On November 24, I was lucky to go and watch the “Lion King” musical Lyceum Theatre in London. The piece was visually so beautifully crafted that it inspired me.
I was so amazed to discover the many ways they translated this motion picture into a theatre piece. Lion King has always been one of Disney’s Legends, but also I believe, one of the hardest one to translate into a live show. Between the animals and the sets, it was hard to imagine how they could create it. Then, the show started. And everything was alive. The stage moves, the grass is personalized by people, the masks are animated, the visions projected and the puppets are mechanized.
The use of puppets and masks was very predominant and got me really curious about the process.
I went on to watch a small documentary about the puppet and costume section of the show and was surprised to discover the little mechanics in each prop.
It is hard for me to get curious about the works of a play but this really broadened my interest in puppet and props. The art that goes all around it is fascinating.
To produce my student presentation I was inspired to choose characters that I grew up with and mattered to me. Asterix and Obelix have been my childhood companions and its creators, Goscinny and Uderzo followed a path very similar to me. From illustration to animation, they brought their characters to life with some much humor and truth, there was no other animators I could have chosen.
Uderzo was born in 1927 in Fishes. He was born daltonian so most of his work was inked by other people including his brother Marcel on Asterix.
It’s from reading Mickey Mouse that he comes across comics. From then, his passion for Disney develops and he dreams of working as an animator.
Uderzo starts showing talent from the age of 12. At this age, he starts drawing characters with big noses which will become his signature style. He starts his career as an illustrator in many newspapers and books.
In 1945 he works as an in betweener on a short film and is so disappointed by the result that he decides to give up on animation.
His influences are Walt Disney, more specifically Mickey from Floyd Gottfredson, but also realists illustrators from the american strips golden age such as Alex Raymond, Leonard Starr or Stan Drake.
That’s how in the 50s, Uderzo develops a realistic style, with deep precision and fine inking as shown in his comic “Tanguy and Laverdure”.
Goscinny was born in 1926 in Paris. His family moved to Buenos Aires where he spends his childhood.
Very early on he develops an interest in cinema and animation, from peplum to western to musicals. He is fascinated by Walt Disney and his movies such as Mickey, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Pinocchio”.
He wants to be an animator and goes to New York after the war in hopes of meeting and working for Walt Disney. Problem is, the Disney studios are in California, not New York, and even though Goscinny illustrates his own stories, his drawings are not good enough.
In 1951, Goscinny and Uderzo are sent to the World Press offices in Paris to work on the same project. That is where they meet. They are 24 and 25 years old.
They immediately start working together. Uderzo draws, Goscinny writes. Their first character is “Ompah-Pah”, a native american hero that fails to find success in France or the US.
In 1959, they create the magazine “Pilote”, a magasine to publish comics for kids, embedded with french culture.
During a mi-august afternoon in 1959 in Bobigny, when it is very warm and the two friends have been drinking pastis, they are brainstorming on new characters. They want a very french story. Goscinny tells Uderzo: ” Give me the times that marked french history”. Prehistory and cro-magnon have been done. But not the Gauls. In 15 minutes they had the story. They make extensive researches about the time in history books and painting.
They come up with the basic idea: a small village during roman occupation, a bard, a druid, Caesar,… historical cliches that every french person knows and can relate to.
On October 29, 1959, the first story about Asterix, their new gaul hero, is out in “Pilote”.
It’s a success and only two years later, in 1961, the first Asterix comic book, “Asterix the Gaul” is out.
The story of Asterix is about the adventures of a small village of indomptable Gauls as they resist the Roman occupation in 50BC. They do that thanks to their druid who created a magic potion that gives temporary strength to anyone who drinks it. We mainly follow Asterix and Obelix as they go on adventures and come back to the village to have a banquet and tell their stories.
Asterix is the main character. Goscinny describes him “ugly but clever enough to make it”. He was made very short to accentuate his comical character. His head is as big as his body. His blond hair and mustaches are characteristic of the Gaul ancestors while his big nose is Uderzo’s signature style.
Obelix was created to balance out Asterix. He is tall and has mustaches like the Gauls. He was made round to be the exact physical opposite of Asterix. The story says he got this physique from falling into the magic potion when he was a kid. His arms and legs are so short he cannot cross them.
Asterix and Obelix were created as antithesis from the 1950s superheroes like Superman. They are not good looking and they have flaws. Flaws characteristic of the french people. For instance, Asterix gets angry easily, just like the french.
Asterix is a hit. 34 albums (24 in the first 20 years), translated into 107 languages and dialectes, 11 movies, a theme park, 100 thesis, hundreds of by products and 325 millions of sold albums.
In the 60s, Uderzo has to give up all his other projects to focus exclusively on Asterix.
The first movie comes out in 1967, only six years after the first publication of Asterix. The movie is put on the works by Jean Dargaux, an associate of Uderzo and Goscinny. In the 60s, Jean Deloux, a researcher in television finalizes the animographe which is a machine that was invented to develop fast and cheap animations for advertising for instance.
Its optical system allowed to animate 1 to 8 drawings per second instead of 24 while still keeping fluidity..
Margaux develops “Asterix the Gaul” without telling Goscinny and Uderzo. They discover it at a private screening and do not approve. They want to shut it down but it is too late, cinemas are already interested. The movie comes out on December 13, 1967 in 60 cinemas. It is a hit, the movie makes 2 500 000 entries.
While this movie is out, Uderzo and Goscinny learn another movie is in the works. They shut it down and tell Dargaux to make an animation they could at least supervise artistically.
That is how “Asterix and Cleopatra” comes out. Uderzo draws the storyboard and Goscinny writes the scenario. The movie requires more than 150 people working on it for 8 months. It has more than 5000 drawings and 300 backgrounds.
In 1974, Uderzo and Goscinny create “Studios Idefix” in order to control the quality of the cartoon adaptations of Asterix.
At this time, animation in France is a flop. There were no successful animation movies since Paul Grimault. The search for animators is complicate, skills are lacking. At this time, people learn by themselves.
Uderzo and Goscinny have two ideas: first, they decide to recruit a team of animators employed in small structures that will be happy to find the mood of a real studio. Second, they ask the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris to create and support with them an animation section at the Gobelins.
The first movie they make is “The 12 Tasks of Asterix”. Goscinny writes and original scenario and describes every camera angle. He is the director. Uderzo makes the storyboards.
Production starts in autumn 1974 and the movie comes out on October 20,1976. Once again, the movie is a success.
However, the bliss is short lived. In 1977, Goscinny dies of a heart attack. “Studios Idefix” closes and it takes Uderzo years to draw again and more than 10 years for a new Asterix movie to come out.
After those three first movies, and despite Goscinny’s death, the audience asks for more.
After “The 12 Tasks of Asterix”, “Asterix and Caesar’s Surprise” comes out in 1985, then “Asterix in Britain” in 1986, “Asterix and the Big Fight” in 1989, “Asterix and the Indians” in 1990, “Asterix and the Vikings” in 2006 and finally “Asterix and the Mansion of Gods” in 2014.
This is a late start for 3D. The reason being Uderzo was scared 3D would not render his characters properly. It took Louis Clichy (a Gobelin Animation alumni) and Alexandre Astier to convince him to let them work on the project.
The 3D movie required 4 years of work and a team of 20 people in a studio in Charleroi. What makes this movie different is the process. The movie was voiced first before any image was produced. This allowed the actors to give as much personality to the voices as they wanted.
This week was rhythmed by one choice: 2D, 3D or puppet animation? We were given lectures and advice to help us make this decision.
When I entered this program I felt sure I wanted to do 2D. I love drawing and I am in awe over the traditional Disneys.
This is were I feel completely divided. Sue Tong, our Tuesday lecturer who works as a background artist in the animating industry, told us to always try new things and be on top of the latest technology. So 3D then?
However, I enjoy our traditional animating exercises over our 3D classes. Believe it or not, I enjoy spending a whole week on drawing one second of animation.
But then, Shaun Clark and Steeve Roberts keep on talking about where the jobs are: 3D. Is the 3D industry that powerful? When I went to watch the last Thor movie, I just could not even realize where the 3D and special effects were anymore. I have grown so used to it, I see so much of it, that it does not feel like anything new anymore.
I finally came home thinking about how I was rejecting 3D because of the overflow of it. I then sat and watched the trailer for the new Pixar movie “Coco”. I was so amazed by the artwork and the realness of it all.
Nevertheless, if it tries to look so real, is it still animation? Le Petit Larousse defines animation as “Any method consisting of filming image per image drawings or puppets that will look animated on the screen”. Does 3D apply then? Doesn’t the computer program do half of the job for you? How can you tell a computer to add more style to your drawing? How can an animation stand out if you do not have that particular style?
We were talking about this topic with another lecturer, Lilly Husbands ,this week and last. We were talking about what defines animation and which direction the industry is taking. I believe in the end that the definition of animation is very subjective. It depends on your taste and your upbringing. I grew up with Disney movies and 2d animation TV shows. I have always been impressed by their style that makes them so special.
Could you tell a Disney apart from a Pixar or a Dreamworks or an Illumination nowadays? If you were not seeing the opening credits, would you know what you are watching? What makes an animation house different from another one?
And even though money seems to be directed to 3D, I feel that pinch in my heart. This is not what I believe in, I believe I made this choice a long time ago. I made peace with the fact that the job market would be terrible and that I would strive even more to make it.
I hope in the end I can focus mostly on 2D but still learn 3D bases and practice with my peers.
This week was truly a battle between my heart and my head. And my heart won.