The animated series “Beau Is Afraid” turns things upside down
Director Aster and animation producer Jorge Cañada Escorihuela explain how they pulled off the final stop-motion hand-made look.
At the end of Ari Aster’s subversive Oedipal odyssey, “Beau Is Afraid,” Joaquin Phoenix’s neurotic man-child enters a woodland play as a momentary escape from his nightmarish existence. The 12-minute, mostly stop-motion series — aptly titled “Hero Beau” — joyfully conjures up an alternate reality of what might have been for Beau, free of his castrated mother (Zoe Lister-Jones and Patti LuPone) raising three boys. . a farm, survive a disaster, and live life to the fullest.
Directed by Chilean animators Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña (“La Casa Lobo”), the film is exquisitely hand-crafted with some set design by production designer Fiona Crombie (“The Favorite”), evoking an unnatural world that is symbolically as dreamlike as the rest of the movie. It serves as an emotional climax for Beau and provides impetus for his subsequent actions.
“The original plan was not to be animated, but strictly stage,” Aster told IndieWire. “He enters a world that is all flat and very artificial scenery that rotates and moves around him. Then I think we got nervous about how much we could actually build with the resources and time. So I decided, “Let’s do half this, half animation.” So the animated elements interact with these artificial, staged environments.
– Then there was the question of which animation house we should go to. I saw “La Casa Lobo”, this Chilean film made by Cristobal Leon and Joaquin Cociña. I was very impressed. It is truly a wonderful, frightening creation. It goes back to artists like (Jan) Švankmajer or (Ladislas) Starevich, what they did. But at the same time, it was like nothing else, just completely personal and unique.”
Aster produced their short film Los Huesos and talked to them about working on Beau Is Afraid. “I wasn’t sure if they would ever want to do something like that. I thought they would be upset with the idea of being in control because they are artists and make their own work. But I loved them, they were so sweet.”
Courtesy of A24
However, coordinating the animation turned out to be quite a challenge. The producers tapped VFX supervisor Jorge Cañada Escorihuela (“The Crown”) to serve as animation producer. He helped plan the practical shoot with sets and green screen, created the workflow that included shot listing and storyboarding, then assembled hundreds of assets from León and Cociña, which were assembled into discs using postvis.
“It was huge, very long, very hard to figure out how to do it,” Escorihuela told IndieWire. “Because Ari was mainly about getting that handmade look. Our main inspiration was (Karel) Zeman, who made “The fabulous Baron Münchausen”. Previously, he played with miniatures in the right perspective and camera distance to make the sets look huge but manageable. The challenge was how to make it look like it was built? Also, some of the animation ideas were painting characters or animals on top of the actual footage (Rotoscoping) or stop-motion animating certain elements, such as a pop-up house or silhouette, to get a collage of elements to help you think. about painting and volumetry as two different dimensions.”
Courtesy of A24
Aster called it a “very kaleidoscopic sequence” that needed to be cohesive and yet fit the aesthetic of the rest of the film. “That meant there was a lot of tinkering with him,” added the director. “There were these great sequences that were submitted, these beautiful animation elements that just didn’t work in harmony with the rest of the film. It was a long way to get to something that, at least to me, felt like it fit and didn’t just clash. Jorge kept everything on track as it was so complicated and required constant attention/control as we worked on the rest of the film.”
Stop-motion was the primary technique (both 2D and volumetric), using different materials and applications. This included paintings done on large canvases and then photographed at 12 frames per second, models sculpted and destroyed and then edited backwards, and paper flowers and trees grown in time-lapse photography.
“In order for reality to have some dimensions, we had to remove the volumetric and pictorial limitations,” said Escorihuela. “When we mix all these materials and techniques during our hero’s journey, it is very difficult to judge what is real and what is not, but also what dimension we are in for each stage and element. It certainly helps to understand the confusion of this world, which reinforces (Beau’s) feeling.”
Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.
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