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(Austrian Film Institute ) Interview to Santiago López Jover / co-director of Snotty Boy

INTERVIEW
Interview: Karin Schiefer
June 2021
 
«My first impression was definitely a shock.»
 
Snotty Boy, Austria’s first feature length animation film, borrows the spirit and silhouettes from the unique cosmos created by late Austrian caricaturist Manfred Deix. Santiago López Jover co-directed the film together with Marcus H. Rosenmüller adding his profound experience as animation artist to this ambitious project that respectfully translates the essence of the legendary cartoons.


We (Austrians) consider Manfred Deix’s drawings as profoundly “Austrian“, very provocative, sometimes repellent, maybe difficult to understand for somebody from a different cultural background. How do they resonate in a Spanish mind? What were your first impressions when you discovered the work of the cartoonist.

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ JOVER:
For me it was definitely a very special case. I am from Spain and I hadn’t known Manfred Deix before. My first reaction was: “this project is not for me”. As a non-Austrian, it seemed too much of an autochtonous thing to me. My German was not good enough to understand the humor of the drawings. The first graphic impression… there was something a bit disgusting. I am also Catholic and I felt provoked. But I got to learn progressively about the artist, and I discovered his personality and all the motivations behind his work. I saw some interviews with Manfred Deix and I started to understand what he was criticizing by his humor: the satire was there, but it was also the love for the human being. Josef Aichholzer, the producer, wanted us to “meet” each other somehow, until I felt comfortable enough to work with this material, with Manfred Deix’s art and humor. But my first impression was definitely a shock. We do have comparable caricaturists in Spain who are criticizing the same kind of subjects, but in a different style. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Manfred Deix in person, I joined the project after his death in 2016. But I knew that he was involved in the first phase of the project, so his essence was there. And what we tried was to be very respectful to his essence.


You are the co-director of SNOTTY BOY, the first feature length animation film produced with an Austrian funding majority. What was your background as an animation artist before joining this project? On which projects have you worked before?

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ JOVER:
In all these years before SNOTTY BOY I had worked as animator, storyboard supervisor, character designer, on different projects such as animation films or TV-shows. My career as an animation artist started in 2003, when I finished Fine Arts and the animation school. I started as a stop motion animator working in small projects, and gained experience progressively as animation professional, working for different Spanish companies. I moved later to Ireland where I worked some years for the animation studio Cartoon Saloon, a studio that has made four feature length films so far, all of them Oscar-nominated.  That was the place where I learned the most. It’s a studio that focusses on the things I like most in animation: creative filmmaking, original visual design, and compelling stories… a truly oasis of authenticity in the current animation scene, that made me love even more the profession.
Then some years after, I moved to Austria together with my family. And one of the first things I had to find out here, there was neither a tradition in character animation, almost nor companies working in that field. Therefore, I continued to work as a freelancer for the studio in Ireland until a Vienna based animation company, arx anima, contacted me and I started to work with them as supervisor. Four years ago, I jumped into the SNOTTY BOY project, first as animation director. The studio Digital Light Factory had lot of talented artists but no previous experience in making a whole animated feature film. When I stepped in, there was a script, the drawings of Manfred Deix, and some beautiful work done adapting the Deix drawings in 3D. The storytelling and narrative style was not built on storyboards yet. I started to work on SNOTTY BOY as animation director, but nothing was ready for animation. Josef Aichholzer asked me whether I was willing to do that, and I jumped into the direction task, starting to create the first boards and edit them in an animatic.


How big was your team of young animators?

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ JOVER:
We had two teams: one was in charge of creating the visual look and all the 3D elements that appear in the film such as the characters, the props etc, commanded by the CG supervisor Markus Huber. They were six or seven. I also had a team of four storyboard artists and an editor, Philipp Bittner, who helped me to create the animatic. And then we had twelve animators commanded by the lead of Michael Merkatz. If you watch the credits of any Hollywood animation film you’ll see that they have never ending credit lists… We were a very small team, which was very good: more than a studio, we were a group of friends making a film… and of course it was challenging. Less people mean fewer possibilities.


How can one imagine the collaboration between Marcus Rosenmüller who is an experienced live action director and you?

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ JOVER:
  Marcus is a very talented live action director. And I feel very lucky to have worked with him and learned from him. Viewed the other way round, he had no experience in animation filmmaking and needed to understand how this basically works. It was a necessary collaboration between us on all levels. When I stepped in, he was struggling with the storyboard, which in animation has nothing to do with a storyboard for a live action film. An animation storyboard doesn’t only show the camera angles and the composition of the image, but also the acting of the characters in detail. Marcus did an amazing job in directing the voices, and he helped in scouting the locations and costumes that we translated later into images. He was very much involved in the early stage of the project and once I was on board, I tackled the questions how to translate these ideas into animation.


Even if SNOTTY BOY is the story of an adolescent boy, the film is conceived as an animation film for adults. What kind of challenges does that mean compared to an animation movie for a young audience?

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ JOVER:
I have been watching animation films for adults since I was an adolescent. I saw a lot of underground films, experimental animation, anime... When I went to art school specializing in animation, I was already very much used to that kind of filmmaking which is less known, but had a tradition, like in Japan for example. I had a big background. When I read the script, I was glad to find out that it was a script that was not for kids. Using animation is not a question of comedy or drama, animation is just a medium to tell any kind of film genre. My first connotation was Fellini’s Amarcord, the hilarious humor, the story in a rancid small town with many hilarious characters. It also reminded me of The 400 blows by François Truffaut, which is a coming-of-age story not intended for kids, I thought the story was wonderfully apt to be told in an animation film, also with the historic context of Austria in the 1960-ies, the social revolution that was about to come… All these subjects together made it a very unique thing for me, something I had never done before.


Manfred Deix has a very particular style technically speaking, using water colors to color the drawings.  Was it a major challenge to translate the very organic looking watercolor into computer generated images?

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ JOVER:
That was one of the challenges. When I entered the project, it was already decided that the film would be made with 3D-characters. My first thought was that this drawing style with the textures of the water colors would better match with 2D. But when I saw the work the team of animators had already done, I understood that it was possible to translate those caricatures in 3D. We had some visual and graphic solutions that were able to translate the texture of the water colors, regarding the clothes of the characters, their faces, the lights. We used some filters, which you will not necessarily notice. If you compare some screen captures with the work of Manfred Deix, you will find that we truly studied how to translate his desaturated color palettes in the film. We never had a big budget that allowed us to make something extraordinary in terms of visuals, but we made our best within the limitations we had, and I think the result is fair and respectful.


Austria is not so renowned for its tradition in animation filmmaking.  How would you describe the potential of those you met here to collaborate for SNOTTY BOY?

SANTIAGO LÓPEZ JOVER:
I love to live here in Austria, which is a wonderful country, full of opportunities in many other fields. Through the years I have established a good network of professionals in the animation industry who work and live here, and most of them were trained abroad. During the last 8 years in Austria, I realized that an animation scene is growing, there’s a lot of talent. Most of the artists involved in SNOTTY BOY are from Austria, some of them had been working for companies abroad and came back to Austria to work on this project. We all agree about the fact that the talent is here, the question is how to support it to make it grow. It would be wonderful if this film opens more doors to continue making films in the future, in order that the artists from here do not have to leave to other places to find working opportunities. Talent is here. It needs to be valued and supported.

 

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