Tito and the Birds
(Status: in production)
Tito is a shy 10 year-old kid living a normal life, hanging with his two best friends, struggling with the popular kids at school and his neurotic mother at home. After the fright epidemic breaks, Tito sets out on a search for the antidote. He finds out that the cure is somehow related to his father’s research – which was focused on the songs birds sing. His father is an inventor who had to leave home when he was 6 years old: something that we see in the beginning of the movie. Tito’s search for the antidote indirectly becomes a search for his missing father and for his own identity. Part action, part drama, Tito’s journey is at once an uplifting and insightful adventure about a boy fighting to find out what is right and to learn how to overcome his own fears.
Tito and the Birds
Direction: Gabriel Bitar / André Catoto / Gustavo Steinberg
Animation director: Vini Wolf
Script: Eduardo Benaim / Gustavo Steinberg
Producers: Gustavo Steinberg / Daniel Greco / Felipe Sabino
Studio: Split Studio
Soundtrack: Ultrassom / Binho Feffer / Gustavo Kurlat
Target audience: 6 to 10 years old + family
Length: 75 Minutes
The International Animation Film Market (MIFA) was held from 15th to 17th June 2016. For 2016, MIFA had 2,800 pass-holders (a 4.5% growth over 2015) and attracted 370 buyers, distributors and investors (a 1.5% increase, compared to 2015). During MIFA, pitching sessions were held for feature films, short films, TV series, specials, and transmedia. 35 projects were selected from the originally submitted 400 projects.
Among the selected projects, Tito and the Birds, a feature film in production, was presented on 15th June. The film is about a little boy and his journey to save the world from a “fright epidemic”, in which people start to become sick if they are suddenly scared. We sat together with Gustavo Steinberg (co-director, executive producer and co-screenwriter) and Daniel Greco (supervising producer) to hear more about the project, why they chose “fear” as a theme and decide to tell it from the viewpoint of children, and how they are developing a story, characters, and visuals, that people can relate to.
Interview with Gustavo Steinberg and Daniel Greco
Start of the project
Animationweek (AW): How did you two decide to work together?
Gustavo Steinberg (GS): We actually met here in Annecy. Daniel was the production supervisor for Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury, which won the Crystal Award in 2013. Luiz Bolognesi, the director of that film, said to me, “This is the guy that solved all my problems”. Then I said, “Okay, give me your card (laughs)”, and this is how we started working together.
AW: How did the project start?
GS: It started with the idea of a film to present fear as a concept, but from the point of view of a child. How do we communicate with kids about fear in a fun way? That’s the origin of the project. We came up with this idea of a fear disease, which is basically what happens throughout the film, people are getting this disease when they are suddenly scared. So basically Tito, the main character, will have to find a way to cure this disease. We think it’s a nice way to talk about fear in a fun adventure for kids.
AW: Is fear something that you were interested in as a subject before you started the project?
GS: As a human being, I am very interested in fear. I think it’s something that is very present. Nowadays I think we are living in a particularly scary world, even though fear has always been present. This is because things change all the time and it’s not only violence, but everyday life is also quite scary. I have two kids and I want to tell them something meaningful.
AW: What part of the project did you find interesting?
Daniel Greco (DG): I think there is a message. It’s a story that needs to be told and I was really attracted to the subject and for the sophistication of the artwork that was being done. It was a challenge to do a film with such a deep message and with sophisticated aesthetics, but it was really attractive for me to get into it.
Development of the story
AW: How did you develop the story and characters from your initial idea?
DG: We started with the main character, Tito, and then developed from there. We started thinking what kind of friends he would have. He has a very good friend from school, and we also came up with the idea of his other good friend who is the son of his ex-nanny, and they were brought up together. This is something very common in Brazil, to have a nanny who also has a son. You could have a good relationship with the nanny’s children. Then, this nanny was sent away but he kept in touch with this boy. This is not very common in reality, but it’s a film, so it should be fine and I think it’s important as a message, too. We moved on building all the other characters: the father, the mother, and the villain. We had long discussions of what kind of villain we wanted to build. I wanted to have a villain that was not like a cliché villain, but a more realistic villain.
In the end we decided that the villain named Alaor is the owner of the biggest media network. He’s not like a typical villain who says things like, “I’m so evil that I want to conquer the world!” He is not that kind of villain, but simply just wants to be making money. It’s interesting because at the beginning a few people criticised our choice of having a villain who is very realistic. Usually kids need a villain that is more clichéd. With the tests that we ran with kids, the kids can really relate to that because they clearly understand from a very early age that the power of money can sometimes cause corruption.
Development of visuals
AW: How did you develop the visuals?
GS: We started developing the characters a couple of years ago, but even now we are still developing them. We are quite close to the final look of the film. It has been a very long process of researching different perspectives and aesthetics. We have a very big influence from the expressionist movement because if you want to talk about fear, the backgrounds and the settings have to help you tell the story. So everything is a little distorted, but not too much. Also, with the camera work in certain parts of the film, everything is going to move in a very specific way.
DG: We are now in pre-production. The art department is taking the concepts of the film to production design, and then they return it to the art director. We are really happy with the results. We are still trying to find ways to be able to animate that kind of look.
AW: You already mentioned a little bit about how you developed the characters. What are the personality and characteristics of each character?
GS: Every character has a trait that I like and dislike. We tried to build the characters as multi-dimensional as we could. Tito, the main character, is very shy at the beginning. Then, he goes through a change from being shy and a controlled kid, to a hero. We based the whole story on the classic structure of the hero’s journey, so he has to be pushed towards his adventure. His mother gets infected, his best friend disappears, and his father has left home when he was very little. He has to go out and do something.
I love Sara, for instance, who is one of Tito’s best friends. She is a super-active girl, very nice and strong. She is always pushing around the other characters. Then, there is Teo, who is Tito’s enemy at school. He’s the cool and rich kid, and the son of the villain of the film. He plays a big role in the film. This is because Teo is a key to find a solution for the problem of the film. Tito will have to convince Teo to get on board on his adventure, because he will need Teo’s help.
We have planned all this in order to have a message that you need the help from other people, even though they are supposed to be your enemies at first. I like all of the characters, even Rosa, who is Tito’s mother. She’s very over-protective and quite hypochondriac, but I like her because she’s always tense and represents many people who are always afraid of the dangers of the big city. The dangers are not necessarily there, instead they are all in your head. Each character represents something. We’ve tried to get all these characters together to come up with the whole story.
AW: Did you develop the characters collaboratively, or is it coming from one person?
GS: It’s me and Eduardo Benaim, the co-screenwriter. We also get creative with the whole team. This is my first animation and I quite like the process, because it’s quite collective in a way. You put the drawings there, add the voice, and then people say what they think, like, “Oh, no, maybe this could be this way” or “Maybe this is not working.” The director of animation also collaborates with the story. Everybody is giving input, although I have the final decision. I try to be as open as possible. I’m 42 years old now so it’s much easier to make a movie when you’re over the age of 40. You can be like, “Okay, maybe my idea is not that great, somebody else’s idea can be better than mine.” We are being very open when people give input.
DG: It’s a very collaborative environment for the movie.
Difficulty and challenges
AW: Is everything going to be done in Brazil?
DG: We have distributors in Brazil, but we are open to negotiate the international rights for distribution. We have half of the money that we need. We either need to find more money to complete the production in Brazil, or we can find a co-producer who would do part of the animation.
AW: Could you please tell me any difficulties or challenges that you had or you are facing in the project so far, if you have any?
GS: Every single day is a challenge. Our biggest challenge right now is to get the story right. We are really advanced with the visuals and the art direction, so we are now focusing on story. We just put up a teaser for the movie with animation tests that we ran. This was a challenge, too. There are still things that we want to explore, especially vehicles and props. We are still in search for the right aesthetic. We might go 3D, but this is another thing that we are looking at to see how it’s going to look. For now, we need to make the story right as we are going to start production with this version of the story.
AW: When are you expecting to release the movie, if everything goes well?
DG: The beginning of 2018.
GS: Release could be more towards the second semester after we get everything ready, which depends on the window to find a good time for a release, but it will be in 2018.