[Interview] Making “Amnesty International: 50 Years”

Interview with Director Carlos Lascano

How did this project come about?

Lukas Skalnik, producer from Eallin Motion Art and a good friend of mine, had worked with Bill Shipsey from Art for Amnesty before and, by having Amnesty reaching its 50th anniversary, he and Bill came up with the idea of creating a spot to commemorate such a significant event.

Lukas and I had worked together before and when he called me to participate on this project, it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to do it again.

The idea was to show the work Amnesty International has been doing since it was created in 1961, and even if we were at complete liberty to write and design the spot as we wanted, we were supposed to build it up around the word “freedom.”

The schedule was quite tight for such a large endeavor and there was a lot of work to do, so after the script was finished and approved, I moved to Prague for as long as the project would take to work on a face-to-face basis with the team of animators at Eallin Motion Art.

Can you describe the overall concept of the video? How was it developed?

The story is told on a wall, which acts as a canvas and at the same time as a metaphorical (or not so metaphorical) division of two realities: an ideal one, and an — unfortunately — real one.

I developed the script with Paula Lema, one of my main collaborators, who also worked as a producer in this project. We did a lot of researching looking for episodes of the last 50 years of history that involved the suppression or attacking of the basic freedoms in which human rights are based: freedom of conscience, of speech, of religion, of opinion … Of course we came out with countless events, which was a bit discouraging. However, we noticed that most of those episodes turned out with some sort of positive outcome, that they had not been in vain: Human rights always seemed to prevail.

From there came the idea of turning the reawakening of freedom into the main narrative thread of the story.

Even if we used well-known episodes in the world history, we wanted to tell the story in the most metaphorical way we could. Still, the Carnation Revolution that took place in Portugal in the seventies was powerful enough as to beat the metaphor, and we kept the idea of representing freedom with a red carnation.

Some of the graffiti sequences remind me of the work from street artist BLU. Was he an inspiration for the project? Who or what were some of the other inspirations for this project?

Of course, BLU was one of the main aesthetic references I thought of when considering telling part of the story with graffitis: In the first scene I wanted to achieve something similar but with rather smoother movements, so the spectator would focus on the story without being distracted by the typical flickering of the stop-motion.

Basing on the idea of having a wall as a canvas, I also used other elements such as posters, shadows and objects that come to life and detach themselves from it.

Other source of inspiration was Banksy, and the first sketches were strongly influenced on his work.

However, when the artwork was further developed, I guess it naturally drifted away from the styles I took as inspiration and became one of its own.

Technically speaking, what was the most challenging part of this project?

From a technical point of view, the most complex stage was the integration of so many different animation techniques and their compositing over the real footage of the wall, for which we used many different methods: In some cases we tracked the wall with PFtrack and then imported the information into After Effects, while in others I shot the stop- motion sequences with Kesslerʼs CineSlider, which allowed me to shoot in stop-motion while performing a smooth traveling.

It was also interesting and challenging to keep an “aesthetic coherence” while working with so many techniques.

The whole spot has been a very “technical” experience, and it took much testing to achieve what I wanted and get to where we got.

However, the most challenging part was to create a dramatic tension that would move the spectator while lacking a main character with which to empathize. Thus, it was very important to work in the internal rhythm of each episode in detail, and I carried on several timing tests in the animatic before starting the shooting and the animation of the different sequences.

Of course, music had to be custom-made and had to play a main role in the storytelling, being a narrative element itself and not only an accessory to go with the image.

How did Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe get involved? What was it like working with them?

We contacted them through Amnesty International USA. Hans Zimmer has been an Amnesty supporter for a long time, which turned out great for me since he is one of my favorite composers! We worked from a distance, and Lorne and I had been in close touch during the last stages, trying to adjust certain emotion peaks between the visuals and the music that would strengthen the narrative idea I had in mind.

Music is usually an important element of all my works, and I think that in this spot it plays a prominent role. When working with symbols and metaphors, you need the music to complement the story and to bring and reinforce emotions that would be hard to express in any other way.

How did you come to work with Eallin?

Iʼve known Lukas [Skalnik] for a few years now. He and his team have always shown a great initiative and are always enthusiastic to collaborate in the developing of new techniques.

Their team of technicians and creatives is amazing and has always supported my will to experiment. It is quite hard to find a group of people that is zealous to spend time and energy in creating and exploring new things when you donʼt know how theyʼre going to turn, so I must say that at Eallin I have always felt to be among friends.

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

I have been working on my next animation short film for the last two years, developing new, more elaborate techniques and mixing different animation styles. Most of all, I am focusing on narrative and storytelling, since working in spots does not always allow me to work on the dramatic rhythm of the internal story as I would like to.

Hopefully, the short film will be finished and ready to be released by next autumn.

Interview with Eallin’s Lukas Skalnik

Eallin is based in Prague, right? Can you tell us a little about the studio’s roots?

Eallin was founded in 2000 as a production company focusing on animation and visual effects. By that time my colleague and I had been working in the field — we had been producers for both the standard commercial work and film productions, so we already knew how important it was to choose a suitable director to get a job. But in those days, there wasn’t much interest in animation directors here, even though the Czech Republic has a long tradition in film animation.

Most animated advertisements were made and produced by post-production companies, which had only limited access to the animation talent, so there were only a few creators here, offering roughly the same look. This was why we started approaching young directors and designers who agreed to let us represent them and to offer their talent for professional TV commercials. We founded Eallin, a production company specialized in animation and VFX, while also establishing our own post-production department. We began working with the talents in the same manner as film production companies, which gave us a competitive edge over the other post- production companies.

Today we represent a wide range of directors and designers from all over the world and we work on a local as well as an international basis.

In the end, our decision to build a future on creativity paid off and our bids of talented artists whose personalities matched individual scripts soon began to get us jobs. Since then, our company has grown to include our own 2D and 3D department, and I am convinced that, apart from having a great live-action unit, it is currently the best in character animation in the Czech Republic.

As you said above, Prague (and the Czech Republic) has a long history of animation. What’s the contemporary animation scene like?

Yes, Prague has a long history of animation, a tradition that had already began in the communism era and that managed to continue thanks to the schools and the people (mainly the authors) who teach there.

Here in Prague, there is currently a strong generation of directors devoted to animation, most of them in classical forms such as stop-motion and cartoon. Although the Czech Republic is a small country, we produce a wide range of feature and short animation films per year. There are also four film schools that teach animation techniques where young creators graduate every year.

In the last 10 years, four Czech animation films were selected for the Student Academy Awards, including the FAMU student Libor Pixa, whose work got selected this year.

Why did Eallin open a sister studio in Tokyo?

There were several reasons. For nearly 40 years, the Czech animation has been very popular in Japan. That is why we sold all of our short movies to Japan although they were never sold anywhere else. We have been awarded with many prizes in Europe, but it is very hard to find short film distributors here.

Our short movies had a big success in Japan and we started to travel there frequently to present our work in festivals and schools of art. On one of those occasions we met young local talents and we started to become interested in the Japanese art scene. Soon, Japanese motion designer Hisatsugu Kasajima began to be one of the key people in our company here in Prague. He worked here for nearly three years and when he was considering moving back home we decided to establish a branch in Tokyo.

Thanks to this, today we can offer to our European clients a conceptual solution in terms of Japanese aesthetics, which are exotic and popular here. And conversely, we are able to provide a Czech-styled animation in Japan, which is highly sought after there.

What’s next for Eallin?

Today, with almost 40 employes, we are able to profit not only from the local market, but also from foreign ones. We have a great talent pool, a skilled team for CGI and character animation, and huge experience in producing TV commercials on animation or mixed media, created with both classical technologies and entirely new techniques.

Currently we are also producing a 3D TV series, which is really a challenging work, with totally different production demands from TVCs or short films. Last but not least is the new short film by Carlos Lascano. Carlos is one of the most talented people we have ever met and his constant effort to mix various forms of animation is very close to our own approach. As he always tries to push the barriers in terms of animation and visual concept, it helps us to expand our skills in all production, animation, 3D and other areas of work. This short movie will be a fantastic example of what can be achieved when using classical animation with latest technology led by a talented creator.