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How Canadian Animated Feature ‘Snowtime!’ is Melting Hearts Globally with a Peaceful Message

How Canadian Animated Feature 'Snowtime!' is Melting Hearts Globally with a Peaceful Message

Wishing to entice audiences of all ages and backgrounds, the
majority of animated features produced by American studios deal with larger
than life adventures where stakes are high and reality give in to fantasy.
Characters are almost always charged with a dangerous mission that often
involves saving the planet from destruction or rescuing a loved one from the
forces of evil. But what is often ignored is the entertainment value in stories
that are relatable and closer to reality, while still being exciting and prime
material for animation.

Jean-François Pouliot and François Brisson‘s Canadian animated feature “Snowtime!,” which premiered in
January at the Sundance Film Festival effectively delivers a story about
children engaging in fun activities that are captivating in their own right,
such as a fun snow fight with a group of friends, and simultaneously touches on
emotionally complex subject that can evolve into conversation topics between
parents and children. Based on a classic live-action Canadian film, scored with
songs by some of the country’s biggest musical stars, and dealing with a young
boy overcoming grief through playtime, “Snowtime1” is an endearing and
humanistic alternative to the ceaselessly voracious tent-poles.

Producer Marie-Claude Beauchamp and co-director Francois
Brisson talk about making an Canadian animated feature based on a local classic
and how this new iteration is turning the characters into a global sensation.

Carlos Aguilar: Something that’s fascinating about the film is that is a story that allows children to be children and doesn’t place them in situations beyond their age. It’s still an exciting adventure but it doesn’t involved high stakes missions or otherworldly powers. Was that something that you were interested in showcasing in the film?

Marie-Claude
Beauchamp:
The film is a remake of a film that was produced 30 years ago. It was originally a live action film. The genuine value, and probably
the overall feeling of those kids being real kids, resonates because they were
once real kids. But when we adapted it for animation we kept some of that
charming reality of children. It was important to us that the children were
living things from their point of view, that it was real to them. So when kids
look at this film, and this why the film had a huge impact then and I believe
still today, they can see themselves in these characters. There are
not just cartoons representing things that are out of their reach but are
cartoons representing things that are so close to them in terms of subjects, feelings,
and emotions.

CA: François, what inspired you to get involved in the film? Did you also have a personal connection to the original version or did you see it as a challenge on a professional level? 

Francois Brisson:  This is a very classic film made
here in Canada in 1985. It’s a huge classic for us here in Quebec, so to be
approached to be a co-director in the film was for me a great opportunity and a great
challenge at the same time. We needed to tell the story, keep it universal, and also keep all of its charm, the
great storylines, and the tragedy that happens in the film. This was a great
chance for me to work on doing  that. We worked so hard to respect this classic
tale and bring it to the 21st century.

MCB: Yes, that
was an interesting challenge, to find ways to tell the story that children of
today would understand. Obviously we’ve changed as a society, here and
everywhere around the planet, in the last 30 years, so we had to adapt the film
to today’s point of view. It was not a direct transmission of the original, it
was instead a real adaptation

FB: What was also
great about is that, for example, when we went to Sundance the reception that
we got at the screening was the same as the one we got here in Quebec. We were
able to reach the same emotions in different audiences.

MCB: Even people who knew nothing about the original film. That was
quite a surprise to realize that what we knew could resonate here, also resonated with American audiences.

CA: Stylistically, the character design is unique in comparison to most CG animated features in the the U.S. Where this is specific aesthetic come from and what was the reasoning behind it?

FB: It came from
the art director Philippe Arsenault Bussieres, he’s been illustrating children’s books for a long time and
he has a very strong style, which kind of resembles stop-motion puppets in some
ways. We tried to keep that in mind and we also focused on the texture of the
characters. They feel very organic, you can see the texture sketchiness of the
etchings in the characters like in the wool that you see on the characters hats
and clothing. Also, what I often see in other animated films from major studios
is that they animated the same way, so we tried to stay way from that. We tried
to go back to the roots of the old classics like Bugs Bunny in some ways and
also stop-motion. The kids in the film are all wearing these big heavy suits,
so they can’t move the same way as if they were running with shorts and
t-shirts , so all that needed to be understood by all the animators.

MCB: Graphically
the challenge that we had was to make the cold feel warm because the story
takes place mostly outside and we didn’t want people not to relate to that
situation, so the way that the art director approached the drawings gave it a warm feeling. We didn’t want it to look real, because I
find it that sometimes real 3D looks a bit creepy [Laughs], so we wanted to
stay closer to cartoons or closer to 2D. Yet again, it is in 3D and the
volumes of the characters are real, but we had the softness and tenderness that
can come out of 2D thanks to the design.

CA:  War
and death as themes are treated in a delicate manner while not shying away from their significance. Were you concerned at all about including these elements in a film aimed at a young audience or did you feel children would be receptive to them?  

MCB: I would not
treat this lightly that’s for sure. We were very concerned about how we would
approach that. In the original live action film the dog dies and the reference
to Luke’s life is regarding his grandfather who died in the war. Because nowadays grandfather’s in a war, timing-wise, might not be a reference
that children can relate to much, we thought that reference could be more relatable
if it was his father. We brought it closer to the drama part. We also brought
it closer because we wanted for Luke’s character to find himself and to make peace with his own
sorrow. We also wanted him to overcome the death of his father once and for all now that he
has lived it in his own way. The subject is there and we strongly believe that
children need and want to experiment fear as success of all the
fantastic films has shown. They need to deal with fear and sorrow. I was raised
on “Dumbo” and “Bambi,” and when my own pet died I knew more about how to
deal with it because I experienced in my own way and I had shared it with my
parents. We are believers that films can serve for children to experiment
emotions just the way that we go into films and experiment emotions. Emotion is
good.

CA: The music in the film was created by famous Canadian musicians like Celine Dion
and popular band Simple Plan. How did these collaboration come about?

MCB: We have a
lot of good talent in Canada that are known around the world.  This film is a prestigious film for the
Canadian industry because we don’t produced very large independent budgets, so
when singers and great artist saw the opportunity for them to support the film
they joined into the proposal. They felt a relationship to the story, particularly this one being one that
they also cherished when they were kids. Celine Dion saw the film when she was
young and Simple Plan saw the film when their were young as well. Celine relates also
to this film through her children because she’s shown it to all of her family.
There is a sense of belonging and a sense of support, we are so proud and very
happy of these collaborations.

CA: What would you say is the state of independent animation in Canada today?

MCB: It’s an
industry that is growing. There is a lot of talent. Independent films are more
and more coming together but there are still only a handful of films that have
been made in recent years. It’s definitely growing.

CA: François, tell me about working with a co-director like Jean-François and what that mean in terms of division or labor or the decision-making process?

FB: Jean-Francois
was the director and he was more in charge of working with the voice actors,
but because it’s a big production we needed many eyes to see everything. He was
more in charge of that, and I was in charge of doing the storyboards, checking
the design, the layouts, the animation, and so forth. When he was away I was
busy doing certain things and vice versa.

MCB: It was an
amazing amalgam. They really worked hand in hand instead of it being a fiasco,
because having two people trying to make the same film can be complicated. But
we are very proud of how they managed to work together in such symbiosis

CA: François, you’ve worked on both 2D and 3D, which one do you prefer or what is the difference between the two as you create your storyboards and then transfer them into animation?

FB: I’ve been
working in 3D animation for a few years now, but my training as a 2D animator
is very useful because I can draw anything. Sometimes I feel I’m more
capable of storyboard better that way. I’m using a pencil and not a software.
Sometimes when you have the software you go too much into detail. You got too
much into the technical side of it so you get away from first impressions. When
you do a storyboard you need to go very quickly about it to get the feel of the
scene or the shot. For me, it’s perfect to do it on pencil or drawing on a
tablet. When we transfer that into layouts and the camera aspects,Jean-François makes it a breeze because he knows so much about camera movement. It worked
perfectly well. We had not issues.

MCB: You will probably notice that the
lighting is also very particular. Jean-Francois convinced the team about using a
backlight, which is rarely used in animation. It also adds to the feel of
closeness to the characters because of the way they are lit.

CA: Given that this is a Canadian production, was the film created in French first and then an English dub was created or what approach did you take?

MCB: We always say
that we did two original versions of the film, but basically the lip-synch is
based on the English version. It’s being release in the United States as an original
English version. There was no dubbing for the English-version. The actors you
are hearing are the same actors that helped inspire the animators throughout
the whole process.

CA: Were the voice actors involved in the film connected personally to the original film prior to partaking in this animated version or did they first have to get acquainted with the material at hand?

MCB: We had two
stars, Ross Lynch and Sandra Oh. Ross has had a relationship with the original
film all of his life, so he had a personal link to it. Sandra Oh, who is
Canadian and was raised in Toronto, also had an endearing
reference to “Snowtime!” The other actors were all based in Montreal, so they
new of the original film and they obviously embraced it. They were all adult actors,
we didn’t use any children actors.

CA: As “Snowtime!” melts hearts around the world, what is CarpeDiem, planning as a follow up? What are are some of  upcoming projects? 

MCB: Right now we
are financing a sequel to “Snowtime!” and we are hoping to start production in
the summer. We are also in production of a TV series that follows the
first-graders in “Snowtime!,” we call them our Minions [Laughs]. We developed
an app, there are records, merchandise in some territories, and three books in
publishing, so we definitely developed it as a franchise and will continue doing so.  We have also just opened
a “Snowtime!” museum exhibition here in Montreal, and it’s a traveling
exhibition. We are working with our distributor Shout! to bring it to the
United States

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