The Thousand Miles - Sylvain Chomet
Courtesy: Savoy & Gregory

After a Jacques Tati homage, this Federico Fellini animated feature tribute will use dialogue and mix 2D and CG

Four-time Academy Award nominated Sylvain Chomet, the multi-talented French writer-helmer-animator-composer, is moving into production on “The Thousand Miles,” his anticipated return to feature animation direction after 2003 debut “The Triplets of Belleville” and 2010’s “The Illusionist.”

Having completed a lengthy development process, Chomet and his animation team will initiate character design and storyboarding later this month, followed by production animation with actors. “The Thousand Miles” is slated for a 2017 release.

With dialogue playing an uncharacteristically larger part of the Chomet’s third animation feature, after mere garbled utterance in his first and second, “Miles” also marks Chomet’s effective English-language debut. Two iconic American actors with Italian roots will voice the lead characters. Produced by Savoy & Gregory, a London-based joint venture company managed by the film’s producer Demian Gregory, “The Thousand Miles” also introduces James Lipsius, a 27-year-old actor chosen by Chomet, in his feature debut. Beyond that, voice cast will feature “a gala of international A-list actors,” Gregory said.

From an original screenplay by Chomet, based on a treatment by Gregory, “The Thousand Miles” looks set to sport a brace of Chomet hallmarks: a prestige road-race, like “Belleville’s’” Tour de France; uncommon, and longer in the tooth, protagonists; the magic of yesteryear glamour; and a tribute to a legendary filmmaker, Jacques Tati in “The Illusionist,” here towering Italian great Federico Fellini, who helped drive European cinema from a post World War II neo-realism towards, in Fellini’s case, fantasy-laced narrative exploring a protagonist’s inner life.

One of the film’s primary sources of inspiration is Fellini’s dream journals – a mixture of writings and drawings – as well as other published and unpublished material from Fellini.

As, literally, Chomet’s 2010 animated feature, “The Thousand Miles” also turns on illusion. Set in an early-1980s Italy, it is the story a pair of ageing brothers who, separated by the twist and turns of life, reunite through their shared life-dream to compete in Italy’s Mille Miglia – a Brescia-to-Rome-and-back vintage car rally, said to be the world’s most beautiful road race.

“What follows is a metaphysical journey filled with love, laughter and sorrow, and all the larger-than-life eccentricities that the world has come to expect from the works of Chomet and Fellini,” Gregory told Variety.

“My creative vision has been constantly fuelled by two extraordinary filmmakers: Jacques Tati and Federico Fellini. With ‘The Illusionist,’ I had the opportunity to directly explore my love for the work of Tati. Now, with ‘The Thousand Miles,’ I can do just that with the magical world of Fellini,” Chomet told Variety when the bare bones of “The Thousand Miles” were announced last June, during the Annecy Animation Festival.

One instance of concept art for “The Thousand Miles” (pictured) suggests a remarkable similarity to Fellini’s dream diary sketches in their mix of phantasmagorical fear, and in other sketches, ebullient sexual obsession, such as a drawing of a naked Anita Ekberg-ish figure perched on a fluffy white cloud, blown across a sunny sky by Fellini.

“The Thousand Miles” will range in graphic style, from quirky black-and-white cartoons from the ‘20s to 1970s-style hallucinogenic pop art, but maintaining Chomet’s signature 2D hand-drawn animation, Gregory said.

While “The Illusionist” made highly select use of CG work, Chomet on “Miles” is experimenting with “as number of animation techniques that have rarely been combined,” he added.

Per Gregory, “We experimented extensively to combine the expressiveness of Sylvain’s 2D style with the stability of CG and the dimensionality of real actors. The final result is a spectacular hybrid that captures the uniqueness of 2D hand-drawn animation and the expansive nature of 3D technology.”

As the hallucinogenic drug-inspired regression sequences of his 2013 live-action film “Attila Marcel” made clear, Chomet has a gift for capturing flights of fancy.

Although produced out of London, Savoy & Gregory has set up animation studios in South France and Italy to handle film’s physical animation. Post-production will be performed out of Canada.

Further “The Thousand Miles” announcements will be made in the run-up to the Berlinale’s European Film Market, which kicks off Feb. 11.

“The Belleville Triplets” (aka “Belleville Rendez-Vous”) and “The Illusionist” both scooped Oscar nominations for best animated feature; Chomet’s multi-prized 1997 “The Old Lady and the Pigeons” was selected for the short film category. “Belleville” was also nominated for an original song Academy Award for “Belleville Rendez-Vous,” whose lyrics were penned by Chomet.

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