Thursday, 5 November 2015

ANIMATION- part I


Finally we arrive at animation!

As soon as our models and rigs where ready to test, our animators, lead by the indefatigable Michel Rainbaud, started testing them.
We test the models for a number of different reasons: to find what faults there may be and how to fix them; to find the limitations of the model; to find the style of animation we want for the project; to find the essence of the character's personality.


                                                   Below Michel with the team working on the Yellowbird animation


This last one is of most importance as each character has to have an individual and different personality, mannerism, timing.
It is from the actor's voice recordings, the director's brief, the reference collated that we build the springboard from which each character is borne... But it's from the animator's creativity and skill that it truly comes alive.

Yet each animator needs to follow certain rules and briefs (both technical and creative) or we risk having characters move in similar ways, or gesticulate in similar ways, feel and look the same.
This is why we try and avoid generic gestures and try and impose an individual mannerism to each character.
At times characters in films are given to individual teams of animators, each team animating only one character throughout the movie in order to keep it consistant throughout. Yet this is time consuming and costly, so generally every animator will have chance to animate most characters and situations, whether they'd be an action scene, an emotional one, or even a crowd shot or generic character scene.

This variety of situation relays heavily on the animator's ability to be versatile and to understand swiftly each character, and to follow the briefs given well, while adding their own verve.

I had one main rule for Yellowbird: if it makes me laugh it's going in!

Within the parameters of the style I set, I wanted each animator to have fun, to explore the cartoony possibilities when possible, yet remain within the anti-anthropomorphic rules we had set early on.
Animals should move like animals, we should strive for realism but mix this with good old fashioned cartoon animation.
For this we needed models and rigs that allowed us to push the extremes when needed, but also responded well to life like bird movements.

A great help came from the ornithologist Guillem Lesaffre, who advised us on bird behaviour as well as the skeletal and anatomical construction in order to design and build models and rigs that reflected well how birds move in real life.

A lot of what Guillen taught us influenced the models and their movement, which mixed with my briefs, and the odd video illustrating how I'd want a character to move, act, how their mannerisms should be, gave the animators all they needed as a springboard to produce some of the finest animation TeamTo has created to date.

Below you'll see some of the early animation tests, testing rig and movement and also aimed at giving some personality to the characters at the start of the animation process.

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More animation posts to come soon!

 

Yellowbird models

A little insight into the 3D models of the film


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And a little animation test... Enjoy!

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Monday, 27 July 2015

YELLOWBIRD out on DVD!!!!



Hello all,

and apologies for the huge delay in delivering a new post- work has been hectic in the past weeks and there have been plenty of 
adventures at animation festivals, and lots of exciting news.

None more exciting than the DVD release of the film.

After a poor distribution plan, by the powers that be, there have been a few countries that have missed out on a theatrical release. 
The UK was one which I particularly ached about. There will be no cinema release for the film there, and I am still baffled as to why that is.

Yet the great news is that TODAY sees the release of the film on DVD and you can find it on Amazon for example.

Yellowbird @ AMAZON

or copy/paste the link below

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00XY6WCF8/#_swftext_Swf

Support your local wildlife- BUY Yellowbird!


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

MUSIC... part I

As luxuries go, being able to work the music into your film early on is probably one of the most important and rewarding.
As the editing process commences early with the storyboards and animatics we already have an ear as to what the rhythm and pace of a scene may be. This influences your music choice incredibly in terms of pace and speed, yet the main inspiration for the overall music style is the story itself. 

I found myself looking at the characters and the story itself to find the emotional chore of everything and I tried to imagine a soundscape apt for my ideas. 

Below is the original document I wrote explaining my first ideas, which was eventually given to Stephen Warbeck, the composer of the film before our first meeting.
In it I try to explain my ideas, my vision for the music, the style the instruments used, and the emotional chore of the concepts.

Beneath this I also include some input from Stephen himself, discussing some of the process behind creating the score of the film, with examples of the early demoes, and the finished music cues in order to see the progression from the early work to the completed pieces.

Enjoy!



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What follows is a small exchange between Stephen and myself as I try to understand his work process and how he arrives at the ideas that eventually create the final compositions...
CDV- Traditionally how does your work process start?
SW- VARIES ALOT - SOMETIMES AT THE VERY END, THE LAST PART OF THE PROCESS AND SOMETIMES AT SCRIPT STAGE…….
CDV- Where do you begin formulating the ideas that will eventually blossom from a thought, a tiny melody, a demo and then the full orchestration?
SW-I USUALLY FIND A PART OF THE FILM WHICH SPEAKS TO ME EMOTIONALLY AS MY WAY IN TO THE MUSIC. THIS IS NOT USUALLY AT THE BEGINNING, AND NEEDS TO BE OF MORE IMPORTANCE THAN A TRANSITION OR ACTION CUE. I WILL OFTEN WRITE TWO OR THREE THEMES BASED ON THIS MOMENT OR SEQUENCE AND THEN SEE WHAT HAPPENS IF I APPLY THEM TO OTHER PARTS OF THE FILM.
CDV- How was this process been different on Yellowbird, your first animated film, if different at all?
SW-THE PROCESS WAS SIMILAR IN MANY WAYS ALTHOUGH THE DETAILS WERE VERY DIFFERENT. IN THE CASE OF YELLOW BIRD, THE DEATH OF DARIUS WAS ONE OF THE KEY EARLY PARTS I LOOKED AT AND THEN THE SEQUENCE WITH THE VERY MISERABLE LONELY YELLOW BIRD ON THE ICE.
 Below we have 3 clips from the same scene surrounding Darius' Death: the first is the animatic  edited with temp music to match the mood and style wanted; this was then explored by the composer in the first demo produce (clip 2 already with pre-render animation) and developed into the full orchestral version seen in clip 3, with some pre-lighting pass on the animation.

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CDV- What are you're starting points, and where do you look for inspiration?

SW- ONCE THESE FEW IDEAS, USUALLY DRAWN FROM A SEQUENCE WHERE THE DRAMA IS MOST INTENSE, ARE ESTABLISHED, I WILL TRY THEM IN OTHER PLACES. THE INSPIRATION IS ALWAYS THE FILM ITSELF AND USUALLY PROVOKED BY EMPATHY WITH THE CHARACTERS.

CDV- As a composer you have to have a pretty varied and eclectic CV, yet you must have a musical 'style' is specifically your own; does this come from your own sensibilities and how you perceive each project, or do you try and focus more on a films' style and apply your concepts onto these?
SW- PEOPLE WILL TELL COMPOSERS THAT THEY HAVE AN INDIVIDUAL STYLE OR VOICE, BUT FOR US IT FEELS AS THOUGH EACH PROJECT IS A NEW AND SEPARATE JOURNEY. I TRY TO FIND SOMETHING INDIVIDUAL AND SINGULAR ABOUT EACH THING I WORK ON, WHETHER IT BE A COLOUR, AN INSTRUMENT OR A TEXTURE.


CDV- The film's story contains some very dramatic scenes, yet also very cute, funny and very child-friendly scenes? How do you begin to work a sequence as dramatic as Darius' Death, then move on to one as light and fun as the Paris scene?
SW- THESE TWO SCENES ARE GOOD EXAMPLES OF DIFFERENT APPROACHES - THE DARIUS ONE BEING EMOTIONAL AND BASED ON EMPATHY WHILE THE PARIS SCENE IS COMIC AND EVENTFUL. ONCE THE TONE HAS BEEN DECIDED (IN CONSULTATION WITH YOU, THE DIRECTOR) A SCENE LIKE THE PARIS ONE WILL NEED A TEMPO TO BE CHOSEN. THEN I WOULD OFTEN TREAT IT LIKE A TRACK, OR A SONG, WITH A STRUCTURE LIKE A PIECE OF POPULAR OR GYPSY MUSIC. THEN I WOULD BREAK IT UP AND RESTRUCTURE IT ONCE WRITTEN TO FIT THE EVENTS IN THE SEQUENCE.

CDV- You joined the project pretty early on, as we were still in the storyboard and animatic process; with the production lengths being longer than a live-action one, did you find the longer process easier to work with, or more tasking and stressfull?
SW- THE TIMESCALE DID NOT MAKE IT MORE STRESSFUL. I FOUND IT SATISFYING THAT THERE WAS A CONSTANT EVOLUTION OF FEEDING AND DEVELOPING IDEAS AND GRADUALLY SLOTTING THE MOCK-UPS INTO THE CUTTING COPY.

CDV- Can you describe a typical working day?
SW- BREAKFAST, COFFEE, COMPUTER, WALK, COFFEE, PIANO, LUNCH, COFFEE, MAKE MOCK-UPS, WRITE AT PIANO, ADJUST CUES TO RESPOND TO NOTES FROM DIRECTOR. WINE, DINNER, BACK TO WORK TILL ABOUT MIDNIGHT.
Below the excerpt from the animatics of the scene which once was a dream sequence (as described in previous posts I deleted this scene and changed the idea to a solo scene in which Yellowbird witnesses the love between the members of the flock as he flies into the nest to sleep) and which became known as the desolation of Yellowbird.
From the temp music used (from US band The Heart & The Thistle's song Rivers and Roads) I wanted a very melancholic feel to it, with lithe and ethereal vocals to it. As we could not afford the fee the US band requested Stephen wrote a new song swiftly, based on some lyrics I wrote, which then his daughter sang beautifully for the final version of the song.

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CDV- Having worked on the film for such a period of time, able to view and revisit some scenes more than others, how do you view the final cut of the film now that it is complete, compared to your original concepts?
SW- I WAS REASSURED THAT MOST OF THE FINAL CUES ARE EVOLVED FROM THE FIRST IDEAS, ADJUSTED AND CHANGED BUT RARLY TOTALLY NEW. THIS TALLIES WITH MY FEELING THAT FIRST RESPONSES CAN BE GOOD AND RIGHT.

CDV- As an animator and then storyboard artist I always try to find the 'rhythm' of a scene even before music is applied. All movement is rhythm, within a character's own actions, and in the impact these actions have to the scene the character interacts in and with.
Does the application of this 'starting rhythm' hinder your process or does it help find an avenue for your ideas?
SW- ANY SEQUENCE OR SCENE WILL HAVE ITS OWN RHYTHM AND ONE OF THE TASKS IS TO ATTEMPT TO FEEL THIS. IF IT IS RIGHT, THE MELODY ETC. MAY BE LESS IMPORTANT THAN GETTING THE PULSE CORRECT…...

CDV- I enjoyed the music process of the film extremely, as it was the first time I had worked closely with a composer. I found excitment in all the stages, from the first conversations, to the initial demoes, and finally to the recordings of the soloists, the orchestra and final mixes. I feel the music process had an impact on how I dealt with some of the images and scenes, and looking back on this I think I could in future try and begin the music stage even sooner.
SW- I TOO THOROUGHLY ENJOYED THIS COLLABORATION AND I WOULD SAY THAT THE EARLIER THE COLLABORATION STARTS THE BETTER.

CDV- Is there anything in your experience you feel you would do differently, or anything you may apply differently if scoring another animated film?
SW- I FOUND THE PROCESS VERY SATISFYING, THE ONLY PROBLEM WAS THE MONITORING IN THE ROOM WHERE WE LISTENED TO THE MUSIC - I WOULD IN FUTURE TRY TO ENSURE BETTER CONDITIONS FOR HEARING THE MOCK-UPS/DEMOS. ITHINK WE COULD HAVE TRIED TO MIX A COUPLE OF SEQUENCES (LIKE THE PARIS CHASE/FIGHT SEQUENCE) IN A WAY THAT MORE CLOSELY MATCHED THE ACOUSTIC OF THE GOGOL BORDELLO SONG.


CDV- What was your favourite experience on Yellowbird? Favourite scene/moment?
SW- TOO MANY TO SAY - MAYBE SEEING THE FULLY RENDERED IMAGES FOR THE FIRST TIME, SITTING ALONE VERY LATE AT NIGHT WRITING YELLOW BIRD'S SONG, OUR MEETINGS IN PARIS.


CDV- And is there something specific you'd like to add to the post about your work?
SW- I WAS ALWAYS IMPRESSED BY THE ACCURACY AND SPECIFIC NATURE OF YOUR NOTES. I FELT THEY WERE 99% RIGHT, AND AS A RESULT THE PROCESS WAS CONSTRUCTIVE AND POSITIVE, (TRYING TO MODIFY WORK TO APPLY A NOTE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND OR AGREE WITH, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS MASSIVELY DIFFICULT).
……..LET'S WORK TOGETHER AGAIN! 
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Below images and clips from the two recording sessions, one in London at Air Studios with the soloists, the other at Galaxy Studios in Belgium in a small town called Mol, near Bruxelles. 

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 There will be further music posts in the following weeks as we approach the animation process and final editing and mix processes.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

DELETED SCENES…

… Or how storyboard & editing combine to make necessary, yet sad, cuts to the film.
One such necessity was a charming and funny scene between Karl and a new character, the tarot card reading Astromancer and soothsayer Nutria.
This was a difficult choice to make, as the scene and it's assets where the first to go into production, therefore the model of the character, 
props and the set were the first designs to be built and to go through lay-out and then animation.
Yet when I was looking at ways to make the film shorter, and to streamline the first act in order to make the flock take off for their migration sooner, 
the Nutria scene started to look superflous.
It definitely helped establish Karl's character better, getting to know his personality and motivation much earlier, but the information the scene was passing to the audience could have been given in a simpler and more straightforward way.
Nutria scene comes immediately after Karl finds out that Autumn is coming and that the flock should start getting ready for the journey ahead. 
Karl swoops to the top of the tree to have a brief chat with Darius and ask why he's always the last to know these things. Darius makes a little joke about Karl having a sixth sense, and he should have known already.
This prompts Karl to go and visit the fortune teller, Nutria and have his moss read, in order to know if the migration ahead will go well for him. 
Nutria is played by the ever reliably funny Cedric Yarbrough, who gives us a water rodent who's cunning yet appears scatterbrained.
Their exchange is around 3 minutes yet to me remains one of the funniest scenes in the film.
The decision to cut it from the final edit was necessary though as I felt we need to push the main story forth more, and reduce the amount of time between the flock realizing Autumn has arrived, and their departure.
As a 'road movie' we could not spend over 20 minutes of the film still in the bird's home tree, we needed to get them up in the air.
Below you can see the entrance to the set Nutria's Den, which is located under the tree in which the flock live, on an little isle in the middle of a stream. 
This was one of the first texture and light passes on the set.
As well as the set there is the colour model of Lucille, a tertiary character who comes to have her palms read after Karl has had his tarots read.
Below her you see Nutria's model: one of our few furred characters.




 
Here are a few clips showing the progression in the set lighting as well as the caustic pass, showing some light effect created to simulate the water 
reflecting on to the cave's walls.
 
 
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In the following clips you'll find my brief to the animators, a montage of some mannerism I wanted the character to have, one of our only characters who we allowed to move a little more anthropomorphically, with some references from various films: I wanted the character of Nutria to be natural animal movement combined with elements from Billy Crystal's crackpot soothsayer in The Princess Bride (copyright Act III Communications, Buttercup Ltd,  20th Century Fox), Italian comic Toto` in the film Miseria e Nobilta` (copyright Carlo Ponti, Dino De Laurentis, Excelsa Film) from director Mario Mattoli from omonimous Napolitan theatre play by Eduardo Scarpetta,  and Warick Davis as Willow (copyright 20th Century Fox) attempting to perform a magic trick.

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 The above clip is the second pass of the whole Nutria scene in storyboard format. As you can see the scene did not vary a lot from the rough storyboard drawings, with the animation blocking pass and some of the following steps in the previous clips.

Friday, 17 April 2015

EDITING... part I

On an animated film editing is an often changing beast. 
As a story artist I often find myself being the first editor of a scene or sequence, cutting being one of the tools in the story artist's and storyboarder's kit. Yet being able to cut a scene, chose the best camera options, give a sequence pace and rhythm does not make a storyboard artist an editor.
For that you need the ability to have an overview of the whole story, it's arch, the character's drives and motivations, track the emotional core of story and character alike, pulling, tugging, ordering and reordering, adding, taking away, shaving, trimming and at times roughlessly cutting away at what will eventually become the final film.
Editors impose form, structure and logic and what they chose to take away is as pivotal as what they chose to keep.
As director and main story artist on Yellowbird a lot of cutting and reordering was part of my daily work, from script to the voice recordings I often found myself trying to play around with the scenes, the order of dialogue, tease out the best possible scenarios, words, beats and gags.
Yet I could not have done this, and the rest of the work without the aid of the wisdom and calming presence of my editor Fabienne Alvarez-Giro and the hard work of our first editor Cedric Chauveau.
For those of you who don't know, in animation the editing of a film is done firstly on the animatics.
At its simplest, an animatic is a series of storyboard panels, edited together and displayed in sequence with rough dialogue, at times recorded by the storyboarders themselves as the actors have not been involved yet, and/or rough soundtrack added to the sequence of still images to test whether the sound and images are working cohesively and effectively together.
A scene can be worked and reworked dozens of times, new voices added, lines of dialogue changed, then the actual actor's voices added; it is a very organic process and prone to many changes.
The animatic process can be a fairly long one as each scene is slowly put together, through storyboards, then sound, then cleaner and clearer drawings, until a final cut of each scene and sequence is achieved and finally approved by all: director, producers, and even distributors and investors.

In the 3 images below you see screengrabs for the ToonBoom Storyboard PRO project of scene33 of the film.
Yellowbird arrives at a beach in Holland and is struggling with his conscience, his heart split between wanting to tell the flock and Delph the truth about his deceipt, and the blossoming affection he is starting to feel for Delph.

I previously edit all recorded audio performances by the actors into a sort of radio play, picking out of the numerous takes the ones I prefer, or go best together, in a fluid, rhythmic way even. Sometimes splicing together different takes of the same line to create the perfect one.

Once a scene's dialogue audio track is constructed we export the files as WAVS and import these into ToonBoom. The ability to use the audio when storyboarding greatly increases the power to find the true pace and rhythm in a scene: it is from the actor's performances that you find the character's true emotions and are able not only to draw the expressions and poses needed to emote these, but also to fit everything into a fluid rhythm.
I often cut to the rhythm within the dialogue, a rhythm created in assembling the recorded dialogue. This is a luxury that in live action you do not get, but in animation is absolutely necessary to grasp the accents needed to animate characters succesfully.




It is only after the film is fully completed in an animatic form that lay-out, pre-vis and then animation can start. Storyboarding and editing these into a video-board is the cheapest and simplest option to see if the story and characters work as a whole. If these are not finalized you risk putting into animation scenes which may be cut later, and this is a producer's nightmare as the expense of a 5 minute fully animated and rendered scene greatly outways the cost of a 5 minute animatic.
Though it is not only money that drives animated films to spend so long working on the storyboards and animatics: seeing the whole film as a storyboard on a screen, moving and with sound is the only way to judge if it works, and pursuing all the various avenues a scene, a character, a beat and the story can take is the only way to know if you have made the right choices.
Fabienne helped me immensely in to finding out if the choices I had made were the right ones, and below she explains a little about her work on Yellowbird, and her experiences as editor.
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FG- I became involved in the project as it was half way through, which was not a problem for me. On the contrary with a fresh look at the story and characters, I was able to suggest improvements to certain elements of the storytelling, some of which were taken into account.

The way I work is always the same for all the scenes: I first need to understand its point, the psychology of the characters and the way they interact along the way. Once I’ve immersed myself fully into it, I feel at ease to breathe freely with the characters, to suggest what I feel would work best in terms of scene construction and rhythm, so that each scene can show its best colors.

A film has to be considered as a whole, even if that whole is made up of multiple parts of various intensity and nature which must all contribute to the overall narration flow.

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The above images and the excerpt of the animatic are storyboarded by the greatly talented Julien Perron, who was introduced to me by one of my producers and is currently working at Illumination McGuff, Paris.

CDV- Your resume` is quite ecclectic, from documentaries to live action films, TV series and animated features. Do you feel you bring a particular style to every project you are involved in, or you adapt to the style of the project and director.

FG- The directors I’ve worked with for many years tell me that they can recognize my style. Though I could not define it, it may have to do with the way I let the scenes breathe, my tempo and a kind of classism. To work in all kinds of genre is never a problem, on the contrary it’s quite refreshing to edit different types of programs such as fiction, documentaries, advertising and animation. I feel lucky to have that opportunity.

However I have to say that editing an animation film is always a unique experience. My first time was with Didier Brunner who called me to work on “the Legend of Kells”, and my first impression was to think that there was little to none editing to be done on an animation film.

At the time I was far from imagining what working on the «animatic» entices. An animatic is like pattern to a couture dress, for an animation film, it’s the backbone of all the animation work done on the film. I was far from imagining how much freedom there is at that stage, where one can modify a scene with a pencil, transform the background as if with a magic wand, or modify a scene structure with a couple of sketches. However once the scene is locked at the animation stage there is very little room for change left. It’s always very exciting to have that ability to change significantly the course of a movie, as we did when we moved the “Christening” scene of Yellowbird in the African tree, giving a more upbeat end to the movie thus giving more sense to the whole adventure these birds had just been through.

Yet my favorite scene in the movie is the one set in the shipwreck. This entire sequence feels great thanks to the perfect balance reached between its mood and its rhythm.

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Here you find Fabienne's piece in French, its original form.

Arriver sur le projet en cours de travail ne m'a pas posé de problème particulier. Cela m'a permis de jeter un regard neuf sur l'histoire et les personnages et d'être en mesure de faire des suggestions pour améliorer certains aspects de la narration. Certaines ont été retenues, d'autres non.

Pour moi la méthode de travail, quelle que soit la scène, est toujours la même: bien comprendre la situation, la psychologie des  personnages et les interactions entre eux au moment donné. Après cette  immersion, je me sens le plus libre possible pour respirer avec les  personnages et proposer tout ce qui me semble judicieux en termes de  construction et de rythme pour que chaque scène donne le meilleur  d'elle-même, quelle que soit sa couleur.
De toutes façons je vois toujours le film comme un tout où certes se  succèdent des parties d'intensité et de nature différentes mais qui doivent toutes contribuer à leur niveau au flux narratif global.

Des réalisateurs qui travaillent avec moi depuis plusieurs années  disent qu'ils reconnaissent mon style. Je ne saurais pas bien le définir mais c'est peut-être dans un rapport à la respiration, au tempo et à une certaine forme de classicisme. Passer d'un genre à l'autre ne m'a jamais posé aucun problème, c'est une forme de  rafraîchissement de l'expérience du montage que de pouvoir l'exercer dans des domaines aussi variés que la fiction, le documentaire, la  publicité et l'animation. Cet éclectisme est pour moi une chance.

Cependant travailler sur un film d'animation est toujours une expérience particulière. 
La première fois qu'on m'a proposé de le fa ire c'était lorsque Didier Brunner m'a appelée pour travailler sur "Brendan et le secret de Kells" et ma première réaction avait été alors de penser qu'il n'y avait pas de montage sur un film d'animation (ou presque pas).

A l'époque, j''étais loin d'imaginer ce que constitue le travail sur  un animatic,  qui est le "patron" (comme en couture) du film à venir et la référence pour tout le travail d'animation qui va se faire ensuite. Loin d'imaginer également de quelle liberté on peut profiter tant que le travail en est à ce stade et que les modifications se font en quelques coups de crayon et permettent de transposer d'un coup de "baguette magique" une scène d'un décor à un autre ou de modifier sa structure avec une grande fluidité alors qu'une fois que l'animation sera lancée on ne pourra plus faire de changements qu'à la marge. Cela donne toujours une sensation d'excitation et d'euphorie que de pouvoir ainsi modifier significativement le cours du film, comme cela a été le cas lorsque nous avons transposé la scène du "baptême" de Yellowbird dans l'arbre africain et que nous avons ainsi contribué à
dynamiser la fin du film et à lui donner son sens véritable au regard de l'histoire que venait de vivre cette bande d'oiseaux.

Je pense que mon moment préféré du film est tout l'ensemble de séquences du Shipwreck. Toute cette bobine est particulièrement réussie du point de vue de l'atmosphère et du rythme.