With her awards-contending animated film Marona’s Fantastic Tale, director Anca Damian aimed to capture the world, as experienced by a dog.
In part, Damian says, the goal was to “get the perception of empathy and love without limits that a dog can give.” At the same time, the director adds, the film had a lot to say about human beings, who “have more dreams, more thoughts, more wishes, and more sense-blocking obstacles to feel real love and empathy for the world around us.”
Written by the director’s son, Anghel Damian, the GKIDS drama picks up with a dog after an accident, as she recalls all the masters she’s lived with over the years. For the director of Marona’s Fantastic Tale, the concept for the visuals emerged simultaneously with the script—connected fundamentally to the themes she was exploring and the story she was telling.
“I have also a background as a visual artist, so communication through visual language is very important, and it was very connected to the fact [that] the dog goes through three ages: childhood, teenage time and adulthood,” the director explains. “Each age has its way of seeing the world.”
Working with three production designers—Brecht Evens, Sarah Mazzetti and Gina Thorstensen—to bring the film to life, Damian’s intent with the designs for her human characters was to depict externally what each one experienced or embodied internally. “I feel that because dogs are usually in the here and now, [in] her way of seeing, you feel more the limits of the human being,” she says.
The Romanian director’s latest film was brought to life through a combination of techniques. “To enhance the subjective [point of view],” Damian says, “and also to enhance the space in the way we wanted to,” the director’s team built the film’s world with 3D tools and After Effects. Most of its characters were rendered in 2D, using TVPaint, while cutouts and hand-drawn textures were also added to the mix. “In my movies, each technique should be used at some moment, and enhance something. You should not be faithful to a technique; you should be faithful to the movie,” the director reflects. “The most important thing is the story we are telling.”
For Damian, the biggest challenge of Marona’s Fantastic Tale was overseeing a team of artists, who were all working in different places. “I didn’t have a lead animator; I didn’t have an assistant; I didn’t have a production coordinator. So, I had to give energy, and keep the unity, and also give references, give feedback, make them go beyond their limits,” the director says. “They didn’t really communicate with each other. It was only me keeping the whole [vision together], having in mind where we were going.”
What Damian wanted to spark with the film was a conversation about empathy, and how people relate to one another. “It is important for the world nowadays, because we give so much importance to how we succeed—about success, how we have, how we get,” she reflects. “But we don’t think about how we relate—that everything is connected, and that we should understand and love each other.”
For viewers of Marona’s Fantastic Tale, Damian hopes there will be several takeaways. “I hope that people will take the emotion, the joy and the humor, and also the philosophy of happiness, of [finding] happiness in small things, and the true values of life,” she says. “And of course, there’s a lot of beauty I wanted to [convey], and this paradoxical heart of life. Because we laugh and cry at the same time. There are a lot of paradoxes in the core of life.”
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