I’m delighted that Old Fangs, which has been making the rounds on the film festival circuit, is available in its entirety online. The character designs and matte paintings are gorgeous, but what drew me to this film was that it made me nostalgic for watching short films in a theater setting – where the colors wash over your entire field of vision, the soundtrack completely envelopes you, and for an extended moment you are focused solely on the story of a young wolf gingerly seeking out his father. At over eleven minutes, it’s the type of film that might get scrubbed through amidst other internet windows, but I encourage setting aside a quiet moment to let the story unfold.
Old Fangs was directed by Adrien Merigeau and Alan Holly (who work together as and maps and plans) and created with the help of Cartoon Saloon (of Secret of Kells fame). Adrien and Alan were gracious enough to take the time to answer a couple questions about Old Fangs… check it out after the jump.
How did the project come about?
Adrien: I was working for a couple of years on the feature “The Secret of Kells“. I had moved to Ireland for that. I stayed in Dublin before heading down to Kilkenny and met Alan there. A year or so later I got aware of a scheme that the Irish Film Board have for funding short animated films. It’s really great, perfect for 7-8 minute films. So I wrote a script based on an illustration idea I had, used some designs from my unfinished college film and applied for the funding with the help of Cartoon Saloon’s producer Ross Murray. We didn’t get the funding the first year, because the script i had written was too vague… I had left a big chunk of the film out because it was supposed to be experimental and spontaneous. So I tried to put it into words the next year and we got the money then. That was summer 2008.
I asked Alan if he’d do storyboards with me and we started in Berlin where I was living at the time. We both moved to Kilkenny again, and eventually we directed the whole film together there, in the Cartoon Saloon studio.
The Sundance description mentions “Merigeau and company set out to create a hierarchy free-environment, in which all creative forces are free to do what they feel is best. What results is a film that looks and sounds like all their friends.” Could you describe the creative process a little more? sounds like a lot of fun!
Alan: From the beginning we both really wanted the film to be spontaneous and for everyone involved to have an input in the project. There was a first-thought best-thought approach where almost everything that ended up in the final film came from someone’s first pass, there was very little reworking or labouring over things. I think everyone was really on the same page and so the whole production was really smooth. We worked really closely with a lot of friends on the film, from the animation to the music and acting. Everyone was encouraged to draw the characters or play the music their way or just to act as themselves, as opposed to doing things a specific prescribed way, so that the end result is a combination of everyones individual inputs and not something that could have been made anywhere.
Adrien: Yes we didn’t do model sheets for the characters or anything. The characters are pretty simple anyway so it was easy for the animators to draw them their way. It’s great to see animation bits looking and moving like their animator. For the voices too, Alan did a voice, our friend Rhob did another, and Paul Young, and John Morton. It won’t come across for most, but Old Fangs does move and look and sound like us, a lot. It’s like a memory of who we were and where we were at a specific time.
The layouts for a lot of the shots are so dramatic, almost like panels from a graphic novel. Was storyboarding a big part of the process?
Alan: We did the storyboards with a lot of live action films in mind, we were thinking quite realistically and just worked through the boards really quickly and what we did that week is what you see in the film.
Adrien: Yes we worked through them quite roughly and spontaneously, but our influences were a lot about strong compositions, like the works of Gus Van Sant, Yuri Norstein, Klimt… not to be pretentious, ha, but low key timing and framing were really important to us when we did old fangs. Also the work we did on the Secret of Kells naturally influenced us towards flat and graphic compositions.
How did the character design and style come about?
Adrien: I never got to finish this college film which was terribly frustrating. But the main theme and designs i really cared for, so a lot of that went into Old Fangs. The characters shapes are simple, but the animation is very quiet which gives them somewhat of a realistic feel I think which is nice. The choice of having animal characters made sense for the story, especially the theme about growing up away from your roots. For the backgrounds, we did everything on paper with coloured inks, and it was really great not to do much computer work on them. Overall, the style came naturally from how we like drawing.
How was working with your parents on the sound? I love the contrast between the voice acting in the boys vs. the father.
Adrien: Ha. Working with my parents was great, both very natural and very strange. We couldn’t really tell them what to do, because well, its hard to tell your parents what to do. And we also wanted them to work like everyone on the film, just for them to do what they felt was best. So we gave them simple directions at the start and they gave us the finished track at the end of the production. They had a lovely approach to the writing, they made the sound effects a part of the musical composition, and they were quite good at it because they come from contemporary music, so sounds are what they do best.
Alan: Paul Young did a really nice job for the father, he brought some experience and drama to it, which was a nice contrast to everyone else’s low key performances, we treated his voice a little too.
Obligatory nerd questions: what tools did you use? how long was the entire production process?
Alan: basic stuff, pencil, paper, inks, then Photoshop, After Effects and Avid, thats pretty much it.
Adrien: and it took about 10 months from storyboards to the end of the edit. We were a bit tight with time though because the film ended up being 11 minutes instead of the production budget’s 8 minute plan. But it was pretty smooth overall.
What are you guys up to now?
Alan: We’re working on a new short now which is great to be doing again. It’s over a year now since we finished Old Fangs so it’s going to be really nice to work with the same team again. We’ve just set up our own studio, and maps and plans, which we launched with a music video for a friend of ours Jennifer Evans. We’d been chipping away at that on the side for a while so it’s going to be great all work full time on a properly funded production again.
Adrien: Alan’s film is funded by the same scheme, only the tables are turned now and the film is his story and script. It’ll be really cool, I can’t wait to start production. I’m also working on Tomm Moore’s next film called Song of the Sea as art director which is really interesting.
Upcoming screenings of Old Fangs are available here, including Toronto, London, and Sweden. Big Thanks again to Adrien and Alan for giving us a peek into their process!
Lê Quan Ninh
Sean Mc Carron