As promised here is a little insight into the work of a most talented artist, and overall supernice guy, with which I had the pleasure to work with on Yellowbird, and without whom the film would not have had such a succesful and unique visual style: Romain Jouandeau.
And typical of Romain, he speaks of himself and his artwork in very modest terms, and allows his pieces to speak for him.
I shall do the same, giving you only the briefest of information of each artwork and allowing you to look through some of the most striking pieces Romain produced, conceptual work and lightboards, which are used to set the tone for the colour palettes and light indications to be followed in order to light each scenario.
The following pieces are but a few of the hundreds of works Romain, and all the artists on the film, produced in the 2 years he worked on Yellowbird.
Above the aerial shots of the French countryside painted by Romain for the musical scene at the end of the first act. I wanted to visualize the start of the journey in a fun, almost music video way, to skip through the traveling moment of the film with a lighter tone. We were lucky enough to have the Gogol Bordello song Uma Menina, kindly offered by Eugene when I approched the band. It captured the free punk spirit, birds flying in the sky freedom, and earthy vagabond-like Balkan moods I wanted for the film's music perfectly. And the bird's eye view shots here were inspired by the work of photographer Yann Bertrand.
CDV- When and how did TeamTo approach you first to work on the development of the film?
RJ- I knew corinne Kouper the producer from before, we had already worked together on another project.
CDV- as an artist and designer you seem to have a pretty eclectic style, not settling for one in particular but exploring various possibilities. How did you come to the stylized designs for Yellowbird and what made you focus into this direction?
RJ- Though I always liked working in different styles, Yellowbird’s style was rather new for me. By the way I was not the one who chose to work with this style as Benjamin had already worked a lot on the visual development of the film when I started. It’s actually the result of a number of artists working on the design, the intentions of the director etc...Little by little I think we evolved towards something more physical in terms of lightning and textures than was intended at first, still trying to keep that very specific “hard edges” style.
Below are some of the conceptual artwork and lightboards painted by Romain for each of the scenes of the film. Starting from the very first scene in which Yellowbird as an egg falls out of his nest into the spring morning French forest.
CDV- After the development of Yellowbird designs you went on to Computer Games artworks. How would you compare the experiences in terms of the artistic choices you make on both?
RJ- These 2 genres are very different indeed and going from an animated movie to a very realistic video game was not easy, but that’s what makes this work interesting. For Yellowbird the challenge was to make this style work with no prior references to go by. It’s exactly the opposite when you work using a realistic style, where you can always use the reality which surrounds us as a reference. Nevertheless going from one style to another is very gratifying, it opens doors which I did not even know existed when you’re used to just working with the same style. Even if the technical issues are different , the goal is still the same, to tell a story while keeping a coherent world.
Here we see the arrival of Darius in to the abandoned Church, where he meets Yellowbird. I was inspired by the many derelict churches the French countryside has and, very similar to Italy especially after the Second World War, so many small villages that centred their life around the small church built before them, became ghost towns. I felt the setting was apt for the scenes involving Yellowbird meeting Darius, and Yellowbird taking over the leadership of the migration; there was something about the old ways fading away and passing, and the new way of life taking over that I felt was coherent to the setting and scenario, so the old abandonded church came as a natural choice.
CDV- Your involvement in the film was early on, how do you view the final look of the film now that it is complete, compared to your original concepts and designs for the film?
RJ- I worked 2 years on Yellowbird which gave me the unique chance to see the movie being done all the way to the end. I’m amazed to see that my work really transpires in what can be seen onscreen. The 3D team did an amazing work when you know how difficult it is to adapt 2D images into 3D, and especially with a look such as Yellowbird’s.
Above the Paris scenario Romain loved so much. It formed the basis of our Paris scene, one of the funniest and yet touching moments in the film.
CDV- What was your favourite experience on Yellowbird? Favourite scene/moment?
RJ- There was really a great team spirit in the studio during the whole time. No matter how many problems we ran into, everyone was always very positive!
I think that it can be felt in this very joyous movie! My favorites scenes are probably the ones in Paris, set in my neighborhood in Montmartre!
Even if my natural inclination is to work in a more realistic style, I’d love to have the chance to work again on a film such as Yellowbird!
Starting with two of the shots in the opening title sequence, we see the talent and scope of Romain's work, able to translate my rudimentary briefs into full colour pieces that give all the departments all the information they need to create the shots.
I was especially keen on the shot of the raggedy boat on the small canal, which ends the title sequence, as its abandoned feel stirs up the same emotions felt in seeing little Yellowbird growing up without a nest, a family and his natural parents.
Two examples of the Twisted Trunk, the tree that is the house of our family, the main flock of birds we follow on their migration.
Arriving at the Hotel Tree was always an exciting scene for us, and voiced by Elliot Gould, the conniving Owl makes for the perfect comedy character to bring the third act to life. Initially it was my most problematic sequence as it slowed the main story down and the recorded dialogue was too long. I was faced with the impossible task of cutting Elliot Gould's lines down to about 50% of what he had recorded, yet still keep the narrative and, especially, the comedic genius, intact. On seeing the sequence again, I feel that the process of storyboarding and re-storyboarding the scenes was quite successful as the Owl lost none of his strong comedy beats, and still drove the story forward. Even cutting the dinner sequence out of the film (you can see Romain's take on the scene in the lightboard below) doesn't take anything away from the scene.
When working out what to keep and what to cut from the story or a film I follow one simple rule: if you need to bring your film down from 1 hour and a half to 1 hour and 15, or from 7 minutes to 5 minutes, it's all the same, regardless of how beautiful or striking a scene is,if it's not driving the narrative along you can do without it. If the scene is not giving you any important story points or revealing any pivotal character points then you should cut it. If you can say what you want in a simpler and more straightforward way then do without it.
It would be great to be able to do a 3 hour animated opus, but the truth is, after 1 hour in a cinema most children need at least a toilette break, or a snack or simply need an attention break... Some scenes become necessary cuts... And the dinner scene in the hotel tree was just that- I could say everything that 4 minute scene said in one new line of dialogue dropped in another scene. It may not have been as pretty, or as well choreographed, but it's functional, and at times that's all you have to do!
Finally we leave Europe and start venturing North... Following a leader who really doesn't know his bum from his elbow; never mind leading a flock through their migration. I was very clear on one aspect of the colour brief of the film, which all the artists like Romain took on board: as the flock progressed North I wanted to strip the film of its colour and its warmth. I wanted to start from the welcoming and familiar warm colours of the Autumnal French forest, reds, oranges and yellows, and journey to the cold blues and greys. Until arriving to the absence of colour... The cold whites of the Arctic.
The colour journey the flock takes is the emotional journey of Yellowbird, who accustomed to one way of life, accustomed to his small World withing the confines of the abandoned house he grew up in, accustomes to a life of safe and warmth unused to the uncertainties of real life, has no real connection to others. So little by little I wanted the film to visualize the removal of the comforts he knows, stripping away the warmth and emotion until he has to reveal himself, his true self, to everyone, coming clean and revealing all his lies. Only then he, and we, could journey back to the warm colours of home... In the flock's case, Africa!
And luckily artists like Romain helped achieve these themes and ideas.