Note from Aimee: This is an interview with Gaetan Brizzi by Didier Ghez! The article is used with Didier's permission (thanks Didier!). Be sure and check out more history-orientated Disney info on his site: http://www.pizarro.net/didier/
Interview with Gaetan Brizzi
Could you please tell us about your precise role on Hunchback ?
We were called, Paul and myself, a short while after production started on Hunchback to work in the US on the storyboard of the movie. When we arrived, the script had already been written and some artists had already began to work on the storyboard. We were given a short sequence of transition that filled Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the directors, with enthusiasm.
From then on they gave us some very important sequences within the whole movie.
Paul and myself were really invested, artistically and emotionally speaking in this project which lead us to develop a very detailed work on the storyboard. In general, Disney's storyboards are very rough, very sketchy, very quickly done. We tried to push the art of storyboarding to its limits. Creating very precise black and white images for night scenes, with a great care for light, proportions and details but above all a great attention to the mood.
We really worked on the mood that we wanted to be very expressionistic in the Prologue, which is a very dramatic sequence. We tried to introduce a kind of artistic vision in terms of visual expression, backgrounds and characters.
Our role was enlarged to sequence directors. So we came back to Montreuil, after having completed the storyboard, to supervise the sequences that we had storyboarded.
Our first goal, of course, was to be in harmony with the artistic spirit of the directors, Gary and Kirk but also to stay in tone with the style of the artistic director, Dave Goetz. Dave thought we really understood his vision which meant creating a realistic Middle-Age, that is dark and impressive. He wanted to stay out of the cute, round and soft style. He wanted to describe what Paris was at the time: those narrow, gloomy streets that let no light in, with the small dark brooks running inside.
How do you share the work among you, Paul and yourself ?
We always work on the same sequence. Here is how. We first discuss about our views about the sequence. Where should it take place ? How should it take place. With words first and a little with the pencil that sketches what we talk about. Then we work alone to find some ideas about key moments in the sequence, to give the scene power and personality.
Then we take a few drawings we really agree about and we really enter the sequence and start developing it, with "post-it", with some papers. This gives us the first draft of our storyboard.
Then we start criticizing. Shouldn't we simplify ? We always want to achieve more simplicity or at least more clarity. What do we want to say with each part of the scene ? What is the message ? What is the information the scene should convey ? Each part of the sequence should only give one bit of information as clearly as possible. This comes into being thanks to setting and light. So we say: "this detail should be seen", so the light will fall on that detail and we will simplify the setting or organize the characters in such a way that the information will become crystal clear.
Mood and light then start to be considered. We suppress all that is superfluous. We remind ourselves of the fact that this part of the sequence will only last one second or two second and that one cannot see all that we had first introduced in that bit.
We simplify again. We have to always remember that we want to tell the story in the best possible way. We are here to tell the story before all, not to make the best possible images. Images must serve the story. They must be powerful but also interesting.
From there on, it's pure pleasure, which means, the storyboard itself. Paul draws more the characters in situation and I dress up the image, by completing the background that surrounds them (without disturbing the readability of the scene) and I add the light, the mood, by working on the blacks and the whites.
We both work on each and every part of the sequence. We sometimes also create some larger-than-usual drawings, paintings like images that underline the key moments of the sequence.
Finally, we call the directors to pitch the sequence.
We have often inherited of the musical sequences, that have no dialogue in them. This was where we took the most pleasure. We had a song as our guide that allowed us to achieve an almost choreographic work on the sequence.
It was what happened for example with "Hell Fire", a scene in which Frolo has this obsessive and ambiguous vision towards Esmeralda, a vision which is as much carnal as it is malevolent. The goal was to show, through this song, the fragility of a Frolo torn-apart between his love and his hate towards Esmeralda. This was a fabulous job, from an artistic point of view.
What were the artistic influences that penetrated your work ?
The artistic influences were not directly coming from previous Disney movies. There were more external influences, though. Thanks to Dave Goetz, mainly, who put us on the track of some sort of realism. Artists like Gustave Doré, therefore influenced our style. American artists like Howard Pail, Wyatt, did too with the kind of light they use. Apart from that, Victor Hugo himself through his wash drawings, that are very dramatic. Of course, following all those artists, we had a tendency to be too gloomy. That was the trap the movie could not fall into.
So we had to nuance our inspiration.
Isn't it very difficult, for a Frenchman to adapt Notre Dame de Paris as an animated feature ?
It is the easiest possible thing for a Frenchman. It belongs to us, in the sense that it inhabits us. It's gothic, middle-age, Victor Hugo and the powers of the emotions his work convey. His books are full of emotions and even before that of a stupendous background. There are full chapters aimed only at describing the background. You see that this is a crucial part of his works.
So we were very inspired by that and wanted to start drawing right away. However, later on, we had to adapt to the scenario, that was less bleak and pessimistic than Hugo's book (it ends well in the movie). There, the work was even more interesting. We had to find the correct balance between American lightness and French darkness.
And I think we all succeeded to reach our aim which was in part to shake away the cute atmosphere and create a very stunning mood.
What was the hardest part of your work on Hunchback ?
Without a doubt it has been the Cour des Miracles (Court of Miracles) sequence. The film makes clear that the gypsies are persecuted but at the same time, in the book, the Cour des Miracles is full of poor French men that rebel against the established Order. The gypsies weren't poor in the movie but had to rebel because they were persecuted. That meant that we had to rethink the Cour des Miracles, to understand what it would be in the movie.
It would become a hideout. But that meant a lot of artistic, scenaristic and moral problems. I think the result, which is a musical result is a very good one.
What was the most interesting sequence ?
I talked about it earlier on. We thought it would be censured, when we showed it to the directors, That is the "Hell Fire" sequence, the song of Frolo, alone in front of the burning hearth, dreaming of Esmeralda dancing. This is a mix between religion, nightmare, carnal desires which means a very, very delicate scene to handle. We tried to go as far as possible in symbolism. That seduced the directors and was approved. It was softened a bit. But people will probably talk a lot about it.
What were the biggest breakthroughs in Hunchback ?
First, you have the evolution of 3D technology in Hunchback. The crowd is a very important part of the movie. We couldn't animate all of them by hand. At the same time, we could not just forget the crowd in middle-age Paris, so it was computer generated. And you can not feel it, really.
For the first time, you have a screen that reacts, has emotions and is in fact computer generated.
Then, there are all the amazing effects with lights, stained glasses and the special effects it involved.
Who is your favorite character in Hunchback ?
Well I think I would choose Phebus. The heroic good guy. The animators and the voice of the character really achieved a beautiful job on this character. The voice is very British, very phlegmatic and he was perfectly animated by Russ Elmons who created a very sober character who has a real charisma. It is not the kind of shadowy, weak, uninteresting prince you usually get. Not at all. He is very handsome, very modern and has a lot of panache.
You really understand why Esmeralda falls in love with him.
Could you tell me a little bit about your next projects ?
Roy Disney asked Paul and myself to conceive the grand finale of the new Fantasia. We have already started work on this and we will settle in Los Angeles to complete a very ambitious work. The grand finale should be a truly amazing climax. It is a very important responsibility and we are very proud of it.
This sequence should be between 7 and 12 minutes long. We have to choose the music and create a story that stimulate enthusiasm.
Is there a big project you would dream to direct for Disney ?
Since we are talking of music, there is our big project of the Enchanted Flute by Mozart. It's a very old project, maybe too old now.
Our idea, in fact, would be to direct an animated feature based on a modern opera. It would not be a Musical, as ever but really an adaptation of a modern opera with classical rock music.
Was it difficult to work with the Americans ?
It is very easy to work with the Americans. You have to show them what you can do, then communication is easy. Moreover they give you time, which is crucial for an artist.
There are cultural differences, they do not like when a subject is too gloomy or too ambiguous, whereas, we enjoy messages with two meanings. The American public is also different, as it has a different sensibility to humor and is moved more easily. In France you have this tendency of being more cautious towards pure emotion, they are not afraid of pure emotion.
Some sequences that the American will like, like one of the comic sequences that feature the Gargoyles the French will probably dislike.
We would not have been at ease on funny sequences, as you understood. But give us a good massacre, a good fight, good suspense, and we are at our best. We were very inspired, for example by this very Hitchcockian scene when Frolo interrogates Quasimodo without showing that he is doing so. The Americans are much more skilled than we are for comic sequences.
What are your dreams for the future of Disney ?
More success, more evolution from movie to movie. Today everybody wants to do like Disney. But the studio that evolves the quickest is Disney. Disney leaves artists express themselves more and more and this is wonderful.
I hope also that Walt Disney Animation France, within two to three years will produce a whole animated feature. From the way things are going this will happen, since the artists here are really now as good as those in the US. They are asked to give the best and this is what they want and like to do.