Today I had the privilege of speaking with Rémi Chayé about his experience directing the new indie animated film, Long Way North.
Set in 1882 Russia, Long Way North tells the story of Sacha, a young aristocratic girl who sets out on an adventure to find her lost explorer grandfather. Her family has been embarrassed and shamed by her grandfather’s seemingly crazy expeditions. By traveling to the North Pole, Sacha hopes to redeem her family and find her grandfather. Along the way she grows up and meets some engaging characters. The animation is unlike anything you will see this year at the theaters and it is definitely worth hunting down.
I was wondering, it being your first time directing, how was the experience for you compared to being an assistant director?
This was much more tiring and exhausting. I already had some experience, but those features are a mixture between industry machine and craft in house – but we had to do 100s of drawings every day. That was really tiring, but it was so good. We were in a flat in Paris just 120-meter square flat and put 45 animators in there. The ambiance was really good. We knew what we were doing. That was really cool. It was a very contrasting experience for me.
You worked this whole thing in France correct? In Paris?
Yes, 95% of the film was done in France and part of the animation was done in a studio in Denmark because I knew the guy and his company from ‘Secret of the Kells.’ We met again and he said I could do half of the animation for you. So, we were two different studios but they had a small team but we did the rest of the film in Paris.
You had a unique visual style. How did you come up with the color blocking visual style?
It’s a long process. We started working on this film in 2005 so it took ten years to get the vision for. So, I had time to think about it. Basically, I’m not a designer. I come from storyboards and layouts so when I decide to do color blocks in this feature I have to find my own style. I’ve been influenced by different directors like Tomm Moore and Jean François Laguionie, but I was looking for something of my own. At one point I removed the outlines of the drawings, and I said “that’s very interesting.” In fact, when you removed the outlines, the color are not referring to the black lines, which means when you work on the section of the color palate in a unique way. The proximity of doing white on white, gray on gray really created colors that will just move one to the other. It was a very interesting way of doing color palates.
I was wondering about Sacha as a character. I thought she was really interesting because she wasn’t just a bold woman, which you see a lot. She was also a bit of a diva at times. I was wondering how you came up with her character?
It was a long process too. At first Sacha was not as interesting as the one in the last script. We wanted her to go through different challenges and to be a simple woman with values. She has no super power. She has no huge skill at school or whatever. She’s just a nice girl with values. For us it was very interesting to work with a character like that. So it took a lot of time for us. From the very beginning she knows from books and the stories her Grandfather told her, but she has to learn from life. She has to put down her princess attitudes and that is taken care of when she is working at the hotel, so she can win her place on the boat.
Can we talk about our next project Calamity Jane? Do you know her?
I do. I love the old Doris Day movie.
Yeah, we are going to do her story when she is ten years old. She is a tom boy doing the Oregon Trail with her father. As a girl she is attached to the wagon. She’s preparing the food. She takes care of washing clothes. That sort of thing. Eventually the father helps her learn how to ride a horse, to drive the carriage. She discovers the freedom that comes with it. We are going to explore what it means to be a woman. What it means to be a man. Is someone going to decide for me what clothes I have to put on because of my gender. And we are going to tell a story about that with fresh situation comedy and happenings.
Sounds great. With all the big-name studio CG movies, I’m wondering what role you think smaller animated films have to play?
I think we live in two different worlds. There are so many different subjects. We are here working with six million euros budget and we take the time to draw. So, it is a complete different thing. We have to know. We can’t do the movie twice or three times like they are doing at a big studio. We play with limitations. We try to define a graphic style and storytelling within the budget and that will go out from there. We live in a different world but we have the same problems. The basic problems are storytelling. We met the guys at Pixar last year for a private screening. I talked to Pete Docter and we talked about the challenges of the 2nd and 3rd parts of the story when things have to continue and you start to lose a little bit of theme and the challenges of tying up the story. So, that’s the same problems but in a different way of managing it.
I certainly am grateful we have these small animated films. It’s so refreshing to see things that look different because they all start to look the same. Would you say you are optimistic about the state of animation?
On the question of CGI verses traditional we are facing something here. In France the film was incredibly well received with honors. We had reviews that were incredible. The thing is it was released almost the same day as ‘Zootopia’ and we made an okay box office with our film but some people still don’t know it exists even in France. So yeah, we are trying with Shout Factory to get the word out. We talked with Disney people. We have lots of friends there. We need to make sure there is room for everybody. That the theater owners are offering the kids and the families so they can know and see the films that are there. The kids they see 3D/CGI things all over the place, on TV also, so their eyes beginning to be used to that. But they are impressed with it. So, we can see if we offer them an alternative they are really eager to see new ways. If we have a strong story that’s what they expect. The way we render they quite don’t care actually. They really want a strong story. We hope we can keep doing that- expressing stories a bit differently.
I agree. That’s really true. I took a friend of mine and her little girl to see April and the Extraordinary World earlier this year and she loved it. She absolutely loved it. And that was with subtitles so I didn’t know, but she did – so I think you are right. If you have an exciting story like with Sacha that’s what matters. I particularly liked it once she gets to the South Pole. That was very creative some of the things that happened.
What was your main inspiration for creating the story?
The inspiration was loads of different things coming from Russian novels to Jack London to Shackleton. It really was the whole spectrum of inspiration.
That’s awesome. It didn’t go exactly the way I was expecting it to with her grandfather once they got there.
What message do you want kids and people to take away from Long Way North?
The main message is to stay united with others. You need to realize that other people can bring to you and you can bring things to others. Basically, what Sacha learns. She’s alone. She has all the money in the world with her palace at the beginning of the movie, but she doesn’t know real life. She finds friends and the importance of team work. You need to be united is what I get out of the film.
That’s really good. Well, those are my questions but I really did enjoy the film. I just thought it was so beautiful. You should be commended. Thank you for making such a beautiful film.
Long Way North expands into more theaters each weekend so check out its website to find out if it is coming to a screen near you. If you aren’t lucky enough to see it on the big screen definitely put it on your list to watch on dvd or streaming when it is released.
To read more on Long Way North click here.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes