Lady and the Reaper Director Talks About Acclaimed Short and Oscars

One of the Oscar frontrunners in the Best Animated Shorts category is Javier Recio Gracia’s clever, fast-moving and hilarious toon The Lady and the Reaper, which also took home the Goya Award (the Spanish Film Award) for Best Animated Short this past weekend in Spain. We recently had the chance to interview the talented young animator about his whirlwind year and the making of his CG-animated mini-masterpiece, which is co-produced by none other than actor Antonio Banderas and his toon studio Kandor Moon.

Animag: Your short tells a highly original story about an older woman’s battle with a proud doctor who is determined to keep her alive by any means necessary. Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of his project?

Gracia: About two years ago when we were producing The Missing Lynx at Kandor Moon, the partners of the studio had a terrific idea, to make a short film prior to producing our next feature. They wanted to test the studio’s ability to produce a feature length 3D film of world-class quality and the short would be a great way to do some R&D. Any member of the team could submit an idea to be voted on by the whole group. Mine was ultimately chosen and because I had some notion of narrative storytelling given my experience as a storyboard artist on The Missing Lynx, I was also offered to direct it.

Lady and the Reaper

How did you come up with the unusual storyline?

Gracia: At about the same time this was happening, my grandmother was slowly dying. It gave me reason to look around and think about the ways in which the elderly spend the last few days of their lives; some alone, or others in a hospital unnecessarily extending their agony. I thought it would be good idea to tell a story that would speak humorously and at a frantic pace about the idea of death with dignity.

Animag: How long did it take you to produce the short?

Gracia: It took us about a year and a half from first storyboards to seeing it completed on the screen. A year and a half for eight minutes, that’s the extent of the sacrifice that’s required, not always by the whole team, but that’s how we did it; relatively staged.

What kind of CG software/tools did you use to do the animation?

Gracia: This was our last project using 3DStudio Max. We’ve moved to Softimage XSI for the next feature.

The main characters from Lady and the Reaper fight over the recent Goya award they picked up in Spain.

Why do you think the short has attracted so much attention?

Gracia: Well I think it entertains viewers. There are over 100 shots stuffed into those eight minutes. Also on Internet blogs and forums I see people talking about death with dignity more than I expected, so clearly this is a subject that people want to speak about.

Were you surprised by the Oscar nomination?

Gracia: Perhaps with the exception of James Cameron and some other Hollywood heavyweight, everyone is surprised to be nominated for an Oscar. In my case, given that this is the first Spanish animated film to be honored has surprised us even more. Sometimes I stop to think about all this, and I can’t believe it.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and work in animation?

Gracia: I’m a storyboard artist, so my experience is really just limited to this piece. I can tell you though, that as a first time director, my biggest fear was that the plot wouldn’t connect with the audience: It’s not enough to make something that you and your team like; but at the same time, I wanted to stay true to my own tastes. I get a kick watching people enjoying the film at festival screenings.

Lady and the Reaper

How many people actually worked on the short?

Gracia: At the studio, counting the team at the art, animation, lighting and other departments, about 25 people. Although many more more people outside the studio have worked and continue to work in other areas to make it possible for the short to be in Hollywood, and other international venues.

What are you working on next?

Gracia: At Kandor Moon we are producing Goleor, a feature film directed by Manuel Sicilia and produced by the same team that did The Missing Lynx and The Lady and the Reaper; Antonio Banderas, Manuel Sicilia, Juan Molina, Enrique Posner, Ra’l Garc’a and Antonio Meliveo. It’s the story of a young man in medieval times who has to defy his father’s to pursue his dream of being a heroic Knight. What’s funny and charming is that at first glance he seems like the most unlikely person to succeed. Still he remains true to his dream and pursues it relentlessly. In a sense this is the story of Kandor, a small studio stuffed away in Granada, Spain that you might not have initially thought could get as far as it has. It’s a story that I think many of us can identify with.

Who are you most excited about meeting at the Oscar ceremony?

Gracia: Quentin Tarantino, no doubt. For me he has always been one of the great geniuses of American cinema. I love his use of black humor, and the freshness of his films.

Javier Recio Gracia

Who are some of your animation idols?

Gracia: Not counting Goleor, who has yet to show himself to the world, there are many from Disney who kick started this industry all the way to John Lasseter at Pixar who helped pave the way for animated storytelling with a more adult profile in mind. But most of all I admire Brad Bird, director of true gems such as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and the beautiful Ratatouille I think he’s one of the best directors around.

What kind of advice would you give newcomers who want to make it in the animation field?

Gracia: It’s a world that requires much sacrifice, but there’s nothing more rewarding than the opportunity it affords you to work as a team and see how a theater packed with people enjoy your work.

For more info about Gracia and his Oscar-nominated short, visit www.theladyandthereaper.com