Illustrator and artistic director David Polonsky chats to Movies.ie about this year
Now in Irish cinemas is the harrowing and beautifully animated feature from Ari Foldman “Waltz with Bashir”. Based on the helmer’s own experiences, we follow as director and team attempt to recall those long repressed memories of the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacre in Beirut. A hit at Cannes and already a major contender for the Oscars, Movies.ie spoke to ilustrator and artistic director David Polonsky about the film, its influences and how animation is nolonger just for kids…
Q: How did you get involved with Waltz With Bashir?
“I’d worked with the director Ari Folman on another project – a documentary series called “The Material That Love Is Made Of”. When Ari saw how he could work with animation, he approached me with this idea and he asked me to work with Yoni Goodman. It was a massive undertaking and my first full length animated feature film – I couldn’t pass up that opportunity…”
Q: So the film was always intended as an animation project?
“Yes. When Ari approached me for the film, he explained that he wanted to deal with his experiences in the war but that he felt that telling them in the typical way wasn’t good enough – he wanted more than the interviews of men against a background, telling stories from 25 years ago with very little archival footage to back it up. And animation offered him a fresh way to tell the story.”
Q: Tell us a little bit about the animation process behind “Waltz with Bashir”?
“With “Bashir”, time and money were an obvious factor, so when it came to the animation process, we had to be a little creative. We couldn’t afford to use traditional (cell) animation or CG. So we were divided into two teams. Myself and three other artists were responsible for drawing the images and these images were than broken down into smaller pieces and we had a team of animators to manipulate them. Yoni (Goodman) came up with a technique of using Flash and Photoshop in a very complicated way; it’s called cut-out animation – similar to how “South Park” is animated but in a more extreme form.”
Q: Where you at all nervous; approaching what, for some, is still a delicate issue?
First and foremost, I think the film is far more of a personal statement from Ari than a political one. We concentrating on memory and he reconstruction of Ari’s memory, which in many ways, is why the animation works so wonderfully here: it allows you to delve into those surreal aspects of the mind in a fresh way.
Q: And how has the film been received in Israel?
“I think we’d expected some accusations of Leftism but actually, the response was far better. And again, I think that’s mainly to do with the fact this is an animation and seen as artistic – it has escaped those traditional right or left wing casts.
Q: Where did you look for inspiration? Where there any particular films that influenced “Bashir”?
“I’m not sure if I’d say I was influenced by any particular films. I’ve heard people suggest “Persepolis” and “Scanner Darkly” however I wouldn’t say they were conscious inspirations when I was working on the film. Visually speaking, I think I was most influenced by German Expressionists, such as Otto Dix and watching the film again, I noticed some Japanese influences coming through.”
Q: You mention those films (Persepolis, Scanner Darkly). Animation, in its traditional western format, is usual designed for comedy/children. With this in mind, do you think that the nature of animation is changing – becoming more accepted in mainstream cinema?
“It’s something that’s been happening for a while now – the medium has really changed. Personally I track it back to “The Simpson” – that was the first real animation which was targeting adults. Maybe it’s a case that these people who grew up with cartoons are becoming adults and filmmakers and they are using a medium they are comfortable with. It’s hard to tell, but it’s definitely happening. It’s no longer something just for kids.”
Q: The premise of the film sees Ari go and interview various friends from the war in an effort to remember. Many of these friends feature in the film as themselves – did this present a challenge?
We called them the “talking head” sequences. We filmed the actual interviews with the men telling their stories. We then used the footage to understand their body language and mimic the most important expressions. One challenge was just how different the men looked some twenty years on. So for continuities sake, we made the men look like older versions of their younger selves. The voices of the friends in the film were his real friends, but two of the people were re-enacted by actors because they didn’t want to be in it, the rest were Ari’s friends, or people he reached through research for the film.
Q: The film isn’t pure animation, because there is one scene with video footage – what was the idea there?
That was Ari’s idea and it was there from the beginning. I was initially nervous about going from animation to archive footage but seeing it, it makes sense. We wanted to make sure people didn’t forget that we are dealing with a real lives, a real life event. We’ve made a surreal and stylisted picture and the scene with the wailing women just highlights, in a rather blunt way, this isn’t cool. We wanted to drive the point home – there is nothing cool about war.