Director Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”) knew instantly that “The Little Prince” wouldn’t work in CG. The world was too delicate and tactile. He also didn’t want to merely adapt the popular novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. So he came up with a hybrid approach with stop-motion and CG to delineate storybook fantasy from reality in exploring the tender friendship between The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) and The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy).
“I had to do some creative experimentation to protect the book and use CG in a way that would help reflect some themes in the book,” Osborne told IndieWire. “And using the two techniques was one of those early ideas that everybody was intrigued by but nobody knew how we were going to pull off.”
Turns out that the key for the stop-motion was the use of paper to reflect the palpable texture of the novella. “The earliest shots that [Creative Director] Jamie [Caliri] did heavily inspired the way we lit the CG and the way we approached the CG, so it was definitely a benefit to the entire production,” Osborne said.
Onyx Entertainment in Paris and Mikros in Montreal handled the CG, while a stop-motion studio was set up in Montreal.
One of the challenges for Production Designer Lou Romano (formerly with Pixar) was the logistics of it all. And with a new family, he mainly worked remotely from the Bay Area. He relied heavily on Celine Desrumaux (Lighting/Color/Texture Design), Matthieu Gosselin (Set Design) and Bart Manoury (Character Art Direction).
“I think the area of the CG that I’m most pleased with is the lighting, where we were able to push things darker in areas,” Romano told IndieWire. “Bolder choices like high-key lighting, dropping detail away as desired, was something new for me. So we pushed it on this film. And Celine, who was in-house, was the guardian of that aesthetic, as was Mark.”
He added, “A couple of examples of this are in the first scene with The Little Girl (TLG), where she is being interviewed by the Werth Academy faculty. They are under-lit, she has a hard spot on her, her Mom is in the shadows and it’s lit that way to get to the feeling, what this Girl is going through emotionally.”
For Jason Boose, the CG animation supervisor, The Aviator and TLG presented a unique challenge design and animation-wise.
“TLG is a child that acts like a grown-up and the Aviator is a grown-up that acts like a child,” Boose told IndieWire. “We wanted to show this opposition graphically by having the Aviator tall and lanky, his spine curved forward and hunched over and his face long and rectangular, while TLG is very upright and alert with a round, quizzical face,” Boose said. “We even had their arms and legs angled opposite to each other. TLG is knock-kneed while the Aviator’s legs bow out. TLG’s arms angle out, the Aviator’s angle in. This contrast permeated every aspect — both emotionally and physically — in all their interaction with each other.”
When the story depicted poetic dreamlike passages from the novella, Osborne chose stop-motion to convey the feeling of the original story. Meanwhile, 2D artwork was a great way to introduce the audience into the world and by showing images from the book coming to life,
“For the ‘real world’ where we meet our main characters, CG animation was the best way to convey the subtle emotions and complex acting in the script,” Boose said. “What I take away from this experience is that it’s best to let the story drive the aesthetic. Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses and when story is at the center of all decision-making, you can’t really go wrong.”