HN: We would like to hear more about the film on the technical aspects. How did you make the puppets and what kind of material did you use?
CB: I think that the puppets of the children are about 20-22cm, and the puppets of the adult characters are around 40cm. One of the difficulties in making them was the weight of the heads. To solve the issue, we started to make the sculptures of their heads and did a 3D scan of them. Then we printed them with a 3D printer by using very light resin. So, the heads are very light and we put magnetic parts inside the heads: the eyebrows zone, the eye contour zone, and the mouth zone. We can make every expression with the eyebrows, eyelids, and the mouth by replacing each facial part and changing its position on the magnetic zone.
And another important thing for puppets is that the design is a bit simple and a little classic. For that, we did a lot of research on materials, what can be used for the clothes and all the skin elements, the arms, the head (which is not the same material as the skin for the arm) and the hair. We chose different materials for each of them and it helped us a lot in giving a quite realistic look to the puppets, even though the design of them is not at all realistic because of their big heads.
EC: The skeleton is made of different types of metal. Then there is foam latex, a material which gives the very rough shape of the different parts of the body. And then, there are all the clothes. All the costumes were made of different types of fabrics. There was a lot of research for the clothes. The arms were made with animation wire inside, a very bendable wire that never breaks, and it was covered with very soft and matte silicon, which is very good skin imitation. The heads with the 3D resin were painted thickly to give the style of what Claude wanted. The hair was made separately with dyed latex foam. It was not painted. It was dyed.
HN: What kind of things did you take care of in putting the puppet in action in front of the camera?
EC: These are two different things. Of course, we all work together, but all the camera work, and the acting with the puppet, are separate moments in the shooting.
The first step is, the lighting is prepared and installed by the camera crew, and they decide to place the camera according to the storyboard. Then Claude comes and checks them. I remember there were quite a lot of discussions in having the lighting to his liking and getting the camera angle he wants. Once everything is ready, everything is glued to the ground so that it doesn’t move and the animators come and prepare the puppets. And we, animators, discuss a lot with Claude and the chief animator. When everything is very clear about what the animator needs to do, the animator is left alone and animates the puppet. After the shooting, Claude, the chief animator and the director in photography, come back and check the finished shot.
These are the different steps in making one shot. So I concentrated on character animation and I think Claude took a lot of care in framing because he is very sensitive about that aspect.
HN: What sort of difficulties did you meet in the production process?
CB: The hardest thing was to share the time. Time goes very, very fast on a shooting. As Elie explained, there were different steps in preparing a shot and all the steps took a lot of time. You don’t need to rush all the steps, but the time for shooting is limited. You have to shoot a whole scene for the film in a certain amount of months. So you need to share the time among all the crews. Stop-motion is a very expensive technique, but we had a pretty low budget and didn’t have a lot of time for development, so we had to find a good balance in sharing the limited development time. For example, if you squeezed the camera crew to be ready sooner, but not by too much, but the animator cannot start the shot if the light is not really ready. It makes you have to start all over again. So I think the hardest thing in general was time sharing among the whole staff to find a balance of their tasks.
HN: You mean, you couldn’t have many retakes, right?
CB: No, we couldn’t. We do very quick rehearsals and iterations in shooting stop-motion animation, and we call them “blocking”. These are generally done in very short time, it only takes a few hours for a whole shot, even if it is very a long shot. But the specificity of my direction is that I like to take time for that. If it is 30 seconds of dialogue, I use 5 to 10 days to shoot the 30 or 40 second sequence easily. So, a re-shoot of one shot takes 10 days. A re-shoot brings catastrophe for the production because it makes a 2 weeks delay, and for one shooting it needs a lot of preparation.
HN: Did you do something special for the film, which you haven’t done before?
CB: I think maybe we didn’t try or learn anything new or completely different from all the other stop-motion films. I think the fundamental technique of stop-motion is the same, but every film has its style of visual, so that every film has a different way of using stop-motion. Even if we know stop-motion very well, I think we discover it again on every film. So my answer is not about making stop-motion new, but it is about how we adapted stop-motion to our film My Life as a Courgette. I think that it is the big thing.
HN: How did you work with the composer to have the best music for your film?
CB: Sophia Hunger is the composer of the whole film. In terms of the music for the film, I firstly decided the music of the end credits, which starts after a kite is removed. I chose one of her songs for that, which she composed years ago because I thought that the lyrics and the mood of the song work very well with that specific moment of the film. Then our producer suggested me to contact her to know whether she would agree to compose the rest of the music for the film.
When we contacted Sophia, we were at the middle of the shooting of the film, so we sent her a rough edit of the film, which included a bit of the storyboard, half of it being definitive images and shooting images, and the actual images for the film. She said okay immediately and sent us rough music that she had composed. I directly put them in the rough edit of the film as we were still shooting it. After the shooting was over, I spent 3 weeks in Berlin to work on the music with her. She finished the composition of the music for the film and we recorded the music with musicians in Berlin. It was very quick.
HN: What is your favorite part of the story and visuals of the film?
CB: I think it’s the time in the boys’ room, in the dormitory. The moment when Courgette and Simon say more-or-less “goodbye”, and when Simon passes from a feeling of violence against Courgette. For me, it’s really the key moment in the film where Simon becomes the real hero. There is a transformation in Simon and that is a turning point. I always had a really special relationship with the character of Simon.
HN: Do you have any films, animations or other forms which influenced you?
CB: Yes, the first, a French film Les Quatre Cents Coups, by François Truffaut, with Jean-Pierre Léaud as a young actor. Then Creature Comforts, the short film series by Nick Park, which plays with the difference between the image and the realism of the sound recording, inspired My Life as a Courgette. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the fact that the stop-motion is used really for everything in the film. And in terms of the design of the puppets, Jiří Trnka’s films influenced me a lot. And then two French directors, Catherine Buffat and Jean-Luc Gréco. They have a very original visual style and narrative universe that influenced me a lot.