Roger Allers faced a unique challenge as the director of “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.” He had to curate eight separate pieces of animation from nine other directors (twins Paul and Gaetan Brizzi helmed one segment) each interpreting one of Gibran’s classic poems, as well as craft a touching story that bound them all together into a single, cohesive movie.
He was clearly up to the task. “The Prophet” has been nominated for an Annie Award for Best Animated Feature — Independent Award and Allers himself is nominated for his direction. The film is also on the shortlist for an Oscar nomination for animated feature. Allers talked with Variety about the challenges and joys of bringing together so many filmmakers for one film, how he approached Gibran’s beloved work and what he hopes for the future of animation.
How did you get involved in “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet”?
When the producers decided to have a narrative to connect the poems, they contacted me through a mutual producer/friend. I had been profoundly affected by the book when I was in college, so when that offer popped up I was very excited to do it.
What was your initial approach to the project?
My initial approach was to reacquaint myself with the book, of course, as it had been some years since I had read it. Then I set to reading all I could about Kahlil Gibran, his life, his works. I wanted to immerse myself in him and get connected to his spirit.
How did you choose the other animators to do the eight different vignettes within the overall film? Did you give them any specific criteria?
The producers and I approached animators that we thought had exciting original visions and would represent very divergent ways of approaching Gibran’s poems. My main request was for them to really follow and respond to his text, that way it would be another venue of understanding his individual poems, and relate back to the main character’s thoughts he was expressing within the main narrative.
Did you ever worry that any of those separate pieces wouldn’t fit? Did you have to send any back?
I could not completely know how the finished pieces would be (even though I got to review their storyboarded ideas before they began). There were two animators who I asked to re-do their stories after seeing their storyboards. I asked that they concentrate on the poems’ texts rather than create new story arcs. Other than that, it was a journey of faith and trust and willingness to roll with what happens.
What kind of pressure did these other pieces put on you for your overall story?
The main pressure was actually what I assigned to myself in the beginning of conceiving the story framework, to choose poems that would flow naturally from and illuminate the narrative. The only pressure from the other artists’ pieces was to balance tone and mood, while weaving in and out of them.
What has all the awards attention for the film been like for you?
I have appreciated being a part of the Animation Roundtables, to sit with the other creative talents and friends who have produced films this year. Of course, any positive response from critics and viewers is always very gratifying.
You’ve been in this business a while and have worked on classic, beloved films. How did you become an animator? What have been your biggest challenges?
I had wanted to be an animator since I was 5 years old. It’s been a dream come true, but a dream that is also borne of hard work and determination not to give up. It is always a challenge while making your film to preserve one’s own vision. And also to remain open to the creative ideas of others. That’s the balance!
How has your style evolved over the years?
Hard to put a finger on my style … unless it is simply story telling with an aim to create something of sincere and moving emotion with a certain joie de vivre.
What are your feelings about computer-generated animation vs. traditional hand-drawn animation?
Each is similar but so different. I hope each have a chance to evolve. They use slightly different parts of the brain and body and each deserves a place before the eyes of the world audience.
What would you like to see happen in the animation industry in the next five years?
I would love to see an increasing spirit of experimentation in terms of style and genre of storytelling. Let’s push the boundaries! Let unique artistic visions have a chance to shock and delight us!