component which, through excess or insufficiency, wounds, destroys and kills.
To what extent does the question of rituals interest you and do you see yourself making other films on the subject?
Rituals function in several ways in the film. They recount a civilization with a strong symbolic component. They’re also indispensable elements for magic, a door onto the supernatural, onto other dimensions where space and time communicate. We wanted the film to play on the fluidness between levels of reality: hunting and the world outside, the cave world, the world of traces… We wanted each dimension to impact the other. Rituals are what create the link between them. It’s a metaphor for imagination.
Working together, how do you divide the filmmaking tasks?
Sophie brought books and an idea to her meeting with Hugo: telling the story of the artist who painted a prehistoric fresco that depicts lions chasing bison. From there, we co-developed everything, from the script to the animation. Hugo had views on the story and Sophie on the drawings. We made the film during a residency at Ciclic Animation. Hugo led the group of three animators and helped create the animation himself, especially the scenes in sand. In that area, Hugo had more nuts-and-bolts decision-making and Sophie was more of an artistic director who signed off on each element with a “fresh pair of eyes”. In the final stages, the scenery was created in simultaneously in post-production. But since we don’t live in the same town, Hugo was in charge of the scenery in Clermont-Ferrand while Sophie supervised post-production in Lyon to put the finishing touches on the soundtrack and images. Nevertheless, the larger aspects, like the final voice recordings, editing, mixing and timing were done together in accordance with our dictate that each important artistic decision should be taken together. Traces is really a film made by four hands, a work of white magic! Another thing we’re proud of is that we did absolutely nothing in Paris! Making a film in the sticks really is possible. So make movies, wherever you are!
Have you discovered any advantages that the short film form offers?
It makes more sense to talk about creative constraints: taking the spectator into a complex, symbolic world that is unfamiliar to them, where they don’t understand the dialogue, doing it in no more than twelve minutes to boot, and on top of that, making something meaningful and stirring up an emotion?! We really had to rack our brains! We began by simplifying the characters, situations and issues at stake, both in terms of narrative and design. Our watchword was that even if the viewer didn’t understand the whole meaning, the primary sense had to be clear. For them to get used to the symbolic layer, we created a type of “how to” with the hybrid scene that opens the film. Then we created formal and sound links throughout the film to give the sensation of plunging into something encompassing. We definitely counted on the film’s pace and made sure it took the viewer on board in an unrelenting whirlwind, jostling them and even assaulting them a bit. That was where the short form gave us the real possibility of turning the film into a mass of energy.
Which films did you draw from?
Annaud’s Quest for Fire, which is THE great classic of prehistoric films and forces you to take sides! Dersu Uzala by Kurosawa, for the pair of opposed yet complementary characters, the way their respective journeys go topsy-turvy, and the panoramic format. Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, THE great classic of animated films, with its characters imbued with animal traits, its symbolism, which is intimately tied to nature, and its relationship to wilderness and the supernatural. For Sophie, a key reference is the mainstream prehistoric novel saga, Earth’s Children by Jean M. Auel, which played a role in her childhood by introducing a female character who domesticates a cave lion. But more than anything, the paintings in the Chauvet cave, especially the lion frescoes.