You’re an acclaimed author of graphic novels. Do you take more pleasure in making an animated film or a graphic novel? What are the main differences, from the perspective of the person doing the drawing?
The pleasure of drawing is the same because the work is very similar, and the challenges of creating characters, the script, the environment, and the style are all very similar.
Paradoxically, even though animation requires many more drawings, the amount of work required to create a graphic novel versus an animated short is not so very different. All the steps I just mentioned are the same. After that, it’s just a matter of execution, which takes a little longer for a film because of the number of drawings involved.
That said, I rethink everything for every film and every book I make. For instance, you’ll find that Overdose, The Trenches, and Bad Seeds all have very different styles. It’s the same with my novels, if you compare La légende des Jean-Guy and Gilles la Jungle. So you could say that I start over every time.
Exactly. Your films stand out for your considerable focus on drawing. In Bad Seeds, for instance, there’s an elegance of line and graphical richness that is rare in animation. Do you sometimes feel that the speed of the action and the focus on movement in film are at odds with such extremely meticulous work?
I do these kinds of drawings knowing full well that very few people will be able to truly appreciate my effort. But I believe that the richness of the drawing can move audiences at a subconscious level. I get the impression that they can sense the details, even if they can’t articulate them clearly or remember them.
That said, it’s something I think about all the time; it’s a constant preoccupation—I’m always asking myself if it’s worth it. Because on the other hand, there are many films I enjoy that rely on a very simple drawing style. So I wonder if I should go that route too?
As an artist, I have a certain aptitude for controlling shapes, for realism, for exactness, and my style often relies on this ability. For example, Carface may be my most complex film—it’s hard to draw cars realistically and have them move in ways that humanize them and allow them to show emotion. So the work to depict that accurately is invisible because ultimately, when you look at the end result, it’s just a quick gesture in ink wash. But to get there, you basically have to draw the film twice—once with great technical precision, and then again more freely. In the end, I’m happy with the result because all of that technical burden has disappeared, and the imagery is very light.
As in Carface, your sense of humour and caricature comes through in Bad Seeds. But both films also deal with social issues, touching on current events, especially environmental issues. Where do you stand there?
Yes, you can make connections between those two films, so you can infer that the issue is important to me. But as films, the two are very different in both their style and references. Carface is a musical, Bad Seeds is a fable.
It’s a fable about rivalry—a rivalry that goes beyond survival and becomes a question of pride. Carface was about oil; Bad Seeds is more about sharing wealth. The sharing should be easy, because in the film, wealth is represented by mosquitoes, and there’s no lack of mosquitoes! But the two characters are never satisfied, and their battle leads to self-destruction.
Indeed, you seem quite interested in the topic of war and conflict, especially in the aggression of individual people. That was the case in From the Big Bang to Tuesday Morning and above all in The Trenches, about World War I. Where does this recurring theme come from?
I have a kind of fascination with war. I read a lot, especially about the two world wars. I’m always trying to understand how human beings could have come to that level of destruction and how the Germans, for instance, could have become embroiled in Hitler’s folly at that moment in history.
Many historical figures make an appearance in Bad Seeds—Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, Kennedy, Khrushchev, even Queen Victoria, making a comeback after Sleeping Betty. Are you a history buff?
History is war, one after the other… Most of my reading is about history. I read very few novels, though I have read Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones. So yes, you could say I’m a history buff.
I have many historical atlases. Old maps convey so much information visually. Maps are images that you can take your time dissecting. There’s a sort of parallel there with the possibilities and power of animation, which is also a synthesis of the world rather than a realistic and exact representation of it. This may have influenced the style of some of my films, especially Sleeping Betty and Bad Seeds, which rely on the desire to rediscover the spirit of Victorian-era engravings, such as those by John Tenniel for Alice in Wonderland.
In most of your films, the humour often relies on characters morphing into hybrid creatures that blend human and animal or living beings and objects. Where does this taste for hybridization and metamorphosis come from?
In addition to history, I’m greatly interested in science. In fact, I was one of the initiators, along with Martin Barry and Thérèse Descary, of the series Science Please!, for which I made six episodes. My interests range from physics to technology to evolution, which combines science and history. My film From the Big Bang to Tuesday Morning is about this topic. Evolution makes us consider that, from a certain perspective, all species are related to each other. Which perhaps explains my interest in ecology and therefore the topics of Carface and Bad Seeds.
Cartoons are an interpretation of reality, and in that sense, they are related to caricature, which deforms reality for satirical purposes. In an animated film, this deformation takes place in time, over a duration—hence metamorphosis.
At one point in Bad Seeds, I had to draw the intervals between Hitchcock and a frog. That was a graphical challenge, a challenge of animation. I like to push the limits of my drawing; and creating these kinds of metamorphoses is a real playground for me. It’s a driver and an important source of motivation. The desire to push my limits is probably the reason for the things you mentioned earlier, such as the focus on drawing and the abundance of details. When I start a project, I always want to make things that other animators either can’t make or won’t make.
In Bad Seeds, the humour also relies on some very elaborate sound design and music. What is your relationship to sound and music when you make a film?
I listen to a lot of music when I draw, but I don’t really think about the film’s sound design and music during the process, with the exception of Carface, which was based on the song “Que Sera Sera.”
Ultimately, music is its own character, and you can play around with it like any other character. It’s a kind of narrator that sets the tone for the film, comments on the action, offers a level of interpretation, and creates a bond with the audience.
It was very difficult to finalize the music and sound design for Bad Seeds. We knew that music and sound would play an important role, but it wasn’t easy to find the right path. The film’s characters are very realistic, but there’s also a cartoony-ness to them. There’s a delicate balance between the two, and we had to find the right contrast. So we forged ahead through trial and error. Ever since Sleeping Betty, I’ve developed a strong bond with sound designer Olivier Calvert. He later confided that Bad Seeds was the hardest project he’s ever worked on. But I’m really pleased with the result; I think it absolutely works for the spirit of the film.
Written, Directed and Animated by
Galilé Marion-Gauvin (L’Unité centrale)
Julie Roy (NFB)
Robert Marcel Lepage
Musicians and voice
Zoé Dumais (violin)
Guy Donis (banjo)
Yanik Cloutier (guitar and dobro)
Samuel Desrosiers (percussion)
Music Editing and Mix
Geoffrey Mitchell (NFB)
Luc Léger (NFB)
Shelley Craig (NFB)
Visual Post-production Studio
Creative Direction and Supervision of Compositing
Mélanie Boudreau Blanchard
Digital Image Compositing and Colouring
Raquel Magalhães Sancinetti
Serge Verreault (NFB)
Eric Pouliot (NFB)
Pierre Plouffe (NFB)
Technical Specialist Animation
Yannick Grandmont (NFB)
Jean-François Laprise (NFB)
Mira Mailhot (NFB)
Mélanie Boudreau Blanchard
Anne-Marie Bousquet (NFB)
Mylène Augustin (NFB)
Laetitia Seguin (NFB)
Michèle Labelle (NFB)
Dominique Chila (L’Unité centrale)
Marco Santos (L’Unité centrale)
Diane Régimbald (NFB)
Karine Desmeules (NFB)
Isabelle Côté – CPA
Senior Production Coordinator
Camila Blos (NFB)
Karine Sévigny (NFB)
Cordell Barker, Guillaume Chouinard, Pascale Ferland, Geneviève Gosselin-G., Dominique Noujeim, Michel Ouellette, Frédérique Schmidt
Produced by L’Unité centrale and the National Film Board of Canada