Wednesday, March 6, 2013

'Daily Battles': Artist/Director Interview (Part 2)

Beatrice Coron's Daily Battles:
Interview with
Artist Beatrice Coron and Filmmaker James Stewart
Part 2

Still of Scene from Beatrice Coron's Daily Battles
Animated 3D Short Film Directed by James Stewart
Image Courtesy of Geneva Film Co.

In Part 1, which posted earlier today, I introduced the wonderful immersive 3D film Beatrice Coron's Daily Battles, directed and produced by James Stewart. The 6:30-minute film, the trailer for which I included in Part 1, premiered at the TED 2013 Conference in Long Beach, California; it will be screened this coming weekend at the DC Independent Film Festival, U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center, where it also is the subject of a Masterclass with Coron and Stewart ("From Papercutting to 3D Filmmaking — A Collaboration Between Two Artists") on Saturday morning, March 9.

This post, Part 2, features my interview with the director and artist, who graciously took time from their busy schedules to speak with me. Our interview was conducted by e-mail. 

Maureen Doallas: How did you meet? What about that initial introduction prompted a desire to collaborate?

Beatrice Coron: We met at the TED 2011 Conference in Long Beach, where we were both speakers. I've always liked animation, and I'm always open to collaborations. [Listen to "Beatrice Coron: Stories cut from paper", March 2011, TED.)

James Stewart: I spoke that year [2011] about storytelling in 3D and when I saw Beatrice's talk, I was amazed [to think] what 3D could bring to her art. Her papercutting is mostly thought of as flat but the spaces between the stories allow you to see through the work. What you fill into this depth is up to you, the audience. I imagined light, shadow, and layers of depth and what [all those] could do to help tell her story.

MD: What is the source of inspiration for creation of the papercuts? Was the subject of long-standing interest? A mutual interest?

BC: The inspiration is my frustration at daily life. It seems there is always a dragon to slay, a kingdom to be won, a Holy Grail to find. The metaphors abound, and I started cutting Daily Battles to explore them. I win some battles but the war is never over.

MD: What factored into your choice of this particular artwork to animate?

BC: I thought immediately of Daily Battles, as it was, in my mind, a universal theme.

JS: We met in New York City and discussed what would be a good story to tell. Daily battles have humor and a fun darkness that I thought would be interesting to explore.

MD: What were your respective roles as collaborators during the film's production?

BC: Daily Battles was already made as a papercut. Scanning the papercut, I then re-created it as a digital film in Illustrator to create a vector file that could be used in production. James would consult with me from time to time to discuss the stories and what each window represented for me. As the animation developed, we collaborated to get a sense of what was working, to know what I like or would prefer.

JS: It was very important for me to be honest to the work Beatrice had created. I didn't want to simply do an animated film based on her characters. I wanted the viewer to get a feeling of being able to lean into her work and get a sense of magnificent depth while still seeing the cut-strokes of her craft.

MD: How long did the project take from conception to completion?

JS: We talked on and off for a year, then production started in the spring of 2012. We initially played and experimented with different backgrounds and [eventually] moved into the style you see now, that is, in full stereoscopic 3D. Silhouette animator Kennedy Zielke created the movement and the transitions that move the story from one scene to another. Matthew Hemming then added the magnificent colors, depth layers, and the 3D compositing.

Still of Scene from Beatrice Coron's Daily Battles
Animated 3D Short Film Directed by James Stewart
Image Courtesy of Geneva Film Co.

MD: What were your most significant creative challenges in producing this particular film, and how did you resolve them?

JS: The biggest challenge was telling the story in a way that did not change the original meaning of the artwork. When you look at a painting or, in this case, Beatrice's papercut work, you can read the story in any order you want. It is a nonlinear abstract tale of medieval fighting. I wanted to preserve her voice while adding a 3D re-imagination to it.

MD: What does 3D storytelling achieve that cannot be effected through a more traditional film narrative?

JS: 3D is a more immersive, visceral way to touch an audience. It demands that the audience participate in the storytelling. In this story, we are able to surround the audience with the visual as well as the soundscape.

MD: What are some of the steps involved in translating 2D artwork into 3D animation?

JS: The first step was spending time with the artwork to understand the stories it has hidden within it. We then created a path that incorporated as many of the stories as we could. Adding depth to the canvas was the fun part. Creating a background and tone for each scene that expressed the scene and the humor of it was a fulfilling part of this project.

MD: What did you learn while making this animation that you did not already know from other collaborative projects?

BC: I create movement in still images, and this captures a moment, but I rarely write down a particular story. It is like a theater stage, where you can set different stories each time you look at it. This collaboration expanded my view of how to tell a story with elements other than visuals. I was particularly struck by how powerful music can be when associated with images. And by how different music can completely change the perspective. [Simon Edwards was responsible for sound design for Daily Battles.]

MD: The press release for Daily Battles describes it as an art film about a work of art and a "trailblazer". What makes Daily Battles a trailblazer?

JS: I was one of a small group of artists who created the digital 3D art form in 2004. This was five years before [James Cameron's] Avatar [2009] popularized it. No artist has attempted to re-imagine physical artwork in 3D in the way we have. Like Clouzot's Picasso film [Le mystere Picasso, 1956], it is rare that a filmmaker gets the chance to collaborate with such a great artist. And it was 3D that brought us together!

MD: What's the message you hope contemporary audiences take away after seeing the short?

JS: Art can have many forms, and you never know what you are going to see in a work until your imagination opens up. My hope is to show audiences what some of the mind's possibilities could like like if captured on film. From a silhouette on paper to a 3D film, what you take away from a work of art is up to you and your imagination.

MD: What, if any, future collaborations do you envision?

BC: We hope to make a feature film version, and I'm thinking of developing a new paper-cut story specifically for the movie. It's a big step!

JC: We are creating a longer story, and I am looking forward to seeing it created in paper. From there we could bring it to the world as a longer narrative, with characters that start on paper but then come to life. It will, of course, be in 3D and push the silhouette art form even further into new territories of storytelling.

* * * * *

The remarkable artist Beatrice Coron, based in New York City, creates intricate worlds with scissors and paper, speaking through "the language of silhouettes". Born and raised in France, Coron's work includes illustration, book arts, fine art, and public art. She cuts her signature silhouette designs in paper and Tyvek; she also creates work in stone, glass, metal, rubber, stained glass, and digital media.

Coron's work is in a number of major museum collections, including those of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and The Getty in Los Angeles, California. Coron's public art may be found in subways, airports, sports facilities, and other venues.

Sought-after, award-winning director James Stewart, founder of Geneva Film Co. in Toronto, Canada, has produced more than 30 projects in digital 3D, including cinema commercials, concerts, stop-motion, and CG animation. A director, storyteller, artist, digital innovator, and multi-platform visual designer, Stewart's work ranges from mobile to giant screen, from motion graphics to stereoscopic 3D installations. In addition to the experimental short Beatrice Coron's Daily Battles, Stewart's recent projects include the stop-motion film Foxed! [trailer], Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Ontario 4D for the Vancouver Olympics, and live 3D concert films of Montreux Jazz Festival and Kylie Minogue. In 2012, Stewart produced the world's first gesture-controlled 3D cinema game for the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3. Stewart has been a five-time speaker at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Follow Stewart on Twitter.

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