Interview: La Source Des Montagnes, on the way to the Oscars?

Directed by Camille Di Dio, Marianne Moisy, Briag Mallat, Benjamin François, Adrien Communier and Pierre Gorichon within ESMA, The Source of the Mountains is an atypical short film, with careful aesthetics and narrative.

Recently passed “Oscar-Qualified” and therefore likely to win a statuette at the next Oscars, the film is coming online: on this occasion, we invite you to discover it and to immerse yourself behind the scenes of the project in the company of the team. short!

The Paccha-Picchus are little festive beings. They live in the carefree nature of a daily life punctuated by the passage of Mountains that advance to raise their oasis, raising them in a winter climate that they love and which is vital to them. But one day, they stop appearing. The impatience of one of them, KinKo, pushes him to go in search of them.

3DVF: La Source des Montagnes tells the story of the Paccha-Picchus, small creatures living in a carefree life punctuated by the passage of the Mountains. How was the screenplay born?

The film crew: The idea came from a misunderstanding. Camille explained to Benjamin that during her childhood, she said that she had “moon strokes”, which created confusion, because Benjamin thought she was talking about a “moon neck”.

They both visualized some sort of giant space animal whose neck would be like a moon, and it immediately became a space giraffe.

Then we imagined what life might be like for the people who populated this creature.

The Paccha-Picchus were born.

3DVF: How did you distribute the tasks within the team?

Every member of the crew co-directed the film, meaning we all had a say in every decision.
We’ve tried to allocate roles as organically as possible to keep everyone happy. Thanks to our teachers who set up the team, everyone was interested in a different part of the production, so it worked out well.

For the pre-production, we all worked on the script together. Then some worked on the design, the color script while others focused on finding solutions for the technical problems that we were going to encounter.

Regarding production, Pierre mainly worked on modeling, layout, set dressing, animation and FX in Maya.
Briag worked on rigging, FX under Houdini (simulations related to plants and mountains) and did witchcraft with scripts.
Benjamin worked on lighting, rendering and procedural shading.
Adrien worked on the layout and the animation.
Camille has worked on surfacing, matte painting, compositing.
And Marianne worked on the sculpting, compositing and surfacing of the characters.

3DVF: Can you go back to the character design process?

During the summer before production of the film began, we worked on creating our first Paccha-Picchu (we often call them “PP”).

We knew that the tribe / family side would require a specific graphic language in order to function, so we preferred to focus on the design of a single PP and then retrieve the graphic codes needed to design the others.

Obviously it wasn’t that easy, but it did help filter out the things that worked and those that clearly didn’t.

Finding these graphic codes brought us to a better understanding of what we wanted for the aspect of the world of the court, the feeling it was to give over the course of the story.

KinKo, for example, the hero of the story, has an asymmetrical head.
One side is quite rounded, but the other is a straight vertical line, as if the overall shape has been sliced. It was something that really spoke to us; it created rhythm, contrast, direction, and it’s also a symbolic idea.
This straight vertical line stopping this round shape was a way of connecting him to the end of the world to which he is traveling, a giant cliff where the round mountains begin their journey.

We tried to implement a little of that in each Paccha-Picchu, in order to give them something unique that would only work with a specific individual, related to their personality, their role in the story.

Obviously, as their design was not thought to be mathematical but rather organic, nothing was imposed on a PP if it seemed not to stick. For example, they must have had a colored line in the middle of their face, but in the end only half of them actually have it.

La Girafe is at the end of preproduction. We were probably trying to avoid it!
When you have to draw “everything the world depends on”, it’s not very reassuring! But the truth is that in terms of design, “she” depended on “everything” else. Because by finding our graphic language, the rules of our riding, the feeling towards which we were working, it quite simply appeared on paper. In a sketch, we had found it. The following sketches were mainly there to refine the work on the proportions, but nothing was as striking as this first drawing.

In the end, we felt more comfortable with the visual vocabulary of our (not so) small universe.

3DVF: Why did you choose to animate the characters in 12 frames per second? And was it difficult to convey emotions without a mouth or eyebrows?

From the start we saw the Paccha-Picchus as rhythmic characters. As their designs were “broken” to avoid making them look perfect, working at 12 frames per second allowed us to create a choppy, choppy, handmade look that followed the same goal.

Our references were all in 12fps, it seems that helps create poetry in animation. It gave us more freedom in terms of posing and timing.

It is also less time consuming, because it allows a fairly limited animation. For example, some background characters could stay static for a while without appearing too lacking in life.

In terms of the expression of emotions, body gestures were the most important. As the Paccha-Picchus have a very unusual look, we tried to animate them like little children so that we can empathize with them.

For their eyes, the slightest change in pupil size, gaze direction or eyelid shape brought out a different emotion.

We found something poetic in limiting the extent of their expressions, as with the character of Turnip, the scarecrow in The Howl’s Moving Castle, for example. It was a way of moving away from cartoon animation.

3DVF: How did you manage the village set dressing?

The village dressing set was an important and long step for our film.
This is the environment where more than half of the movie takes place, so we had to make it as alive as possible.

The village is mainly made up of plants and rocks. The main element was the dome, where our little creatures sleep. We wanted the village to be naturally fenced. Each element has a specific and particular location.

The plants grow mainly in the shade: under the curtains that surround the village and under the dome. They are supported by large rocks called “Tirochés”.

Each element of the village was modular so that we could adjust them shot by shot to perfect the composition.

The end of the world dressing set was also important. Unlike the village, there were fewer plants we could use, and that was meant to give that initial empty and sorry feeling. At least, before the snow returns, since at this stage dozens of luminous plants could reveal themselves and punctuate the surroundings of the place where KinKo is located in the same way that planets punctuate the sky.

Next page: snow, final twist, music, RenderMan and team news.

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Interview: La Source Des Montagnes, on the way to the Oscars?