Having won the Swiss Film Award for best animation film, Georges Schwizgebel (“The Ride to the Abyss”) returns to Annecy with his new short film “Darwin’s Notebook” a nine-minute narration of the experience suffered by three natives of Tierra de Fuego as they are kidnapped and later returned to their homeland by the British in 1833. A penetrating look into the devastating results of the era’s colonization and clash of cultures the film showcases Schwizgebel’s unique style of storytelling and animating.
Produced by Schwizgebel himself, in collaboration with Studio GDS and Swiss public broadcaster Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), the short film tells its story through a variety of painting techniques, the frames always filled with kinetic vibrance as the brush strokes move.
Expressive both in his use of color as in its absence, Schwizgebel’s hand made animation is in constant motion, finding otherwise physically impossible camera movements that transition seamlessly from scene to scene, creating a complex structure that embraces a kind of stream of consciousness narration that any live action filmmaker would envy.
Variety talked with Schwizgebel as “Darwin’s Notebook” bows at Annecy.
Your short is a great example of the narrative liberties that animation can give to storytellers, effortlessly morphing and shifting between time and perspectives. Could you comment?
Often in my films I barely cut: All the narration from the three natives is one long sequence shot. Which is not the case for the rest of the film. I also differentiated the world of the natives which is in color and that of the English in black and white.
These rapid jumps between narration, gaze and even myth flow so well thanks in part to the technique used. Could you talk about it? And what references did you have when finding the look of the film?
I composed my film in several parts, an introduction which situates the young Darwin on this boat which meets three natives and it is in the present, and their story in London, which is in the past. Then, once arrived at its destination the story continues up to the captain’s disappointment. Finally, a short prologue evokes what happened later. As a reference I had the portrait of the three natives drawn by Captain FitzRoy, engravings and a photo of the model of the Beagles and also photos of this tribe which are from a later era.
Of course a big part of any animation is the sound, which in your film follows the multiple transitions directing the gaze of the audience. What were your guidelines when developing sound design?
I am very happy with the music and sound design composed by Judith Gruber-Stitzer. I simply pointed out to him the different rhythms that I used in the animation: the sway of the swell taking two seconds to go and return when we are on the boat, a tempo of 90 for the natives’ story and 120 for the dance. Also, I asked for a kind of nostalgic gaiety for the music.
For several years now, animators have film lenses terminology as one of their tools when interacting with animated spaces and characters. With a film as dynamic as yours, that varies so much from what would be a wide lens to a long shot, was this the case? If not what were your principles when developing motion and transition?
I try to find simple or elegant solutions to move from one shot to another using metamorphoses or drawn movements. Also ellipses, to say as much with as few elements as possible.