Directed by celebrated animator and filmmaker Rémi Chayé and produced by Sacrebleu Productions (Oscar®-Nominated Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage), Maybe Movies (Oscar®-Nominated Ernest & Celestine) and Norlum Studios (Oscar®-Nominated Song of the Sea), France 3 Cinéma and 2 Minutes, LONG WAY NORTH won the coveted Audience Award at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and the winner of Grand Prize and the Governor of Tokyo Award at Tokyo Animation Festival 2016. This captivating animated adventure, bolstered by emotionally resonant storytelling and visually exquisite hand-drawn animation, has continued to attract universal acclaim as it enchants movie audiences around the world.
A spirited and inspiring tale of hope and courage, LONG WAY NORTH is the feature directorial debut of lauded animator Rémi Chayé (first AD and head of storyboard for Oscar®-Nominated The Secret of Kells, The Painting) and tells the story of a young heroine, persevering through a physical and emotional journey to find her explorer grandfather and his lost ship, the Davai.
See it in cinemas this week:
New York City
Village East Cinema
Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena
Laemmle Monica Film Center
Edwards University Town Center Irivine
Beginning this Friday, October 7
Santa Fe, NM – Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe
Loft Cinema in Tucson, AZ
Opening on October 14
San Diego, CA – Media Arts Digital Gym Cinema
Portland, OR – Regal Fox Tower Stadium Cinema
Angelika Pop Up
AMC Hoffman Center 22
AMC Potomac Mills
*Detroit, Austin and openings in additional cities to follow beginning October 21.
Q&A with Director Rémi Chayé regarding Long Way North
What have you been doing up until this first feature length film?
RC: Since childhood, my passion has always been comics. I learned how to draw by immersing myself in the work of Moebius (Major Fatal, The Incal). After a year of studying math, I entered an art school in Paris, ESAG Penninghen. They were teaching old-school drawing. I stayed only two years instead of five. I wanted to work as soon as possible. I started as a sketch artist and storyboard artist for commercials and then as an illustrator for educational books. I also worked on comic books.
I learned animation on the job, through many different gigs. For example, I was a clean-up artist for Bruno Le Floc’h’s storyboards, a “gentleman of animation” who has unfortunately passed away.
Then I worked with La Fabrique, a studio created by Jean-Francois Laguionie in Cevennes, France. There I learned layout with Jean-Louis Garcia. Layout is a very interesting though little-known part of the animation process that consists of technical and artistic preparation of each shot, drawing the background and preparing the animation. We were working on a series of Jules Verne adaptations. I had drawn ships for AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. Laguionie saw them while he was working on BLACK MOR’S ISLAND and hired me as a layout artist for it.
One day, Jean-Francois Camus stopped by La Fabrique and told me about the learning opportunity at La Poudriere animation school in Valence. Two years later I found myself studying again at age 36 in this amazing school and learned how to direct animation.
Coming out of La Poudriere animation school, you became first assistant director for THE SECRET OF KELLS, the gorgeous film by Tomm Moore.
RC: They were looking for a French person to balance the French / Irish co-production. I spent two years in Ireland. I realized fully what a feature-length film was, how it is to have a team working over several countries, etc. It was an amazing experience.
Then, it was ELEANOR’S SECRET by Dominique Montferry. Then THE PAINTING, where you worked with Jean-Francois Laguionie again.
RC: Yes, I had the luck of working on numerous diverse projects with very different directors.
I learned a lot with each one of them.
How was the LONG WAY NORTH project born?
RC: In 2005 I met Claire Paoletti who was teaching courses in screenwriting at La Poudriere.
She had a project for a feature-length film. At that point, it all fit on one page; a young girl of the Russian aristocracy leaves to find her grandfather who is lost on the ice. Not long before that, I had read the logbook of Ernest Shackleton and a few other books about his extraordinary odyssey. Shackleton had prepared an expedition to cross the Antarctic from sea to sea. But the ship got caught in the ice during an early winter. They survived 22 months in extreme conditions. An incredible human story.
So when Claire told me about a ship caught in the ice, I got excited. I also really liked the idea of making a film that takes place in the 19th century. I am very interested in this century’s history, period films, Jules Verne novels, Gustave Dorée’s etchings or Daumier’s lithographs. I like paintings of the Barbizon school. But also the 19th century Russian painters, for example Répine, who paints like a god. There is a gallery in Moscow – the Tretyakov Gallery – where I had the occasion to go several times and where you can see magnificent paintings of this era. Anyway, her project had all the elements to interest me. We started exchanging. We were sending each other movies, books. I was sending pictures; she was sending me her texts.
To start the project, find a producer, get financing, we had to produce something like 40 or 50 different presentations, laid out with texts, drawings, characters, illustrations of the scenes or atmospheres of the film.
Had you already made the visual choices of the film?
RC: It came really slowly in fact. My drawing style is rather realistic but for the animation, you have to simplify. And this search for simplification took time. At first, I was rather influenced by the style of KELLS and then I went away from it. One day, I started removing the outline of my drawings and only kept the color fills. I saw right away that it was the right direction.
Did the script evolve a lot?
RC: Yes, after the first draft. Through CNC (National Center of Cinematography and the Moving Image), Claire Paoletti enlisted Patricia Valeix as a writing advisor. Patricia brought so much to the story that she became co-writer. We brought on a third screenwriter, Fabrice de Costil, who rewrote the story with a different angle: the quest became the ship. And the key to find this ship was the grandfather. From a tragedy, we were creating something positive.
How did the production go?
RC: At Annecy festival with Claire Paoletti in 2008, we met Ron Dyens from Sacrebleu Productions and worked with him to find financing. Henri Magalon from Maybe Movies (ERNEST & CELESTINE) arrived later on to rewrite the script. On the 2012 Cartoon Movie forum our three-minute teaser managed to involve France 3 and Canal +. Norlum, the Danish studio, joined us in 2013 for a French-Danish co-production. At this point, it is a 100% European production, 90% French. We insisted that this film should be made locally in France. We formed a studio in Paris on rue de Charonne with 15 layout artists, 20 animators, and 20 cel painters, male-female parity with equivalent positions. This was also really important to me.
The graphic style of the film is very peculiar. It’s all made of color fills, at times almost abstract. Does this raise specific problems?
RC: Of course. This choice makes things rather complex: a hand or a face only made of patches of color makes for a different way of drawing.
The animators worked with lines, as usual. But the cel painters – the ones who finish the drawings and give them their final appearance, the one you see on the screen – had to reinterpret the animators’ drawings by keeping only color fills. Our team was very talented and motivated. It was exhilarating.
But the ship is in 3D.
RC: Yes. What interests me is the emotion. I want animators to spend time on the characters’ emotions. I don’t want them to spend time tracing details or pulleys. That’s why the graphic style is so simple. No buttons, no laces, no folds in the clothes. So for the ship, the train, the dog sleds, the carriages, we made 3D objects.
How was this ship conceived?
RC: At first I took my inspiration from the Endurance, Shackleton’s ship, thanks to the marvelous pictures by Franck Hurley, the photographer of the expedition. The problem is that it’s a “three-masted barquentine” that functions with 40 people, which was way too many to animate.
In Valence, I happened to have met Sébastien Godard, an animator fascinated with ships. He alternates between periods where he works for animation films and periods where he is training to be a ship’s carpenter. I asked him to conceive a ship that could function with a dozen of people. From a sketch found in Sweden on the building site where he worked, he created a “brig-schooner” that became the Norge. He adapted it to the requirements of the production – by adding a steam-powered propulsion to it. He put all his energy into it as a real professional.
A little girl saves her family honor, a surly innkeeper becomes nice, a man saves the life of his brother… We meet a beautiful gallery of characters!
RC: It’s the strength of Fabrice de Costil. He’s the one who created Olga and the brotherly tension between Larson and Lund that didn’t exist in the first version. This brings a series of conflicts in which Sacha finds her position.
Fabrice pushed the characters as far as he could. He tried many things and observed how it works. Does it create fertile situations and in our case, does it bring Sacha where we want her to go, and what does she take from it? What interested Fabrice was that Sacha learn something about humanity from this adventure. As opposed to her grandfather’s obstinacy, he wanted Sacha to realize the importance of group cohesion.
For the ball scene, we think of the THE LEOPARD by Visconti.
RC: It totally makes sense. We took our inspiration from it, for the décor, the colorful ambiance and even for the staging. We looked at it many times with the story-boarders.
Did you work with a team of storyboard artists?
RC: Yes, it is one of the specifics of animation and one of the reasons why I think of this film as a collective auteur film or as a collective film of auteurs.
To make an animated film, we start by what we call an animatic. It’s a draft of the film. A filmed storyboard with voices, music, background noise. Since animation is expensive and takes a long time to make, we want to lay it out as close to correct as possible, as the editor Benjamin Massoubre says “in animation, we edit before we shoot”.
And to do this, we sketch many scenes very quickly, we try things and we edit them.
Here, I mainly worked with Maïlys Vallade and Liane-Cho Han for the storyboard and Benjamin Massoubre for the editing.
It was a fascinating time where we really went deep with this film, back and forth with Fabrice de Costil on the script.
Later during the making, Maïlys came back to do the animation while Liane-Cho was supervising it all. He oversaw the French and Danish animation teams, the cel painter teams and the layout and posing team – the step specific to the characters in the layout.
More specifically, he put together an economic way to animate and brought the maximum emotion to the characters with the fewest drawings possible. It’s this technique that allowed us to make the film in France with this budget. The film owes a lot to his incredible energy.
In the credits, there is also a color artistic director, could you explain to us how things work between a director’s vision and an artistic director?
RC: For the teaser it was “my” graphic style. But after, for the making of the film, you hire a lot of very talented artists. They take a step towards you to adapt to your style, and you take a step in their direction to make it evolve.
Patrice Suau is one of these talents who arrived later and started making the film evolve. He is an artist with an incredible understanding and talent for color. He figured out the technique that allowed us to make the decors on time. And he redefined the graphic style of the film using 40’s American railway companies’ posters, very simple with saturated colors.
About the music, why this English song for Sacha’s departure?
RC: I wanted to work with Jonathan Morali, the songwriter for Syd Matters, a French pop band that sings in English. Once we knew for sure we would be working with him, we exclusively used the music of his discography for the animatic. Benjamin, the editor, added this song when Sacha is running away and it worked really well. On top of that, the lyrics are not really far away from how Sacha is feeling. Jonathan agreed to let us keep it in the film in addition to the original music he composed. From the beginning, the idea was to create a musical contrast, without imitating the Russian ambiance or “adventure film” music. The pop folk direction of the soundtrack is completely acknowledged.