April 20, 2020

'The Firefly Grove' by Tomasz Pilarski at EGoFILM Animation Studio

I had a chance to interview Tomasz to talk about his film...

What inspired you to make this story? Are there any elements of real life experiences in here?
My youngest brother was spending a lot of time playing on his console which bothered me deeply and when I could I was trying to pull him away from the console and show him something interesting outside or create some kind of adventure to engage him with real world. Every time he was reluctant but I can be persuasive so after all I’ve got him outside and every time he was happy at the end. I thought that maybe I could try to make an animation that he could watch on the screen - that he was looking on anyway - and that could get him inspired to switch off that screen of and go play outside. That was the loose idea at the beginning... but whole process took me so long and he has grown up so much that at the end he helped my with coloring quite a few shots. [laughter] Also, appearances of the characters are inspired by my siblings, and first location is very loosely based on place from my childhood.

The visual style is quite unique, the sharp, high contrast highlights and shines, the bold and rich coloring/lighting, the large eyes, the compositions, what were your main sources of influence and references?
Thank you! I've heard from audience that it looks like both Disney and Anime (different specific titles and as a general term as well), and I will take it as a good sign. In the process I was gathering lots and lots of inspirational materials from single picture from unknown author to whole body of work from specific artist and what you can see is the result of distillation of them passed thru the lens of main idea for my animation. But if I had to choose one main source of influence it will be Hayao Miyazaki due to quality and target audience, although during the process I realized that his way of approaching animation is different from what I thought it to be before making this animation, so I guess to be more specific my main source of artistic influence was my ignorant idea of what I thought Hayao Miyazaki's films are. [laughter]

How long did it take you to produce the film from start to finish? Was the storyboarding and design process very extensive?
So to answer this question I need to get back to my previous animation called “Whaddup Fish!” (which was featured on Flooby Nooby). It was late 2015 and I finished that animation more than month deep into my final year at University of Arts in Poznań (Poland) which caused rather significant and costly delay in development of “The Firefly Grove” - which was supposed to be my master degree animation there.  
Meanwhile I already had scholarship from ASIFA Hollywood for “The Firefly Grove” so I could afford small team by which I mean: background artist, musician and sound designers that I was working with previously on “Whaddup Fish!”. What’s more my bachelor’s degree animation “But she’s nice..” (also featured on Flooby Nooby) got an attention from Ewelina Gordziejuk from EGo FILM, and she wanted to become a producer of my next animation - “The Firefly Grove”. With producer it become my directorial debut!

With the producer on board we wanted to get funding from Polish Film Institute for realization of the animation, but the time was short. Although I tried my best to get everything that was needed to make the application ready on time, I failed, I missed the deadline… but miraculously the deadline was postponed (due to some internal issues in the Institute), and that gave me exact amount of time that I needed! Then we presented very crude materials before the Institute committee… and we had gotten the funds!

Another miracle because I myself was deeply dissatisfied with the crudeness of what I've made, and to be honest I was surprised that it got us the funds. But I guess, good for me as they say so I'm not complaining [laughter]. Then I got seriously into fixing and polishing the script, storyboard, character design, layouts, animatic and color script, then into animation, compositing and into voice recording - I wanted to make it as good as I could.

And to finally answer your question: whole animation was made in 32 months + 5 months of rushed “development” that I mentioned earlier, it was long and hard road and yes, storyboarding and design process was significant part of that. During that process I went for Dean’s leave at my University but still I couldn’t finish the animation (I was basically the only animator on the project, with only 3 shots made by someone else than myself) so after that I was thrown away… when finally the animation was ready I've got back to the University and got my master degree in 2019.

Did you create any concept art or color script for the film before diving into the heart of the production?

Yes, since “The Firefly Grove” turned up to be my directorial debut I took it seriously even more and I prepared everything that I could think of - which sadly is not practiced at my University at all so I was learning the craft on the job. Here Mathias Zamęcki - the background artist that I mentioned before and the person responsible for color script - was huge help! Before production everything was ready, from script to color script.

The color design and the more cinematic techniques employed, like depth-of-field and soft focus are especially ambitious choices, why did you decide to go this route?
I always wanted to do things that looks professional, which was not the case at my University where "self-expression" is the goal and so the results are amateurish looking. Quality is also a problem when it comes to animation studios here in Poland so this ambitious choices - as you called them - seemed the right way to go for me both as a challenge that I want to tackle with, and as a manifesto of what kind of animation I want to do.
Technology preventing our kids from playing with each other, nature and adventuring being important ways for children to connect with the environment and each other, and especially "guilt" and how kids deal with it in their own ways, have you always been interested in exploring these themes in your storytelling?
To be honest it was my first - and perhaps last - time when I was dealing with it in such clear way. All of my animations are very different depending on what I’m trying to do and I’m not visiting the same topic twice - at least that's how it was so far.

The film is very clean and polished in many ways, including the sound design and musical score, are you happy with how it all turned out? And do you care to share your secrets on how this was funded?

Yes I’m very happy with sound design and music, thank you! It was first time when I was dealing with those aspects on such scale. Before that I just left everything to the person who agreed to take care of it, but now I wanted to be more involve. Sound design was created by my friends from PULSAR Studios (Portugal) Tiago Cardoso and Dinis Henriques - they taught me many thing about how to think about sound. I was personally involved in sound because voice casting and recording took place here in Poland under my direction, which was great challenge in and of itself! 
In terms of music I found Kuba Terrano because I heard an interview with him that my younger brother was listening to, I liked what I heard and so I decided that I need to contact him and to present my idea for our collaboration. He agreed and the fruit of that is whole music that you can hear in “The Firefly Grove” including the song - very first song that was written specially for my animation, it’s called “Catching Moments Forever”. It was amazing when I heard it for the first time! Meanwhile Kuba recorded new album and that song was included in it. 
When it comes to sounds, like I said before I had a modest scholarship from ASIFA Hollywood that allowed me to pay something for Mathias, Kuba, Tiago and Dinis. Then we had got funds from Polish Film Institute but sadly it was not sufficient amount to keep me afloat so I was forced to move back to my parents in order to finish the animation. Luckily, back then I was semi-student-ish so I managed to do that, with major wound on my pride of course, but oh well… If I was about to do the same right now I would be forced to abandon the project in order to avoid getting bankrupt. It was truly a passion project from my side... or maybe madman endeavour if you look at it from the outside. [laugh]

What's next for you and your future animation endeavours?

Right now I took a break from doing my own animation. I’m working as an animator for Flying Bark Productions (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and now new secret show) and I’m trying to improve my skills in this particular area, meanwhile I’m thinking about what could be my next step as a director - of course with lessons that I’ve learned during the production of "The Firefly Grove" in mind.

My previous animations:
Whaddup Fish! https://vimeo.com/98805860
But she's nice... https://vimeo.com/98805860

Facebook links for the crew:
Written, Directed, and Animated by Tomasz Pilarski https://www.facebook.com/TomaszPilarskiAnimation/
Produced by Ewelina Gordziejuk EGo FILM https://www.facebook.com/egofilm/
Art Director and Background Artist Mathias Zamęcki https://www.facebook.com/mzamecki
Sound Design PULSAR Studios https://www.facebook.com/pulsarsoundstudios/
Music by Kuba Terrano https://www.facebook.com/kubaterrano/

No comments: