Today, we continue with our series talking with the animators of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. We are blessed to get to know animator Bastien Dubois. His new animated short Souvenir Souvenir premieres at this year’s festival.
How did you become an animator?
First, I wanted to work in the video game industry. I’ve started developing my own games with flash, and I did a bunch of training periods in various companies like Ankama or Hydravision.
In 2004, I hitchhiked from the north of France to Istanbul, Turkey, and I came back home with tons of drawings and sketches. I wanted to publish a journey diary. Then I joined the 3D animation school Supinfocom to be a video game artist, but I was more interested in my journey diary. That’s how I get the idea to do an animated journey diary. So, after I finished school, I moved to Madagascar for one year to do my first film Madagascar, a Journey Diary (2009). This film received an Oscar nomination in 2011.
In Souvenir Souvenir you animate yourself. What was that like?
I’m used to it! I’m almost all of my films! My friends made fun of me for that. The hard part was digging into myself, exploring this story, facing this taboo, and being able to overcome my inability to bring it up.
You tell the story of your grandfather and his memories from the Algerian War. What was that like telling your family’s story?
In fact, my luck is that I didn’t realize when I started working on it what I was setting foot in. It was tough, of course, but it was also an exciting intellectual challenge. Sometimes we can have fun facing difficult things. A bit like a mountain hike.
The message seems to be to stop judging the past and move forward. Is that what you were hoping for?
I wouldn’t say so. I think the film’s ending is pretty open, and I feel there is no “message.” Just maybe get rid of anger. After a long trial: Forgive. But don’t stop judging and moving forward. Judging the past is essential.
You use a lot of different animation styles in the piece. How did you decide what to use when?
I use two animation styles. One is the style of the film I’m planning to do about my grandfather’s experience. The other one is a “diary” of my everyday life as a director trying to find out how to deal with this film and struggling with its own scares and phobias. At a certain point, both collide. The writing and global perception of what will be the film was a long process; I would say more than 10 years… so it was a long process, constantly evolving.
It would be hard for me to give you a short version of that. Basically, at the beginning, I wanted to do a film about my grandpa, and at a certain point, it turned out to be a film about me trying to do a film about my grandpa… but all this is explained in the movie. That’s why it’s so hard to tell about the genesis of Souvenir Souvenir, ’cause this is the story of the film.
Does the short use recordings of your loved ones or actors?
The only professional actor is “Aziz” (Fatsah Bouyahmed). My grandfather was too sick to do it, so I asked a friend of his. My family is from Northern France with a very specific accent, and I wanted something naturalistic… my Dad did his own voice, as well as my grandmother (I think she is excellent!).
The interview with the old Algerian lady in motion capture is the only real footage that has not been reenacted. It is from my TV series collection of interviews in animation Faces from Places.
Was it challenging creating the watercolor backgrounds?
The backgrounds were made in collaboration with the very talented Jorge Gonzalez, an Argentinian illustrator and comics artist. He provided me tons of illustrations and textures that I mixed and composed for every shot (https://www.instagram.com/jorge_ilustra).
Usually, I do all the backgrounds of my films, so actually, it was very comfortable to delegate this aspect of the film. This is especially because I had such a struggle with some other aspects of the film-making. As the film is based on my story, some new elements were challenging – like the climax (the mace) – happened while I was doing the film. So the length of the film doubled during the making of the film. All with the same budget! Also I constantly changed and re-recorded my voice. That was… complicated.
What would be your advice to animators hoping to get into Sundance?
Don’t do things on purpose to get selected to Sundance or teh Oscars. Do things you need, you like, or you have fun to do. That’s the only way.
Thanks so much to Bastien. You can learn more about his films on his website.
Edited by: Kelly Conley