Antonio Mengual (Barcelona, 1974) is one of the graphic artists who participated in EL ILUSIONISTA, by Sylvain Chomet, an excepcional film that was nominated to the Oscar in 2011 as Best Animated Film. Mengual has also worked in other animated productions such as Chico & Rita, Donkey Xote, El Cid, la Leyenda, Dragon Hillor Le jour des corneilles. In this exclusive interview to CINES VERDI he reveals some secrets of his work and his experience working in EL ILUSIONISTA.
How did you become part of EL ILUSIONISTA's team? What seduced you the most to participate in this project?
In late 2006 I was finishing with a national production. I heard then that they were looking for animators in Edinburgh (Scotland) for an unusual project, an independent 2D project (traditional animation with pencil) based in an original screenplay by Jacques Tati, the French actor and director. This new production was going to be directed by Sylvain Chomet, known worldwide after his previous film "The Triplets of Belleville". Soon I was seduced by this project and I made a compilation of previous Works based on the human figure, focused on a more realistic and less caricatured animation, and I also included some color works that were more personal. Soon after that they told me that they wanted to know me and I made an interview in my hometown, Barcelona, with Paul Dutton, the assistant director and supervising animator of EL ILUSIONISTA. In March 2007 I joined the team of animators, settled in Edinburgh. When I arrived there I met Sylvain Chomet. The first meeting was pleasant, for about a month I did some test scenes to see if I could adapt well to the style they were looking for. And I did, so I continued with the work until the end of the production, two years after my arrival.
How was your profesional relationship with Chomet? What characters did you develop and supervise in EL ILUSIONISTA?
My relationship with Chomet was cordial and friendly at all times. He was always satisfied with my work and that was one of the factors that helped me to get myself increasingly involved in the film, coming to take responsibilities like supervising some characters. The first character I worked on was "the clown". It wasn't a character that I had developed at an early stage, but the supervisor of the clown (a good friend of mine) had to quit the project for personal reasons. They decided that it was me who would stay in charge of it, which gave me the opportunity to encourage some very dramatic scenes with a lot of emotional strength.
When I ended the work with this character I was asked to join the team of Tati's animators. No doubt that the offer was very interesting, but I felt that it would be better to start with a new character. I was excited by the idea of creating a new character from the beginning, working on its design, its personality, its performance… more than I was by the idea of having to adapt to a very definite style such as Tati's animation. Sylvain agreed and decided that I would develop the "young boy". The design came up fluently and quickly, but I needed more time to define its personality. The character of the boy took the work of four artists with my supervision, and they did a very good job.
How was the living and working together at the Django Films studio in Edinburgh?
Teamwork has always been very motivating for me. In EL ILUSIONISTA, as well as in some other productions, I have been surrounded by extremely talented artists. You could learn lots with their magnificent job. I remember that we met in a small room with a projector, and we saw the week's work, with amazing results. That made you rise to the challenges and make efforts, and also talking to other animators about the job of each other. That helped me think about some things and focus the ideas in a more harmonious and consistent way, appropriate to the film's style.
How would you define EL ILUSIONISTA? What subjects does it bring up?
I would personally define EL ILUSIONISTA as a journey across time. In the late 50's, an old magician seeks work around Europe, in a time where the varieties artists have been displaced from the theatres; showgirls, acrobats, jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists and clowns, among others, were fired and abandoned, and the first rock bands and the first fans appeared. Producers pledged for a more profitable business following what is trendy, just like today.
What was the biggest challenge of the film?
One of the biggest challenges in EL ILUSIONISTA was to complete it while maintaining its quality to the maximum until the end. Due to its high quality of performance in every sense, the work on the film did not move forward as fast as the production department wanted. We had to make an extra effort, even greater, in order to not distorting the final result and that the film would move forward more quickly.
What kind of animation is used in EL ILUSIONISTA? Why was decided to tell the story that way? What were the references to begin with?
From the first moment we were asked to treat the animation in a very realistic way. It is an animation film –and more because it has nearly no dialogue- it is very easy to overact, even not intentionally. That is the reason why we had to find that moderation that means that the animation magnifies the acting, instead of being a simple exaggeration or caricature of an emotion or action.
The starting references were all the films in which Jacques Tati worked. We saw each one of them several times, analyzing and studying from Tati's acting to the production. We also had lots of documentation about magic tricks, some of them from that time. These were used as a reference and the animators in charge of Tati's character adapted them to his personality and his features.
I am very pleased with the teamwork, I think the movie is about the highest levels of quality. I think it's a film that has managed to revive the magic of the cartoon in a difficult moment for the 2D. Although of course I would also like to highlight the work in 3D, that level of animation and integration, is exceptional.
For over two years I left Edinburgh. I have seen the film four times, all on the big screen. Inexplicably to me, the more time passes, the better I feel The Illusionist.
I think it is a film that takes time for people to realize how big it is and will become. I think when you take a few years and is as big as it deserves, some viewers will feel fortunate to have lived the premiere of this film, and some will say ... I saw at the movies!, Particularly in the Verdi.
The film is full with details … ¿would you highlight any of them? What satisfies you the most, watching the end result?
I would highlight many things. EL ILUSIONISTA is a film rich in details, some of them more visible than others. For example, the animated special effects also in 2D –such as the smoke of cigarettes and trains; or how the rockers play perfectly the chords with their instruments; or the water splashes on the camera at the scene of the small Scottish boat; or the blinking bulbs; or the sense of depth in some funds, or the appearance of some character that belongs to previous Chomet's projects… But if I went to see this film for the first time, I would never miss the gag after the end credits. It is a shame because many people do not know that and they miss it.
I am very satisfied with the teamwork. I think that this film is of a very high quality. I think that it has managed to revive the magic of the cartoon in a very difficult moment for 2D. But I also want to highlight the amazing work that has been done with 3D, which is exceptional at an animation and integration level.
It has been more than two years since I left Edinburgh. I have seen the film four times, and always in the big screen. It is inexplicably to me that the more time passes, the better I like EL ILUSIONISTA.
I think it is a film that needs to take its time for people to realize how big it is and it will be. I think that in a few years, when it will be as big as it deserves, some viewers will feel lucky that they lived the premiere of this film, and some of them will say… I saw it in the cinema!, specifically in Cinemas Verdi.