close to his art

– . – Close to His Art


Close to His Art

French animator Sylvain Chomet explains why he believes hand-drawn animation will always have a place in cinema.

As animators go, Sylvain Chomet feels like a throwback to a bygone era. Just take his latest effort, The Illusionist. Set in both Paris and Edinburgh in 1959, it’s the story of a magician eking out a living on the dying music hall circuit, who eventually befriends a young runaway girl from the Scottish Highlands. Hardly the sort of high-concept idea you see in a Pixar movie, it’s based on an unproduced script by the late French actor-director Jacques Tati, best known for his hapless comic character Monsieur Hulot.

A shift down in gear from his own 2003 debut, Belleville Rendez-Vous-which saw Chomet nominated for two Oscars, including Best Animated Feature-The Illusionist is a wistfully nostalgic tale for a simpler, quieter way of life. While the story’s old-fashioned quality is reflected in its 2D animation, achieving it was anything but easy for the 46-year-old Frenchman. “It’s been a very long journey and a very difficult film to make,” Chomet explains, “for all different kinds of reasons, emotionally and technically.”

These difficulties were partly self-imposed, after Chomet relocated the setting of Tati’s script from Prague to Edinburgh, where he was living; rather than moving to London or Paris to make the film, he insisted on making the film north of the border. “It was very difficult to find all the artists in Edinburgh. The art schools are not the best, I would say. But it’s a small country, I suppose. I was a bit more disappointed that we didn’t have any English animators, because they have some really good animators in London. But they didn’t want to move to Scotland.”

Geographical problems aside, Chomet believes that his preferred style of animation is going out of fashion. “It’s very difficult to have a team of very good animators these days. 2D animators are a dying breed. They are going into 3D [computer] animation. Even when we were doing the film, we had some fantastic animators who went to work on 3D animation because they’re scared. They say, ‘2D animation is dying, so lets go to this new art form’. And it’s a bit sad, because it’s not the same media at all.”