From page to screen
The story of the adaptation of Un homme est mort into animation
Text by Fanny Maréchal
Resulting from a collaboration between the production company Les Armateurs and ARTE, the work of Kris and Étienne Davodeau will soon be shown on TV as an animated movie. Set during the workers’ uprisings in Brest in 1950, Un homme est mort (A Man Has Died) is a graphic novel with a committed style whose screen adaptation faced many challenges in terms of budget, artistic direction, and technique.
Directed by Olivier Cossu, the film has been made possible thanks to a long and rigorous pre-production process. In order to put in place all the resources needed to make the film, Les Armateurs created a whole new production studio for the film, which lies at the heart of a special work dynamic.
Interview with Olivier Cossu
What made you take part in this project?
Olivier Cossu: I had worked on the compositing for the pilot, and I was already very excited. After the decision was taken to make the film, the production asked me to find ways to make the rendering lively, without it being too expensive. From there, the film became very technical. I was also very excited about working on an animated film. Coming from the world of live broadcast, it was a matter of applying new skills. I was also motivated by the storyline, which has a very actual ending. The project is very relevant given what’s been going on for some time. It is interesting to tell a story that happened in 1950, but that we’re still experiencing today.
What does it involve for you to adapt a graphic novel into an animated film?
O.C.: Technical constraints, not so much scriptwriting related. There are quite a few things you’re allowed to do in comics, but not in an animated film. For example, the staging and the selection of viewing angles are limited. Coming from live broadcast, there was much discussion about that with the storyboard artists. Along the way, we resorted to a technique that allowed us to achieve the feel of a live feature, but suitable for an animated film. The film mixes 3D for the sets, 2D for the characters, and uses rather realistic angles. As it targets an adult audience, we can afford to use cinematic language. For example, shots can stretch over time, and not everything needs to be explained.
How does this translate into your work with the teams?
O.C.: It was necessary to make everyone understand how the project was going to work, and that everyone would be able to project themselves in the final result. Whether with the storyboard artists or animators, we had a dialogue early on to explain how each person would have to work. It’s a rather special production because I’m always there in the studio. There are two rooms, one for animation and the other for compositing and the sets. And every day I go back and forth between the two. There is a dynamic of constant communication, which allows us to solve all problems quickly. There are very few intermediaries, no misunderstandings, and we work quickly together heading in the same direction.
Can we talk some more about the animation technique used in the film?
O.C.: There are not many sets in the film, maybe 6 or 7, for about 913 shots. The idea was to model them to the maximum, so that we could later shoot a scene from all angles, without having the storyboard artists redraw the scenes each time. The 3D backgrounds are mixed with 2D drawings, the textures are reworked by the graphic designers, and everything is combined together. It is this technique that allowed us to proceed faster and save quite some money.