The animated short New Moon, which is directed by Jérémie Balais, Jeff Le Bars and Raúl Domingo, has been wowing audiences since it premiered at the Outfest LA festival a few months ago. Adapted from the play A Boy and His Soul, written by actor-writer-producer Colman Domingo (Zola, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), the beautiful 2D animated short tells the story of a young boy and his mother who sit on their West Philadelphia porch and talk about their hopes and dreams under the new moon.
Colman and his husband Raúl Domingo wrote and produced the poignant screenplay together. Raúl was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his short, which is one of the 15 titles shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short:
Animation Magazine: Can you tell us how you decided to adapt Colman’s play into an animated short?
Raúl Domingo: We started working on New Moon in June 2020, during much upheaval and uncertainty in the world. We felt like we had to do something to contribute to the healing of our collective humanity, no matter how small it was. The idea of adapting Colman’s play A Boy and His Soul crossed our minds before, but then, the timing felt right to tell this sweet story of a Black boy and his mother, their love and how it never goes away. How music transports one above immeasurable difficulties.
We adapted a small fragment of the play, finished the script and asked our friend Matthew A. Cherry [Hair Love] for advice. He thoughtfully guided us to watch some examples of animation and to seek out collaborators — letting us know that there wasn’t one perfect way to approach this collaboration. The collaboration will be solely ours. After doing research online we found two very talented animators from Lyon, France: Jeff Le Bars and Jérémie Balais of Gibbons Studio. We contacted them and started working together on this project that would become New Moon.
Why did you think animation would be a good medium to tell this particular story?
In A Boy and His Soul — a solo play about his life — Colman depicts all the characters, including his mother, Edith, and himself as a child. When I first saw the play in 2005, I was struck by his incredible gift and masterful aptitude as a performer and how it led me, the viewer, and my imagination through different decades, places and characters, without reliance on any physical props. Since then, I often wondered, what if the physical rules were re-written and we were, in fact, able to use the sweeping wizardry of animation to convey the feeling of the play, and give Colman the full scope of magical tools to play with? This is what eventually led to the creation of the short.
How many people worked on it and how long did it take to make?
New Moon is a true labor of love that took four people — Jeff Le Bars, Jérémie Balais, Colman Domingo and I, Raúl Domingo. Eventually, Raphaël Pibarot, our sound designer, came on, so that makes five. It took us almost two years to make New Moon; we started in the summer of 2020 and finished it in the spring of 2022. All of us worked through most of the pandemic, and have yet to be in a physical space together. All of our creative meetings took place via video conference, due to borders being closed.
Where was the animation produced and which animation tools were used?
Our short is jointly produced between the United States and France. Our company, Edith Productions, is based in Burbank, California, and Jeff and Jérémie’s Gibbons Studio is in Lyon, France, so it truly was a labor of love that spans countries and continents.
We opted for an animation style that is very nostalgic and evocative of the old school animated series, and that demanded a lot of learning on behalf of Colman and I. The style of the animation required Colman and I to learn and commit to the detailed and thorough process of shooting the footage for rotoscoping, for Jeff and Jérémie to further animate it. We kept shooting the footage for rotoscoping in batches all over the United States — Los Angeles, Austin, New York — as we had to travel for work.
Colman and I truly developed such a deep appreciation and immense respect for the medium of animation. Animation truly taught us the satisfaction of delayed gratification, we worked really hard to be able to create New Moon, and we love what we created with Jeff and Jérémie.
What do you love about the final results?
Our short tells the story of a boy and his mother, and the magic of their love. It is true, that the love of a parent and a child is one of the most powerful forces in our reality, and we hope that by depicting the true magic that can ensue from that love can affect people and remind them that with love anything is possible, if only you stay open.
What were the biggest production challenges?
Being in the middle of the pandemic presented so many challenges, from uncertainty and trying to get your bearings in terms of mental health, it was also impossible to physically come together as collaborators, especially across borders, as we are in different countries. However, there is such an immense amount of gratitude for the process of creating New Moon as it was, for it allowed every single one of us to learn new things about ourselves, leave our comfort zone and learn new skills.
Who are some of your biggest animation influences?
New Moon was very much influenced by the storytelling of Hayao Miyazaki, and his intention as an artist to heal the world. To be able to add love to this world is something that we endeavored to accomplish with our animated short film.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the short?
With New Moon, the most important for us is to tell a story that can both transport and inspire one to love fully and believe in the goodness of the world.
Are you working on more animated projects?
After New Moon, we realized how much we love the process of creating animation. It is a long and arduous process that requires such detail and thinking and yields such creative fulfillment. We are currently working on adapting Colman’s play Wild With Happy into a fully-animated feature, and we hope that our collaborators Jeff Le Bars and Jérémie Balais will come on board.
For more information on the film, visit newmoonfilmshort.com. Nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced Tuesday, January 24.