Tomás Lunák Talks Alois Nebel

Alois Nebel marks Tomás Lunák’s directorial feature debut and the first rotoscope animation done in The Czech Republic. He brought his film last week to the Palm Springs Film Festival. The Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Animated Feature is based on a graphic novel and depicts a lonely train dispatcher in 1989 who suffers from hallucinations of ghostly trains from the dark days of World War II that appear out of the fog and pull up outside the train station. Lunák’ discussed his cinematic journey via email. You can view the trailer and roto test below.

What attracted you to the Alois Nebel graphic novel and how did you get involved in making your first animated feature?

The designer of the graphic novel, Jaromir 99, is also singer in the rock band Priessnitz and since 2001 I was shooting videoclips for them and worked also on the visual style of the band. During this period, the graphic novel was developed and gradually published in three parts: Bily Potok, Central Station, Zlate Hory. Later on, all three novels were published in one compilation book, Alois Nebel. Pavel Strnad, a producer, asked Jaromir 99 and Jaroslav Rudis to adapt the graphic novel into a film. The first version of the storyboard was created, which was very similar to the graphic novel.

It’s literally about getting lost in a fog of history. What’s the significance of the story for you?

For me it is a film about countryside, countryside that was humiliated and destroyed, but at the same time begins to defend itself. This fog could be the morning fog when nothing is seen yet. However, this fog eventually resolves and a new day begins.

What was the collaboration with him like?

We were in close contact with the designer for the entire making of the film. When the first versions of script were made, Jaromir 99 redrawn them into storyboard and these were imported into the script again. During the shooting, Jaromir 99 began to prepare materials for the animators — he redrew or prepared each of the already filmed shots. I think we spent more than two years in the same office. I would also like to mention, that my main role was to serve humbly, as it is a story of Jaromir 99 and Jaroslav Rudis, after all.

Why rotoscope? To capture the look and design of the graphic novel?

The main reason why we finally decided for rotoscope was that we tried to find the perfect way to adapt the graphic novel into a film. However, for all of us, it meant to forget almost everything we knew. At school, I mostly made puppet films and video clips; therefore, there was this fear of how I would be able to direct actors or the shooting itself. That’s why we decided to make a one- minute test already with Miroslav Krobot as the main character and the final result surprised us all in a very positive way. Suddenly, we began to feel that the rotoscope could serve the film well, and I also think that the results of the test shots helped us to secure finances for the film.

What was the experience like making the film? How was it done?

We knew that we can portray the original atmosphere of the graphic novel even if after we enriched the original sharp black and white drawing with the degree of gray and began experimenting with dismissing the filmed material into the background.

The filming itself differed from a classic filmmaking in a way that the whole filmed material served as a guidance for the animation and a base for the post-production. Expressive lighting, distinctive make-up, tonally adjusted decoration or the night scenes shot in the daylight — all of these served one thing — to provide the animators as much information as possible.

What was the editorial process like?

The communication with the editor, Petr Říha, was more in the imaginative level in the beginning, we talked more than actually edited. The filmed material served us as the background. We edited rough cut three months after the shooting, which was a base for the animations. Animations were inserted into this rough cut, they were superimposed, the backgrounds were added, and this way the very special layer of the film was created, but at the same time it was very important to preserve maximum imagination and keep the general conception of the film. This timeline was gradually complemented, re-edited during the entire process of post-production, and basically we saw the final version of the film only in the end of the post-production process. We saw it in the moment when it was impossible to make any other steps and we were left to hope that the initial intuition was correct.

What were your biggest worries?

I’m rather introverted and, as such, my biggest worries were directing the actors and communication with the film crew. In my opinion, thanks to the very elaborate preparations everything turned out great. The first problems, rather, arrived in the post-production period, when the film became molecules containing only components of the final film. As I mentioned before, this phase  was demanding on imagination and mainly there were times when it was crucial to make a good decision. I think that the constant immersion in the process and the inability to get distance were the most difficult in the entire project. I think I was lacking the experience that can be gained, of course, only with time. It is important for me to mention Miroslav Korobt, who was with the film from the very beginning and greatly contributed the creation of the character of Alois Nebel.

What are you most pleased with?

I am very glad that the final cut is quiet and austere and I hope that it might someday inspire somebody.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Books, Clips, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX

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