Folimage 2014
paper cut-out, 9'04"
Direction, design: Olesya Shchukina
Music: Yan Volsy
Animation: Lucrèce Andreae, Marjolaine Parot
An elephant lives in a town among people and works as a street cleaner. One day, he sees a big billboard advertising a bicycle. It seems to be the perfect size for him! This is the moment the elephant’s life changes: he has to get this bicycle — at whatever the cost.
The film has received awards from more than 20 international festivals and has had 80+ screenings around the world. In 2019, Galerie Miyu made a making of exhibition, including assets and sketches, shown in libraries throughout France. You can watch the full film on Vimeo VOD or on DVD.
I first came up with the idea of the film in the Moscow subway, so I immediately got off at the next station to write it all down. It took me a lot of rewrites before I felt happy with the script. Furthermore, the visual style of the project went through several transformations. I first wanted it to be 2D drawn animation but then I shifted to paper cut-out animation.
I defined the Elephant's design pretty quickly but had more challenges with other characters, especially with the girl, who had a number of different versions. Below are some of them.
Finding the right style for the backgrounds was even more of a challenge. Everything didn't look right and I struggled a lot. I knew it had to be a small town with 2-3 story houses but all my first attempts were lacking something.
One of the first attempts to construct the street where the Elephant lived. I didn't pick it because of its vertical lines that were too straight and bland.
Following this sketch was the Eureka! moment of finally latching on to the right visual concept. I drew numerous color sketches of this kind that were later used for the final backgrounds.
Lucrèce Andreae, an extremely talented filmmaker by her own rite, did the majority of the backgrounds. I provided her a layout and sometimes a color sketch. Lucrèce used a light table to trace all the elements separately on thick paper. Then she colored them with acrylic and pencil and glued all the parts together. This helped a lot to get a collage effect and make the final picture look more natural.

Lucrèce Andreae is working on a background.

I tried to arrange the parts of each scene (background, props and assets) together. The film had around 120 scenes and the arrangement was crucial to keep it all organised. Nevertheless, some parts were still lost and I had to redraw them quickly.

One of the scenes that is ready to be set up

While Lucrèce Andreae and Sandrine Héritier were working on backgrounds, I was making the assets for all the characters of the film. First I made a sketch with all the parts of a future puppet. Next step was to trace it on tracing paper and then transfer all the part separately on thick paper. The last stage was to color all the parts and cut them out one by one.
I very rarely made rigid joints as I wanted the assets to be flexible for the animation. Most of the time their body parts were joined together with Blu Tack.
Lucrèce worked not only as a background artist but also as an animator. Her joyful and exquisite style was well suited to the spirit of the film. Each asset of the Elephant (I had it in many different sizes) had extra eyes, legs and arms. Usually two layers of glass were used for the set: one for the elephant and the second for the background. There was also a third just for the white paper which was the color used for the sky.

Lucrèce Andrea is animating the elephant

Different eyes expressions for two assets of different scale.

The most complicated scene of the film was the opening. We spent almost a week working on it together with Lucrèce (40 seconds of animation!). We had to animate two layers simultaneously and each of us was in charge with 4 characters and 1-2 cars at the same time. 

Lucrèce and me animating the opening scene (photo by Zoïa Trofimova)

Close up of the scene

The most trying moments were when one character passed behind another. Sometimes it created intersections of 3 or 4 of them. What lasted a few seconds of screen time took us many, many hours.
Marjolaine Parot was the second animator and she made all the scenes with smooth and floating movements as well as some key scenes with the desperate Elephant. Marjolaine mostly works on puppet animation feature films and  her experience proved very valuable for my film.
The film was shot at locations of Folimage studio. Everything was animated directly, together with backgrounds. That's why the compositing wasn't that complicated. I intentionally wanted to have all the elements together from the beginning because I really like the imperfect shadows created by the layers of paper put together. I think it's something that could never be simulated digitally.

Me at the set (photo by Lucrèce Andreae).

This film was one of the hardest journeys in my life but I would do it again without any hesitation. I learned a lot and met many talented people along the way who made their own contributions to it. It remains a team project and I'm still grateful to my wonderful team.

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