Two years ago, Victor Jaquier’s 20-minute short Death and the Winemaker had a successful festival run (50-plus selections, including Clermont-Ferrand, Short Shorts Tokyo, and a Swiss Film Award nomination). The short has now been released by ALTER on its YouTube channel (watch here).
The powerful project uses 2D traditional animation techniques and watercolor backgrounds to tell a classic Swiss tale about the origins of the plague. Jaquier was kind enough to share a few details about the making of his acclaimed short with us:
Animation Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for the short?
Victor Jaquier: I was inspired by a traditional tale from Switzerland. This tale is quite unknown even there, and this is also a very short tale, but I was attracted by the reveal of the story, the fact that it is about the origin of the plague. And I also liked the point of view about Death. In this story, Death is treated as an enemy by the main protagonist, but this is a big mistake committed by this character.
In my adaptation, I have been developing more on this theme: Death is not our enemy and should be accepted like a path of our journey. This was an opportunity to portray a version of Death half comforting and half scary, personified by a woman. In my movie she is like Mother Nature, representing a natural order of things that should not be disturbed.
When did you start working on it and how long did it take to make?
I started working on it eight years ago, with a development fund. The project was funded in Switzerland, and we then spent time to build a co-production with France. The movie entered production in January 2019, and I have been working all 2019 and 2020 on the production. So it’s been a long journey!
Which animation tools did you use?
The animators used TVPaint. I painted the backgrounds on watercolor paper, and then I added the lights and shadows on Photoshop. I also used Blender for the final choice of camera angles. I learned to stage movies with live action projects so this was important for me to have this notion of choosing a camera lens for each shot. So, every set and character had its low poly CG version, even if in the end the whole project is full 2D traditional animation. (But the CG was very useful for the basis of the background layouts.) And finally, for the compositing and color grading we worked with After Effects.
How many people worked on it with you?
I had a team of 19 animators and 10 clean-up artists. I created the layouts and the backgrounds. With the cast, the sound department, a whole orchestra and the production team, we had a crew of 70 people.
What did you love best about the experience?
It was my first film using animation; before Death and the Winemaker I directed several short films that were all live action. I loved that animation offers the opportunity to stay fully immersed in the world of the film for much, much longer than live action. A live-action short is only a few days of shooting, but for this project I had the chance to work full time on it for two years! It is incredible to have the chance to work for so long on a project, I feel that I’ve been able to put as much details in the film as I intended. and I also had a lot of time to work with the crew and create a collaborative energy that was a pleasure to be part of every day.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
As it was my first time in animation, I had no idea that this would be such a marathon during the animation and cleanup phase. I had to create the layouts myself, so I was constantly running against time to provide new layouts to the animators, so that no one had to wait for their layouts. It was two years without any day off or weekends. But I would do it again without a doubt.
What is your take on the global animation scene today?
As I said, I am new to animation: I don’t have the experience of the industry on a big scale. What I know is that the kind of films that I want to do in feature format would be very, very difficult to make happen. France and Switzerland are ecosystems where it’s quite difficult to find budgets for animation targeted for young adults/adults with dark stories that are fantastic in nature … I’m not complaining about that, it’s just the way the market is, but anyway this is genre I want to pursue even if it seems very difficult.
What are you working on next?
I am currently developing a live-action, 20-minute fantasy short, adapted from a story of the Swiss writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. And I am also working on an original short story called Matilda Corkscrew, that I initially intended to do with stop-motion animation, but right now I am re-shaping the art direction to do it using traditional 2D animation with the same style I used in Death and the Winemaker. I also have a feature project in mind that I would like to do after those shorts.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your short?
I hope that audiences will feel the poetry and beauty that I tried to put into this movie. It is a story with dark themes, Death, aging — themes that are anxiety-filled in real life. I tried to create a short that doesn’t avoid the darkness of those themes, but that manages to create beauty out of it. If people experience this strange beauty and are moved by it, then I would be happy.
Any advice for future short animation filmmakers?
Be prepared to spend a lot of time working on your project! Find a story that has the spark to keep you passionate about it for years, as it may take a lot of time to turn your idea into a finished movie. Do as many animatics/previz that you can, so when you are in production, you know exactly every shot of the movie and what the animators have to do. And don’t neglect the voice casting if you are creating a movie with dialog, try to work with the best! I would also recommend learning how to work with actors and direct them, to make the most out of the recording sessions.
To find out more about the talented Swiss filmmaker, visit victorjaquier.net. Watch Death and the Winemaker streaming for free on the ALTER YouTube channel.