David Fincher tries to animate “Love, Death + Robots”

Before David Fincher become a top-notch director and receive multiple Oscar and Emmy nominations – lauded for hit movies like fight club and The social network and the TV series Card castle and spirit hunter – he was co-founder of the production company Propaganda Films. Propaganda became known for its visually stunning television commercials and music videos, and Fincher honed his craft in dozens of miniature films made in a multitude of styles.

However, until recently, he had never directed animation, although he enjoys the medium so much that he signed on to produce the Netflix animated series a few years ago. Love, Death + Robotswhich returns for its third season on Friday.

Love, Death + Robots rises from the ashes of a project that Fincher had developed with the director of dead Pool Tim Miller since the late 2000s: a revival of heavy metal, the adult-only sci-fi inspired fantasy animated and comic book series. the first season of Love, Death + Robots premiered in 2019, with 18 episodes (6-17 minutes long) that adapted tales from favorite genres such as Peter Hamilton, John Scalzi and Joe Lansdale. A second season of eight episodes will air in 2021.

Despite his involvement, Fincher never made a short film until the third season, when he and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (who wrote Fincher’s crime thriller Seven: The Seven Deadly Crimes) tackled a short story by British science fiction author Neal Asher titled bad trip. Set on the high seas on a distant planet, the story follows a merchant ship plagued by a giant, intelligent crab that manipulates crew members and eliminates them one by one. Fincher described the short as “like a David Lean movie mixed with ten little indians“.

bad trip was made with motion capture, a style of computer-aided animation in which actors act on a set and their facial expressions and gestures are mapped directly onto their animated characters. Fincher worked closely with Miller, who co-founded Blur Studio, a special effects and animation company that produced bad tripand Jennifer Yuh Nelson, artist, filmmaker (Kung Fu Panda 2) and supervising director of Love, Death + Robots.

In a video interview last week, Fincher discussed the challenges and pleasures of making bad trip and the series as a whole, and how he took his painstaking approach to directing this new medium. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Including the episodes in this volume, there are already three Neal Asher stories adapted for Love, Death + Robots. What is it about Asher that matches this series?

Well, bad trip it was part of our original plan. We’ve had these giant 1.2 by 1.8 meter prints of very beautiful art productions in the boardroom for, my God, about 12 years. Finally, someone had to do it. This honor is mine.

Neal is one of Tim’s favorites, and Tim does most of our curating. He has a list of 350 short stories he’s always wanted to see animated. Neal was one of the first examples that Tim brought to me of the kind of stuff that’s available there, to say, “OK, I think it’s sustainable.”

It’s an instructive way to think of this series: not just as an anime anthology for adults, but also as an anthology of sci-fi stories of varying lengths and approaches.

It is very difficult to write a short story. It’s an art in itself to bring a reader into an already populated world, in the broadest of brushstrokes, to make us understand as much as we need about geopolitics or whatever, and then move on to something else. That’s what I did with TV commercials. It was a great experience to do something with one idea for 30 seconds or two ideas for 60 seconds. I’ve made music videos, which are like a jumble of ideas that we hope will come together abstractly in three to four minutes.

The hardest part is recognizing whole numbers. It’s very different to have 19 or 22 minutes. You have to force yourself with this material to be concise.

What have you learned from making animation?

When I’m preparing to make a plan, I think of things like, “If the grip is above the shoulder, I need to move that person away from the door frame or I need to ask the team to bring a chainsaw. ” But in [imagens geradas por computador], that kind of thing does not exist. Space is entirely plastic. It was an incredibly liberating, revealing, and expansive way to interact with a story, because a lot of live-action storytelling takes or works around practical things.

Of course, when you can change something later, you should also ask yourself, “How far am I going? You can open those files and say, “I want the chin to do this and I want the ears to be here.” You can change all of these things endlessly. For someone who enjoys polishing as much as I do, at some point he just has to get things out of his cold, dead hands.

With motion capture, is it also part of your job as a director to convince the actors that they are really on a boat, fearing for their lives?

Even if you have people in tight spandex with ping pong balls hanging from them, you still have to say things like, “OK, in this scene, it’s day three from sunset.” I was working with people in different performance types – we had musicians, we had singers. It was an interesting group. And they had no problem putting on a leotard and going, “OK, so I’m fighting the giant crab here.” What is the size ? Like two Range Rovers side by side? Where are the eyes? Are the eyes surprised? You’re trying to convey this thing which is totally ridiculous.

But honestly, none of that was as hard for me as being in the middle of Covid and wearing goggles, mask and visor. I hadn’t realized how much I was communicating through my face – a lot of director-actor relationships aren’t about giving the interpretation of a line, but about how they interact and the non-verbal cues. Pandemic gear got in the way of all that.

What was your contribution to visual design? Is there an illustrator or director who inspired you?

Tim and Blur had been working on the story for a long time, and they had a lot of artistic output that looked like The Thief of Baghdad – adjacent. I felt the world itself needed to be a little less ghostly and a little more Killer Peach. I wanted people to be at risk of being thrown overboard at any moment. They will either be chewed up by these hognose sharks or dismembered by the claws of these giant crustaceans.

It should be easier to tear characters apart and gut their guts when working on animation.

Yes, and in the water! As Jim Cameron and Kevin Costner will tell you, there are forces of nature. If you’re doing a story that takes place on the high seas, do it in computer graphics because you won’t be chasing the sun and you won’t have to worry about people getting crushed between boats or drowning. And you will never need the wave machine. / TRANSLATION LÍVIA BUELONI GONÇALVES

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