‘Tito and the Birds’ Director Gustavo Steinberg on his Animation Debut

The film is hosting market screenings at Cannes before heading to Annecy for its world premiere in June

Tito and the Birds
Courtesy of Bits Productions

Tito and the Birds” has been buzzing around Annecy for years now, and will premiere there in June. Just last month, France’s Indie Sales announced it had picked up the international sales rights to the film, which fits nicely into a catalog that includes other arthouse-mainstream hybrid animated projects like “My Life as a Zucchini” and “Another Day of Life.” This week. the film is in Cannes hosting market screenings looking to secure international distribution.

The film is an impressionist-inspired examination of fear, and how it can infect society. In it, Tito and his friends must harness the power of pigeons to fuel his father’s invention, which may be the only way to cure to a pandemic of fear sweeping across their world.

Producer-director Gustavo Steinberg talked with Variety about the film, the state of animation in Brazil and what’s next for Tito and his birds.

With films like “My Life as a Zucchini,” “Loving Vincent” and “The Breadwinner, are we seeing a convergence of arthouse and mainstream animation?

I don’t come from animation, and I started learning about animation going to Annecy and talking to everybody there. I would say I wanted to make a beautiful film, but something more marketable and fun. People would tell me: “No, you can’t do that.” It was as if arthouse had to be tense and difficult. It wasn’t until we started to show the project that people became convinced. But I agree, more and more there is a convergence. It’s a middle ground. I think there is a bigger space; at least I hope there is, for something that is more sophisticated in terms of looks, but at the same time is interesting and fun.

What do you think are the contributing factors to this period of growth in Brazilian animation?

Funds from the federal government make things completely different than in the past. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but at least it’s possible. The law includes a domestic quota for pay TV, and animation is bringing those numbers up. People watch and like Brazilian animation.

Aside from that, there was a big push when two Brazilian films won Annecy, and then “The Boy and the World” was nominated for an Oscar. They were both just like “Tito,” small films, proportionally speaking, that weren’t supposed to do much compared to more robust productions.

Has technology lowered the entry level cost into animation?

I’m not sure. I think the entry level is still pretty high. We used Toon Boom, but in order to make the film look good, we still had to have a very big crew. I do think there are more and more people qualified to do that, which is something that didn’t happen in Brazil before. I think in the past “Tito” would have been impossible because there was no crew. Now we have more series in Brazil, so you have people who work in animation. For them, it’s just one step further to something of this quality.

You got some of the government funding we talked about for “Tit0.” Can you describe that process?

We ran a lot of risks with Tito. The production could have collapsed at least three times in its production. We had four years of development, raising money to start production, develop the characters and everything, but actual production was three years. We started without all the money and we had moments where it ran out during production. We would get to these moments and think “Crap! What do we do?” But we always managed to raise more. Of course we planned ahead, but we had to win all of the open calls for funding that were available during those three years.

How does that differ from live-action films you’ve done?

This is the sixth feature, I have produced, but the first in animation. The difference is that for live-action you get the money for shooting, then you shoot the film and that phase is over. You’ve shot the film and now you have to find the money to post-produce. I feel with animation, because it’s a constant process, you don’t have gaps in the production where you can stop to raise more money. If you did stop you would have to lay off everyone and hope they don’t get other jobs then rehire them. I think the project would have been much more difficult if that had happened.

Do you have plans for what you would like to do next?

I do… but I know it’s a long process. I run a festival myself, that is something I am constantly producing, but my next project is to launch Tito properly. We are building video games, we did a little documentary about fear with kids and the case, and we have a website we are developing.

Can you talk about the game?

The first game we are developing is to teach kids how to identify fake news and other sources of angst. It’s a web-based game so you get the look at feel of a mobile phone, and all the apps are going to be contaminated by the disease. The social network apps teach you to identify fakes news. It’s going to show the dangers of this constant connection to mobile phones.