Back to Montreal I started putting everything together to create the visuals for the city. Here are some notes and sketches.
One of my passions is observing and playing with images of supposedly ugly buildings in cities. I take photos of them, and then modify the details. Then I arrange them in different backgrounds and I mix these elements with other urban environments taken from elsewhere. These imaginary cities and compositions don't exist in reality but they are very believable. The best buildings for this type of project are those that are not aesthetically significant, those that are not necessarily ugly but there is minimal design thought behind their existence. They are invisible.
Tehran is a good city for this kind of observation, as it is full of buildings which have been built based on pure personal taste. I'm writing down two moments that inspired me at that phase. Though they seem very irrelevant to each other, they played important roles in the way I treated the city I designed for my film.
An on-site, daily observation:
Two years ago, when I was working on this pictures, my family decided to go for a full renovation of their apartment. In the evening my father used to visit the site, sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by a neighbour. Based on the neighbour's taste the design could have comletely changed. The morning after, my father, convinced by Mr. neighbour's arguments, would convince the contractor to demolish a newly constructed wall and remount it a couple of meters further back. This conversational, community based design, pictures a dynamic that exists behind the construction of a lot of neighbourhoods and a lot of residential buildings in Tehran. I call it chit-chat architecture.
An artistic observation - Museum style:
While I was documenting visuals in Tehran, I went to an artist talk with Nicolas Grospierre, a swiss artist who was invited by the New media society. His talk was among other things about a series of photos created by him using segments of photos from buildings which existed in reality. the subtly recreated buildings in his photos which dont exist in reality were manifestations of his critisism of modernism in architecture.
This article resumes well his approach in his projects:
In the beginning of production, Kathleen and I were sharing the space with another production team who were working on a feature animation. Even if we were a good number of animators, the big room with wooden floors sounded like a monastery of pleasant silence. Although I had a clear idea of the story and scenes, I was giving myself the freedom to restructure the scenes and interactions if needed, and this ambiance was giving me a perfect mix of energy and concentration.
Recently, I was looking back at the notes and images I kept from this phase of the project. The first few months of production coincided with a friend's wedding. Some of us decided to recite her some poems using old text books. The result seems to me a loyal reflection of my state of mind in those days.
In 2014, I watched a series of Hothouse one-minute animations, produced by the NFB. One of the films of this series stuck in my mind : « The Midway ».
This short animation followed a group of children on a roller coaster ride. They eventually came down from the ride somewhere further, on a beach, as elderlies. The drawings were made using graphite pencil. Children in this film were treated like adults but in smaller scale. This was something I was looking for in my film. I later saw a "making of" of this project in which the director described her use of models for the background of the film and the roller coaster movement, something I was curious to develop more in my future project. For all these reasons, I came out of the theatre feeling that this director would contribute a lot to my film if one day I get to the production phase. Later I spotted Kathleen in the corridors of the NFB, but we never got a chance to talk.
A year after that corridor encounter, I served the director of « The Miday » and her mom some coffee and small pastries at a cafe where I was working. I was still waiting for my film’s funding to be finalized.
Another twelve months passed and I met Kathleen again at a party. I finally felt ready to talk about my project and to invite her to join my team. When I felt that she was interested in knowing more about the film, a heavy weight was taken off my shoulders. This phase of choosing the first animator took me too long as I didn't have enough confidence in what I felt was the right thing for the film. I also wanted to be too ready before I started working with an animator. Having had more guts those days, I would have taken this decision much earlier and would have been able to start production a few months earlier.
The official beginning of production was clicked in the beginning of July 2016.
Between 2013 and 2015, I developed the project and I looked for different sources of funding for the film. I knew by then that the solitary animation production style which I used to love wouldn't work for this film. I used to study theatre before, where we could hardly imagine working on a project alone from the beginning to the end. I now wanted to experience real teamwork again. This entailed finding funding for a team, which took me two years.
During this time, I worked on some other projects, notably one that changed my path not only because of the things I learned, but also because of the people I got to know. Claude Cloutier’s film « Autos-portraits » which was produced by Julie Roy at the National film board of Canada offered me an occasion to work and talk with people who were among the best in their field. No wonder, more than half of my collaborators for « Une visite » are people I spotted and friendships I’ve made during this time.
In 2015, I started working on the pre-production of the film on my own for a while. I knew by now that the two characters had to be created using two different materials and two different techniques for animation.
I decided to do some tests with myself to eventually hire an actress for the role of the Woman. I tried to make this actress as close as I imagined her in my initial drawings. This was the beginning of animation phase in the film as my first tests were finally used in the film and I decided to play the Woman myself.
In 2015, I started preproduction of the film. I did some animation tests and I also worked on a more elaborate version of the storyboard. It was during this step that I met Shahab, my editor. We worked for a while with pieces of papers filled with my abstract images. To start, we mainly worked on the structure of the scenes and the actions. We somehow rewrote the story using these images.
This week we start the compositing of Une Visite. As the project is now taking shape, I can step back from my daily struggles with the form and structure of the film. I'll review the steps which led me to this point. I'll start from the very beginning way back in 2012.
“Une visite” is a story based on a childhood interaction I had with a very dear family member of mine. The reason I started writing this script was specifically to participate in a contest organized by SODEC, because I used to love participating in contests. It was late 2012.
This project was chosen among the finalists, and I started working on the script with a group of six filmmakers and six mentors. My scriptwriting mentor at this stage was Marie-France Landry.
This contest was the beginning of a long project which led me to the production of this film in 2016.
Working on my film project and the role of the city, I came across the book Film and the City: The Urban Imaginary in Canadian Cinema, written by George Melnyk which is by far the best writing I’ve found on this subject.
Having lived in Montreal for the last 11 years, I’m still lacking convincing words or images to talk about this fascinating topic. I was having such a hard time explaining the role of the city in my film and my fascination about its presence in my projects that it became a serious subject of study for me. How I see a city and how I’m trying to get it more and more integrated as a character in my projects is something that I have already started exploring in my previous projects « Où ai-je déjà vu cela? » and « Autour d’une table ». I’m trying to raise the city to the role of main character in my in-production short animation film « Une Visite ».
Cities in the eyes of some societies were a place where people could find freedom, versus the rural areas which had rigorous social structures and traditions. For a Canadian, the city was the first place where the authorities were established and so you would have moved out of the city to the country to find the freedom you were looking for. These notions have been changed in different ways throughout history but their effects are present in the unconscious of a society.
How Canadian cities are pictured in its cinema is what I’ve been reading about and looking for in Canadian films this last year.
My approach to this subject is mostly an effort to create a city that is undeniably inspired by cities I know more. This city doesn’t exist in reality; it is nothing but a collage of pictures and sound ideas I have collected the last three years from Tehran, Montreal and Toronto. It’s a playful experimentation and deconstruction of what has strongly formed my identity: My Long walks and observations in Cities.
Animating « goodbye and welcome » moments between three characters in a one-shot scene is by now the most challenging scene of this film. Scene number 11 is at the beginning of the film; the first time we encounter the characters and the only time we see three of them together. Fifty seconds of simple routine interaction between three women seems banal but is actually very hard to choreograph and animate. We pass through these daily moments without ever thinking of the mechanism of these behaviours.
Working on the layout and key frames of scene number 11 reminded me of a teenage moment when I refused to kiss back. I was in high school and was supposed to receive a prize from the principle of our school. I picked the prize and it was the moment to kiss the woman I was convinced was not a great fan of me. In a blink of a second I decided to jump back and escape the kiss. My friend’s mother who was sitting in the crowd found it kind of funny but nobody else shared her idea. Having a hard time animating this scene, I started wondering whether that could have been a good decision to go for that hug and kiss on the scene just to feel that experience. These days I’m wondering what has happened to that kiss and a lot of other kisses I missed because it seemed to be another banal moment, worthless of sparing time for. Filtering your moments through the eyes of an animator makes you understand the importance of each fraction of a second. Animating this scene made me observe a moment that I often rejected, who knows why: The fabulous heat of a hug and kiss between two women, in a pure Iranian style.
After a long online hibernation, I'm back with my new website. I decided to renew it and integrate and upload my previous posts from my blog here. Sorry if the older posts are not very nicely fit into the page.
After returning from my long trip to Tehran, in 2015, I gradually started working on the production of my next animation film "Une visite/ A visit". I also did some other collaborations during the previous months that I will document peu à peu.
As the production of this animation film has been and will be a long journey, I decided to write down my journal. These notes are mainly what I explore in my studio while working on this project and are neither chronological nor directly related to this specific film. This project is a pretext for me to read, study and reflect on the moving image.
My famous catchphrase: "On va voir!"
Eventually, I had to say Goodbye to flamenco and my dance-mates. "Bye! I'm leaving for a while! See you soon!", I shouted as loud as I could. Once again I was shocked to realize that more than half of them had never heard my voice before.
My last nights in Montreal were full of young, beautiful, marching girls and boys with red roses in hand marching and chanting side by side the police. It might look surreal but that's how this city lives. My last mission was to give an orange lipstick to my friend : a magical night with "Lady danger" on strike.
My first mission in Tehran was to look for a book I had been dreaming of getting for a long while. A book I tried to read in French a few times before I surrendered. The Persian(Farsi) version of this book is sold but only via black market: Which means you can buy it but at least twice the regular price. So I preferred to pay half the price and buy it in its English version in Tehran. Now,would I be able to unlock this mystery and fully read "The name of the rose"?
Sometimes a serious, philosophical conversation in a café is enough to reboot your mind and get you through jet lag in the blink of an eye: "You can't read a worm's mind as a worm is unable to read your feelings!".
A random sketch - too hard to translate!
for the next few months: a new film to start and thousands of white pages to ink and draw!
To be continued!
|poster designed by "Amir Saboury"|
Tonight is the opening of an expo of my daily visual sketchbook at café Aunja.
One year ago in the busy, crazy metro of Tehran, I decided to write down what I was hearing around me. It was too interesting to be forgotten. I started to draw and to write a few words as captions for each image. I posted them on my instagram as it seemed to be very fashionable in Tehran. As I didn't know anyone on this platform I let myself free to write what I wanted. A few weeks after I came back to Montreal and I started a new job. After nine years of living here, Montreal for me is still a city to discover, a society to de-code. Montreal is full of hidden stories which are not easy to see or to hear. People talk less but if you succeed to read their minds, they have a lot to surprise you. Montreal's silence makes me ponder, think and take my time to observe. This is a gift I will take away with myself to wherever I go.
These drawing were originally accompanied by texts in Farsi. I'm happy to get a chance to translate 46 of them in French and English. A lot of concepts and ideas I had in the original texts are not translatable. So a lot of texts are way too different in the English and French versions. At the end they are different ways of telling the same stories. I'm now very curious to see how it will work.
These drawings from a Montrealer's journal are named after a Bosnian proverb: "Like a pig in Tehran!"
I want to thank Elham Yousefi and Hamed Masoumi, the couple behind the idea of Café Aunja, a place which is much more than a café to me.
The translations of these texts are done by me but are beautifuly final-touched by someone who interprets me even better than myself : Jean-Christophe Leblond.