4 Directors Get Animated About The Prophet

The acclaimed Gkids release, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, produced by Salma Hayek and overseen by Roger Allers, offers a who’s who of animation directors for what I call a philosophical Fantasia: Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea), Joan Gratz (Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase), Bill Plympton (Cheatin’), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (“Firebird Suite” in Fantasia 2000), Michal Socha (Chick), and Mohammed Harib (Freej)

I spoke with Gratz (“On Work”), Moore (“On Love”), Paley (“On Children”), and Plympton (“Eating & Drinking”) about incorporating their iconic styles into a larger fabric based on Gilbran’s poetry. It wasn’t easy for these very independent artists but it was fulfilling. The result, as Allers suggests, is like viewing an animated art gallery: Gratz, the Oscar-winning clay painter, intertwines hands, bodies, and the cosmos, the twice Oscar-nominated Moore brings Gustav Klimt paintings to life; Paley morphs tiles in a beautiful kaleidoscope; and Plympton combines a sense of the surreal and the sacred to his inspired work.

“I chose ‘Work’ because it was the closest to the life of an animator, and in my research of Kahlil Gibran, I discovered that he was a fine artist before he was a writer,” Gratz explained. “So whenever possible, I tried to incorporate his images and some of his figures of women. That probably stems in part from my doing Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, which turned me on to portraits of other people’s work. I work directly in front of the camera with regular kids’ modeling clay and then I thin it out and finger paint with a tool when I need a hard edge. It’s a continunous forward process…”

For Moore, it especially difficult since he was in the midst of making Song of the Sea and because he rejected his initial concepts (Gaelic and Islamic calligraphy) to try something completely different. “We mixed up North African mosaics with Gustav Klimt and added in a little of our own style,” Moore said. “The first pass at the storyboards was a bit too much like a Hallmark greeting card version of love. As Roger said, we left out all the pain and anguish, which is in the poetry.

“We had to dig a bit deeper into our experiences more and came up with a very simple narrative of the two characters that you see in the [poem]…”

For Paley, her piece was intended to be more abstractly about the art, but the producers requested that she tie it in more directly to the theme of children. The other challenge was that she was suffering from burnout. “So it took a long time to complete because what I really wanted to do was work on my quilting,” she confessed. “Another thing was that my usual working style doesn’t fit the type of elaborate production that this was. I’m used to working by myself so I didn’t know what it was actually going to be until I did it. What was amazing was I did it… I worked with as much art from the [region] as I could… and was happy with the results…”

Added Plympton: “One of the fun things for me was to take, for example, the scene where the farmer is plowing his field behind the horse. And the camera zooms on to his forehead and you see sweat pouring down, and the sweat turns into little streams that becomes a waterfall turning the mill. Also, I liked his philosophy. It was very inspirational. But for me, it’s stream of consciousness storytelling that I like to do…”

Read the rest at Animation Scoop/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Books, Crafts, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX

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