Man Hunt (1941)

Director: Fritz Lang
Storyboard: Wiard B. Ihnen

The great Austrian Expressionist director Fritz Lang fled his homeland in the late 1930s (rather than make propaganda films for Joseph Goebbels), and Man Hunt was the first of four anti-Nazi films he made in the U.S. The director of Metropolis (1927) worked with art director Wiard B. Ihnen on this production, which starred Walter Pidgeon as Captain Alan Thorndike, an American soldier and big game hunter who happens upon Hitler’s lodge while hunting in Bavaria and takes aim. Captured, Thorndike is tortured and left for dead by a river—but he finds a rowboat and attempts to navigate it to port without being discovered by the Nazis, who rake the water's surface with a searchlight.

The boards shown here, in graphite pencil, are classic film noir, with large parts of the page left in the dark. Thorndike ("Thorndyke”) must turn in order to avoid the lights before reaching port where he can stow away on a ship to Britain. Ihnen, who was born in New Jersey, trained as an architect and worked for over three decades as a Hollywood art director. He was married to the legendary costume designer Edith Head.

Wiard B. Ihnen’s boards, with their bold use of chiaroscuro, prefigure the expressionistic feel of Lang’s film, which was based on Geoffrey Household’s classic 1939 thriller, Rogue Male.

Thorndike is forced to abandon his vessel when a patrol boat nears.

Captain Thorndike attempts to avoid detection in his rowboat.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Director: Orson Welles
Storyboard: unattributed

The Magnificent Ambersons is Orson Welles’s tragic masterpiece, his much-hyped follow-up to Citizen Kane (1941). It featured an extravagant set constructed at RKO’s studios—the Ambersons’ mansion, with its moving walls, which provided the setting for Welles’s beloved central ballroom sequence and extensive tracking shots (drastically cut in the theatrical release).
Audacious and daring, The Magnificent Ambersons suffered one of Hollywood’s most traumatic post-production periods. The writer-director had negotiated away his final cut and was working in Brazil on another project when he delivered a (second edit) 131-minute film. It received poor responses from a test audience and RKO took control.
“Everybody they could find was cutting it,” recalled Welles later. It is believed the film went from 131 to 88 minutes, and many sequences were reshot, without Welles’s approval, by the film’s editor, Robert Wise. It was also given a new, more optimistic ending. The edited footage was later destroyed and the original cut has disappeared; all that remains is Welles’s script and some storyboards, unattributed.
The Magnificent Ambersons left Welles with a poor reputation in Hollywood and he struggled to find work after it, yet the film is beloved by critics and cineastes and considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, its tortured history providing a poignant backstory to the action onscreen.

Albert S. D’Agostino was RKO's art director and supervised the glossy look of all the studio’s films, including The Magnificent Ambersons; he would certainly have had control over the Amberson Mansion, as constructed in RKO’s Gower Street Studios.

The Big Sleep (1946)

Director: Howard Hawks
Storyboard: Bill Herwig

This Warner Bros, production is the Hollywood noir classic; an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel directed by Howard Hawks, co-written by William Faulkner, and starring Humphrey Bogart as hardboiled gumshoe Philip Marlowe, with Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge.
Although the plot is somewhat convoluted. The Big Sleep is still considered one of the greatest movies of that era. The look of the film in particular is spectacular; moodily shot by Sid Hickox, its claustrophobic interiors (with exteriors almost always characterized by rain) were art directed by the renowned German emigre Carl Jules Weyl. As an architect, Weyl designed the Hollywood playhouse (now Avalon Hollywood); under contract at Warner Bros, until 1947, he also designed Casablanca (1942).
The storyboards shown here are credited to Bill Herwig, a former Disney animator of the 1930s, and are a clear indication of the mood of the piece. The original cut of the film in 1945 was re-edited and released in 1946.

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe with Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in The Big Sleep.

This page from Bill Herwig’s boards, drawn in pencil, depicts Carol Lundgren— the chauffeur of Arthur Gwynn Geiger, the rare book dealer who is blackmailing Philip Marlowe's client, General Sternwood— preparing to shoot the gambler Joe Brody outside Brody’s apartment.



Written by Karl French
Published in GRANTA magazine #86


John Huston (1906-1987)

Before his directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon (1941), the film that confirmed Humphrey Bogart as a tough-guy star; Huston had been making a good living as a screenwriter; notably for Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra (1941) and Howard Hawks’s Sergeant York (1941); later he would script Orson Welles’s post-war thriller The Stranger (1946). The collaboration with Bogart was the most important in Huston’s long career, and together they would turn out The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The African Queen (1951), and the underrated oddity Beat the Devil (1953).
    Although the 1960s began well with The Misfits (1961), the pessimism of the film was appropriate, with its three stars (Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift) all close to death and its director set for a dismal run throughout the decade. His career was reborn with Fat City (1972), and remained on a reasonably even keel (the notable low point, in 1981, of Escape to Victory notwithstanding) for the rest of his life.
    But things could have been very different. After a serious illness as a ten year old, he was all but bedridden for several years. He emerged with a determination to live an intellectually and physically full life. At fifteen he was introduced to the sport of boxing for which he shared a passion with his father, the actor Walter Huston, who would later co-star in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Soon afterwards Huston developed an equally strong passion for painting. ‘Nothing,’ he wrote in his autobiography, ‘has played a more important role in my life.’
    He was fascinated by the Cubists, and by the American school of Synchronism. He enrolled in the Smith School of Art in Los Angeles but was soon disillusioned with the aridity of the teaching and what he saw as the pointless discipline of the life classes there. Within months he had dropped out of art school and fallen in with a group of like-minded artists in the Art Students League. He continued to paint throughout his life. Huston had studios in each of his homes, notably St Clerans in Galway, Ireland, a house that also contained much of his art collection, ranging from Paul Klee paintings to his impressive hoard of Pre-Columbian art.

'The Spirit of St.Clerans' (1960s)

Extracts from John Huston's sketchbook, 1956, the year he was making 'Moby Dick' (pen on paper)

Extracts from John Huston's sketchbook, 1956, the year he was making 'Moby Dick' (pencil on paper)

Extracts from John Huston's sketchbook, 1956, the year he was making 'Moby Dick' (pencil and coloured pencil on paper)

Martin Scorsese (b. 1942)

Scorsese’s twin passions as a child and adolescent were the cinema and the Church and for many years he planned to enter the priesthood. But the movies won out and he studied film at New York University, where by the time he graduated he had made a number of short films. Through the 1960s he worked as an editor and also directed his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking on My Door? (1968), a labour of love starring Harvey Keitel, who would become, along with Robert De Niro, one of Scorsese’s favourite actors.
    He got his big break, as did Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovitch, under Roger Corman, who assigned him to direct Boxcar Bertha (1972). The film was a modest success, but a key moment came when Scorsese screened it for his idol, John Cassavetes, who praised the style but pleaded with Scorsese to go for more personal material. Heeding that advice, Scorsese dusted off an old idea of his based around the characters who had populated his own neighbourhood of Little Italy, in downtown Manhattan, in his youth. Mean Streets, released in 1973, co-starring De Niro and Keitel, made Scorsese’s reputation and established his trademark themes—men, often violent men in crisis, with religion generally in the background or foreground—and a signature directorial style, involving flashy, imaginative visual flourishes, long or otherwise complex takes, and pervasive pop music on the soundtrack.
    While occasionally working on more mainstream material, Scorsese turned out a succession of great films, including Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983), and Goodfellas (1990), all of which bear his personal touch. Many have been script collaborations—Scorsese and Nick Pileggi co-wrote Goodfellas and Casino (1995)—or written wholly by others, most notably Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver.
    Throughout his career Scorsese has carefully storyboarded his own films. With their urgent, primitive stylelessness, these 'storyboards may stretch the definition of art; indeed they may look uncomfortably like extracts from (Taxi Driver’s) Travis Bickle’s illustrated notebooks. But they show Scorsese’s innate understanding of the medium and his talent for framing shots and building sequences—in the examples featured here, sequences that have been etched forever into the minds of a generation of film-goers.

Storyboards for one of the fight sequences in 'Raging Bull' (1980)

Some of Scorsese's storyboards for 'Taxi Driver' (1976)



Written by Karl French
Published in GRANTA magazine #86


Mike Figgis (b. 1949)

Mike Figgis has been taking photographs for more than four decades, a passion made all the stronger by the possibilities of digital photography. As well as being an obsessive note-taker and filer of his notebooks, sketches and other art works, Figgis takes his camera everywhere he goes. The result, aside from serving as an alternative diary, is an exceptional body of work. He spent much of his early childhood in Kenya, returning to north-east England at the age of ten. The upper-class accent he had picked up in colonial Africa set him apart from his peers and he sought refuge in, among other things, photography. Around the same time he fell in love with music—jazz, blues, and rock and roll—and began to play trumpet and guitar. Rejected by the National Film School, in the 1970s Figgis joined the People Show, an avant-garde musical theatre group with which he stayed for more than a decade and where he was able to write, direct, act, compose and perform. Also during this time he played with a number of jazz bands. In 1980 he formed the Mike Figgis Group, and staged various theatrical shows relying heavily on music that he composed and film footage that he directed.
    Figgis made his debut in 1988 with Stormy Monday, a stylish, Newcastle-set neo-noir which showed a sureness of touch both in the film’s visual style and his ability to handle a star cast. His first Hollywood film, Internal Affairs (1990), again proved his talent for handling actors, drawing from Richard Gere possibly his finest and certainly his most unsettling performance. The next three films suggested he was still struggling to fit his talent for erotically charged examinations of the human psyche into Hollywood-style moviemaking. Liebestraum (1991) was a low-key thriller, Mr Jones (1993) a disappointing reunion with Gere, The Browning Version (1994) a rather straightforward Rattigan adaptation. But for his next film Figgis stripped the budget to a minimum and shot on 16mm. The result was Leaving Las Vegas (1995), the masterpiece of his career so far, with fine performances from Nicolas Cage as the doomed hero and Elizabeth Shue as his hapless lover.
    From then on, Figgis has become ever more experimental, with the dazzling split-screen experiment of Timecode (2000), and Hotel (2001) both exploiting the potential of digital video technology.

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers arresting suspects, Los Angeles, 1990s

Pen sketch of a friend, Steven, dying from Aids at the Middlesex Hospital, London (1992)

Figgis's mother at his father's funeral (1976)

Satyajit Ray (1921-1992)

As his friend Kurosawa had done for Japanese cinema, so Satyajit Ray was responsible for establishing an international interest in Indian cinema in the 1950s. He achieved this with his serene, wise and assured debut Father Panchali (1955) which, alongside Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959), became known as the Apu Trilogy—one of the greatest works in world cinema. Again like Kurosawa, in childhood Ray had seemed destined to become a professional artist. He received years of training and achieved some success as an illustrator.
    He was born into a well-off Bengali family in Calcutta, and in 1940 he bowed to his family’s wishes and agreed to attend Shantiniketan, the university run by Rabindranath Tagore, who would inspire Ray throughout his career: he adapted several of Tagore’s stories for the cinema and produced a documentary to mark the centenary of Tagore’s birth.
    At Shantiniketan, Ray was introduced to Eastern art—Japanese and Chinese as well as Indian. He enhanced his studies by travelling through the country, scrutinizing and sketching traditional Indian sculptures, statues and shrines. He also visited nearby villages to make sketches. This introduced Ray to the humble ways of life that he would explore in his first films.
    After university, Ray returned to Calcutta in 1942 and joined a British-owned advertising company. During the next decade (which included a six-month stay in London where he furthered his cinematic education), Ray worked regularly as a freelance illustrator, designing book jackets and posters. He was also a film critic, which is how he came to meet his idol Jean Renoir. He had dreamed since childhood of breaking into movies, and it was while working on the designs for a new edition of Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novel Pather Panchali that he became passionate about making it into a film, which he did, coming close to bankruptcy in the process. As his fame grew—and he continued to direct films up to the late 1980s—Ray would still draw illustrations, regularly providing the covers for the children’s magazine Sandesh that had been launched by his father.

A watercolour from 1942, after the Japanese master, Ogata Korin (1658-1716)

Ray's wash-sketches for his first film 'Pather Panchali' (1955)

Ray's woodcut illustration for a 1944 edition of 'Pather Panchali' by Bibhuti Bhusan Bandhopadhyay, the novel on which the film was based

Peter Greenaway (b. 1942)

Greenaway grew up in Wanstead, east London, and after Forest Hills, a minor public school in Essex, went to Walthamstow Art School, which he later described as ‘a breath of fresh air—the novelty value lasted for years, and there I tried to make some sense of an accidental discovery—Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). That film changed everything.’ The other seminal film in his development as a director was Alan Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), and if Greenaway fits into any tradition it is that of the 1960s European auteurs, Bergman, Resnais, Godard, through whose work he gained his education in cinema.
    This education continued through the 1960s, when he found work at the British Film Institute (BFI) and then at the Central Office of Information, where he picked up experience in film-editing. For years he made small, self-financed, experimental films, until the critical success of The Falls, in 1980, led to The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), the film that most obviously owes a debt to Resnais. With his template established, he continued to turn out playful, obscure, erudite, and always controversial films at the rate of roughly one every two years.
    The central tension in his films is between the human capacity for, and attraction towards, chaos, ugliness and violence, and the ability or desire to impose order on the world through elaborate taxonomy or game-playing. His films are filled with arcane jokes and references and are often broken down into discrete segments—sometimes numbered, as with the dark and and ludic Drowning by Numbers (1988), or colour-coded, as in the case of his gross-out masterpiece, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). So while his films all contain sex, death, decay, violence, and characters who are either ciphers or loathsome and sometimes both, this is all set within a meticulously realized structure containing a sense of order and attention to detail that is equally crucial to his paintings, sketches and 3-D assemblages. The actor Tim Roth summed up Greenaway’s obsessiveness when he said, only half-jokingly, that during the making of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover the only significant direction he received was to move a couple of inches this way or that to restore the essential symmetry of the composition.


'Gaming Board', 1968 (oil on wood)

'Icarus Falling into Water', 1997 (mixed media on card)

'The Frames', 1981 (mixed media on card)



Written by Karl French
Published in GRANTA magazine #86


Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

As a child, Kurosawa dreamed of becoming an artist. He was encouraged in this by his primary school teacher and, to a degree, by his father, who insisted he complement his artistic education with a course in calligraphy. On leaving school at eighteen, one of his paintings was accepted for the Nika exhibition, a prestigious annual art festival, but he failed to take his formal training any further.
    In an interview towards the end of his life, Kurosawa was asked why he hadn’t become a painter. He replied: ‘Because I failed the exam.’ Again at his father’s insistence he had applied to a famous art school but had been rejected. After this he educated himself, visiting art galleries and studying individual painters. He persevered for a few more years, taking commissions from popular magazines. Then, at the age of twenty-five, having never contemplated a career in films, he answered an advertisement from Photo-Chemical Laboratories seeking trainee assistant directors. He was accepted and began an apprenticeship with the established director Kajiro Yamamoto. He directed his first film, Sansbiro Sugata, in 1943.
    Kurosawa was, like his friend Satyajit Ray, fundamentally a humanist film-maker, but he was also a great visual stylist. His films are marked by a painterly quality and he had an unmatched talent for staging fights and action set-pieces. His work is marked as much by Western as by Eastern influences, so it is fitting that his films should have been reappropriated by Hollywood and European directors: his samurai movies, including Seven Samurai (1954), provided the source material for Sergio Leone’s Dollars cycle and John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven, among others.
    Shortly after the release of his first colour film, Dodes’Kaden (1970), Kurosawa attempted suicide. He recovered to make three further masterpieces, Dersu Uzala (1975), Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985), which was helped financially by the intervention of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. It was in the long preproduction periods on these last films that he made detailed preparatory sketches in his trademark style—which owed a clear debt to Van Gogh and the Impressionists. His passion for Van Gogh was particularly evident in his penultimate film, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990), in which the elderly director meets Vincent, played by Kurosawa-worshipper Martin Scorsese.

A sketch for 'Akira Kurosawa's Dreams' (1990), in which Martin Scorsese plays Vincent Van Gogh

Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)

First inspired by German Expressionist cinema, Hitchcock quickly developed his signature style of suspense film-making. His films returned again and again to the same psychological territory—fear of authority figures, overbearing mothers, false accusations (with innocent men drawn into desperate situations by malign fate)—and incorporated elaborately staged set-pieces and extended takes. They also included his own often cheeky cameo appearances.
    For all his willingness to discuss his technique and philosophy of the craft of movie direction at great length, like some populist Eisenstein, he professed (as would Woody Allen decades later) a distaste for the actual process of film-making. Allen attributed his own feelings to a discomfort in dealing with actors and continual disappointment in the results compared to the image he had of the film in his head. Hitchcock felt, or claimed to feel, that rendering the action on celluloid was almost redundant, since he had already created the films in the elaborate storyboarding sessions that preceded each production. Although he usually employed a professional storyboard artist, and when he contributed his own sketches they tended to be hastily prepared and very rough, Hitchcock was a gifted draughtsman and, as his preparatory sketches for The 39 Steps (1935) show, he could produce atmospheric work of high quality.
    He left school in his early teens and went to work for the Henley Telegraph and Cable Company. He also took night classes in life drawing at the University of London and received a rudimentary education in the history of black-and-white illustration. When this came to the attention of his employers he was moved to the advertising department, where he churned out images over the next few years. In 1920 the American company Famous Players-Lasky opened a film studio in north London and Hitchcock went to work there, initially unpaid, supplying title cards for silent films. He was eventually made head of titles. He directed his first film, The Pleasure Garden, in 1925, and over the next fifty years an extraordinary run of suspense masterpieces followed, including The 39 Steps (1935), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960).

Janet Leigh in the shower sequence from 'Psycho' (1960)

Some of the few preparatory drawings for "The 39 Steps" (1935)

Some of the few preparatory drawings for "The 39 Steps" (1935)

Some of the few preparatory drawings for "The 39 Steps" (1935)

Some of the few preparatory drawings for "The 39 Steps" (1935)

Takeshi Kitano (b. 1947)

After what seems to have been a miserable childhood, in which he and his siblings were subject to their father’s violent outbursts (his father would later be the basis for the central character in his 1999 film, Kikujiro) Kitano dropped out of university and became apprenticed to a comedian. He joined up with Jiro, another young stand-up comic; they styled themselves ‘The Two Beats’ (hence Kitano’s stage name, Beat Takeshi, which he still uses as an actor) and became a cult success in Japan with their outrageous, often obscene stage act which in time they brought to television.
    In 1982, the director Nagisa Oshima cast Kitano against type as the brutal Hara in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. In Japan his fame as a comic affected him adversely, with audiences reputedly hooting with laughter at his every appearance on screen, despite the violence of his character. His next sideways move was equally dramatic, when he emerged as a gifted director on his first film, Violent Cop (1989).
It was an accident which led Kitano to take up painting. On the night of August 2,1994, after finishing his role in Johnny Mnemonic, he had a few drinks and went for a ride on his new motorbike. He crashed, fracturing his skull and cheekbone. He admitted later he wasn’t sure where he was going that night, or even whether or not it had been a suicide attempt. ‘I even thought my brain structure might have been changed and that it might make me more artistic,’ he said later. ‘It even convinced me to start painting.’
    He made a successful return to film-making with Kids Return (1996), but his masterpiece came in 1997 with Hana-Bi, in which he also plays the leading role as Nishi, a retired cop who alternates between acts of casual but extreme violence and tenderness in caring for his sick wife. Kitano had been planning this film before his accident, but his brush with death clearly informs its mood. Many of the paintings he made during his convalescence are woven seamlessly into the film, presented as the art work created by Nishi’s wheelchair-bound former partner Horibe. There is something perfect about these dreamy images in which flowers meld with animals, dovetailing with the film’s emblematic title, which consists of the Japanese word for fireworks broken down into its constituent parts: hana (flower), bi (fire).

Kitano painting which feature in his film "Hana-Bi" (1997)

Kitano painting which feature in his film "Hana-Bi" (1997)

A cartoon angel which appeared in Kitano's 1999 film "Kikujiro".

Kitano's failed attempt to copy Van Gogh's "Sunflowers", which he turned into a visual joke.

Another painting used in "Hana-Bi". The snow is made of thousands of copies of the Chinese pictogram for snow;the symbol at the centre means suicide.


Big format graphite on paper drawing inspired by the The Disintegration Loops, a series of four albums by American avant-garde composer William Basinski released in 2002 and 2003.

Un tratamiento a cuatro cuadros. Entrevista con Mike Figgis

A juzgar por su apariencia bohemia, uno pensaría que Figgis es un chaman, un profesor universitario o, mas acorde con sus verdaderas habilidades, un jazzista. De hecho, en tanto director y compositor consumado, Figgis a menudo ha tornado el camino menos transitado componiendo la música de sus películas. Y mucho antes de que Adiós a Las Vegas (1995) lo convirtiera en un director ingles con éxito en Hollywood, Figgis estuvo experimentando con producciones multimedia que combinaban acción viva con música y cine.
Time Code, su primera película en video digital lo hizo volver a esas raíces. Filmada en tiempo real con cuatro cámaras Sony DSR-1 (adaptadas a sus necesidades) durante 93 minutos de manera ininterrumpida (la duración de la cinta digital), es un audaz experimento que aborda la película como si fuera una compleja composición orquestal. Mientras improvisaban sus diálogos, los actores principales utilizaron relojes sincronizados para ver donde estaban en el desarrollo de la historia, el cual Figgis había planeado y registrado de manera meticulosa en hojas para partitura.

¿No se corre el riesgo de fomentar cierta falta de cualidades artísticas al recomendar a los realizadores que trabajan con video digital que se sientan con la libertad de experimentar en todo sentido?

Sin duda, estan por hacerse miles de peliculas de calidad inferior que puede que encuentren o no un mercado. Algunas realmente malas, meramente comerciales y burdas se volveran grandes exitos. Y las obras geniales seran ignoradas. Pero eso pasa en cualquier medio.
A mi simplemente me gusta la idea de que, asi como cualquiera puede escribir un libro si tiene lapiz y papel, ahora todo mundo puede hacer una pelicula. Esto abre posibilidades de un medio menos elitista y menos basado en la tecnologia.

Dices que no tienes muchas ganas de hacer otra película en 35mm. Me imagino que es menos por la imagen que por el proceso.

Adquiri mi propia Super 16 Aaton y puedo usarla en combinación con un enfoque digital. Me he hecho de un par de camaras digitales con las que me siento muy feliz. De modo que ahora tengo herramientas suficientes para decidir como filmar. Me encanta el cine. Me gusta el celuloide. Pero el Super 16 me funciona perfectamente. De hecho prefiero la estetica del 16mm a la del 35mm. Te da una imagen con una apariencia un poco menos fina, menos nitida, mas impresionista. Ahora el 35mm me parece demasiado clinico; en realidad tiene la apariencia del video de alta definition. Siento que es como si hubiera una correspondencia entre ellos.

¿Podrías haber hecho Adiós a Las Vegas en video digital?

En este momento, de haber tenido las camaras con las que filme Time Code, lo habria pensado. Adios a Las Vegas fue un proyecto tan dificil en cuanto al presupuesto, que cualquier forma de bajar el presupuesto sin perder calidad me habria interesado. Pero creo que el Super 16 fue perfecto para la pelicula.

¿Por que decidiste hacer Time Code en video digital?

Siempre ha sido una fantasia de muchos cineastas filmar en tiempo real, sin cortes. Antes uno estaba limitado por la duracion del rollo. Ahora por primera vez es posible rodar una pelicula durante 90 minutos sin un solo corte. Empece a jugar con la idea en mi cuaderno de notas. Uno de los problemas es que si filmas una pelicula de 90 minutos con una sola camara, estas restringido al hecho de que la camara solo puede estar en un sitio a la vez. Desde Iuego, lo grandioso del cine convencional es que la edicion te permite cortar cuando quieras y en cualquier lugar. Asi que pense que la unica manera de conseguir ese efecto era tener un formato de varias pantallas.
Dado que la necesidad es la madre de la inventiva, comence a hacer diagramas y se me ocurrio la idea de filmar con cuatro camaras y tener en pantalla cuatro acciones paralelas que presentaran todas las facetas de una misma historia. Me senti sumamente entusiasmado cuando pense que, por lo menos tecnicamente, era perfectamente posible.
Lo mas complicado era la regrabacion. Era verdaderamente dificil, pues para ello tenia que tomar decisiones acerca del dialogo de las diversas pantallas. No fue facil. Si en las cuatro pantallas tienes mas de diez personas, digamos, hablando todo el tiempo, simplemente enajenas al publico y no es posible escuchar claramente lo que estan diciendo. Si, por otra parte, subes un poco uno de los dialogos y estas usando las bocinas ambientales y ecualizas todas las voces de manera un poco distinta, encuentras que puedes dife- renciar lo que esta diciendo la gente, como si estuvieras en el vestibulo de un hotel. Pero tienes que orientar sutilmen- te el ojo, sin que sea obvio, mediante un enfoque muy sofisticado del audio, procedimiento que se acerca mucho a como es en la realidad.

¿De que te serviste para ayudar a los adores a aceptar el reto?

Sin duda lo que mas sirvió fueron las ventajas tecnológicas. Si grabas en video y estas filmando 93 minutos en tiempo real y comienzas en la mañana, para el almuerzo ya terminaste, y el técnico de video inmediatamente hace cuatro copias, transfiriendo con un aumento de la calidad de la cámara digital a DigiBeta con el mismo código de tiempo. Entonces reproduces las cuatro cintas en cuatro monitores dispuestos a diferentes alturas en un cuadrante, con cuatro salidas hacia una mezcladora. Lo importante para ellos era ver la dinámica en la que participaban, el verse en contexto. Si un actor realmente se esta pasando de la raya -pues todos están improvisando ?%94 y esta siendo egocéntrico, no hay nada mas contundente que verte frente a los otros 27 actores sentados juntos. Yo no podría decir nada a un actor que tuviera la misma fuerza ni el mismo efecto que el hecho de que ellos vean lo que están haciendo. Nos sentamos en circulo y los invite a todos a hacer comentarios. Yo puedo decir: «Bien, esto es lo que yo creo: funciona, pero en el minuto 1:43 se traslapan sus diálogos, de modo que tenemos que reorganizar un poco la secuencia.

¿El titulo de Time Code alude sobre todo a ese proceso?

Si, este film se basa completamente en la tecnología del código de tiempo. Usamos micrófonos de radio de veintisiete canales, además de los micrófonos de las cámaras y los que fueron instalados, pues no había posibilidad de usar canas en ninguna parte porque estábamos usando cuatro cámaras. Por tanto tenia que hacerse que la imagen y el sonido casaran por algún medio, y para ello utilizamos el código de tiempo. Pienso que en todo caso es una frase provocativa.

Como compositor, prestas mas atención a la musicalización que la mayoría de los directores. ¿Hizo alguna diferencia tu enfoque musical en este proyecto particular?

Una diferencia muy interesante, pues no solo permitió que los actores abordaran su ejercicio actoral sobre una base diaria, sino que, como estuve realizando cada noche estas mezclas en vivo, también introduje un gran numero de CDs y probé diferentes maneras de abordar la música. Esto fue inspirando cotidianamente su actuación. Por ejemplo, utilice algunas piezas de música de cuerdas realmente lentas y con cierta fuerza, y los actores comenzaron a ajustar su estilo a sabiendas de que esa era la forma en que se iba a desarrollar la escena y así era como podría salir con la mezcla final. Se volvió una especie de ejecución a dos manos entre los actores y la música. Lo cual también es interesante si luego cambias de opinión, pues puedes ir contra esa tendencia con la música, cosa que he hecho en un par de casos.
De igual modo, la manera en que se escribió el film en tanto historia es realmente como una composición musical en papel pautado. Cada una de las cuatro cámaras tiene un pentagrama musical y cada barra representaba un minuto, de modo que todo el film fue planeado en cierto sentido como si fuera un cuarteto de cuerdas. Debido a mi formación musical, esa fue la única manera en que pude registrar la operación de las cuatro cámaras.

¿Has pensado en integrar la red al proceso de desarrollo de una película?

Lo he pensado, pero tengo la teoría de que la red es una especie de renacimiento de la literatura y la palabra escrita. En realidad yo me siento feliz con una pluma fuente y un cuaderno, y la red es una forma de hablar e intercambiar ideas e investigar. Para mi Internet es en cierto modo algo pavoroso: demasiadas posibilidades, demasiadas opciones.

¿Alguna idea de que viene después de Time Code?

Solo quiero ir a la cama y dormir durante un año



Entrevista realizada por Marco Masoni en Febrero del 2001.

Chucho Valdés y Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Dos de los músicos más importantes de nuestra era, juntos, en concierto. Se trata de una colaboración que habla de la profunda conexión espiritual que sienten Chucho y Gonzalo a través de la música, en todas sus formas y declinaciones: 'Conozco a Gonzalo desde que era un niño' -explica el mismo Chucho-. 'Somos un dúo que representa una historia muy especial dentro de la tradición pianística cubana; por este motivo este proyecto es tan singular. Los dos pianos suenan como uno solo'. 'Hemos querido crear un repertorio a nuestra medida' -concluye Rubalcaba-: 'hemos escrito obras originales para nuestros dos pianos, pero también hemos reimaginado música, que abarca desde la tradición popular cubana hasta Thelonious Monk'.

Chucho Valdés y Gonzalo Rubalcaba en concierto en el Teatre-Auditori de Sant Cugat el 19 de Noviembre del 2017

Entrevista a Isaki Lacuesta por Jorge Carrión

Jorge Carrión: Tu cine puede ser leído, tras Godard o Marker, como una poética de la cita...

Isaki Lacuesta: Las casas de citas son lugares de reputación dudosa, así que prometo que mis próximas películas evitarán incidir en esa poética que señalas, que me parece bastante peligrosa, al menos para mí. A partir de ahora me gustaría que mis películas siguieran caminos muy distintos: por un lado, trabajo con una serie de guiones más narrativos, y por el otro, en piezas más autobiográficas, cercanas al cuaderno de notas.

Jorge Carrión:  También cultivas la cita literaria: ¿Cómo sintetizarías tu trayectoria como lector de libros?

Isaki Lacuesta: No sabría sintetizarla bien. Creo que hay un relato de Luis Landero en el que resume la historia de la literatura universal en menos de diez líneas. Yo sería incapaz de hacer algo semejante, parecería una guía telefónica para pedantes. Si quieres un resumen, puedo decirte que fui un niño que leía mucho y hablaba poco. A partir de los dieciocho comencé a publicar reseñas literarias en un periódico de provincias, gracias a lo cual me regalaban muchos libros, la mayoría de los cuales eran pésimos, pero entre ellos siempre aparecía alguna joya para mí desconocida, como Joseph Joubert o Madame de Sevigné. Pasé por las etapas previsibles en cualquier letraherido (Shakespeare, Kafka y Borges, todos ellos autores que me parecen mucho más complicados ahora que entonces, la Lost Generation norteamericana, los franceses decimonónicos, De Quincey, Diderot, Villon, Virgina Woolf, los gigantes rusos, los dadaístas, surrealistas y  otros “–istas” menos afamados, los trágicos griegos, Sterne, Pessoa y compañía...), y hace unos años, la lectura de Proust me conmocionó y supuso un punto de inflexión. Tras la resaca de La recherche, volví a los viejos conocidos, y lo que más leo ahora son dietarios de artistas y novelas de aventuras. Digamos que ando a medias entre Conrad y Valéry. Para terminar el resumen, ahora, por culpa de la moda de las conferencias, los cursos y las mesas redondas, me pagan más por hablar que por leer, todo lo cual ha trastocado mi naturaleza. Ahora leo menos y hablo demasiado.

Jorge Carrión: En Las variaciones Marker hay una clara disociación entre la voz en off y las imágenes que se proyectan. Me refiero a una disociación referencial, evidentemente sí hay una asociación metafórica, poética. ¿Cómo has llegado a esos vínculos simbólicos? ¿Exclusivamente desde el cine? ¿A través de la literatura, de la poesía?

Isaki Lacuesta: Normalmente, estas disociaciones surgen durante el trabajo de montaje, nunca aparecen antes del contacto directo con las imágenes y los sonidos. En este aspecto son más fruto de la artesanía y el jugueteo con los materiales que de un plan preconcebido. Con el montador Sergi Dies nos gusta mucho hacer manualidades con los planos antes de empezar a pensar demasiado, porque las personas somos animales dotados de una increíble capacidad fabuladora, y a la que juntamos o aproximamos dos elementos dispares no podemos evitar percibir vínculos entre ellos, y comenzar a inventarnos historias o metáforas. De hecho, cada pieza de Las Variaciones tiene un estilo de montaje distinto. Y si me preguntas por mi formación, imagino que en este gusto por el montaje han influido mucho la música y la literatura. Crecí escuchando The Beatles mientras leía a Mary Shelley, Stevenson y Bram Stoker. Ahora, cuando escucho algunas de aquellas canciones que marcaron mi infancia no puedo dejar de asociarlas a determinadas páginas de Frankenstein, algo que desde luego nunca pudieron prever ni Lennon ni Shelley.

Jorge Carrión:En la película hablas de la relación entre montaje y pestañeo. ¿Cuál es el ritmo (musical) de la mirada? ¿Cómo se relaciona con el del pensamiento?

Isaki Lacuesta: Los cineastas clásicos de Hollywood aspiraban a lograr un montaje invisible, en el que cada plano durara exactamente el tiempo justo que el espectador requería para su comprensión. Siguiendo esta idea, el gran montador Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, etc) apuntaba que los parpadeos deberían caer siempre en el momento preciso del corte, de tal modo que nunca pudiéramos apreciarlos. Lo que nosotros decimos en “Las Variaciones” es que Chris Marker parte de una concepción opuesta del arte del montaje, en la que el corte debe poder ser visto y pensado, puesto que cada cambio de plano, cada intersticio, está repleto de significado. Por eso los parpadeos jamás coinciden con el instante del corte y del empalme. En cuanto a la musicalidad de la mirada, cada día admiro más a los cineastas que son capaces de plasmar un cambio de ritmo, una alteración del estado de ánimo, de dilatar la temporalidad de un puñetazo hasta que podamos apreciar que en ese gesto brusco se escondía una caricia: eso podemos encontrarlo claramente en secuencias como éstas: de Mauvais sang , Days of being wild o en el germen de las anteriores: Masculin féminin.

Jorge Carrión: Está claro que el viaje es para ti un modo de llegar a las historias y, sobre todo, a ciertas imágenes. En Las variaciones hablas de la oposición porteña entre Piglia y Aira y la asocias a luchadores de sumo. ¿Por qué?

Isaki Lacuesta: Para mí, el viaje es, antes que nada, una forma de vivir. Otra cuestión es hasta qué punto los que hemos crecido educados por el cine y la literatura en vez de por la religión, podemos vivir sin dejar de vernos a nosotros mismos como los protagonistas y al mismo tiempo los lectores del relato de nuestra propia vida. Por cuestiones laborales, cada vez viajo más y leo menos. Además, hoy en día los cineastas viajamos todo el rato y al azar, y acabamos yendo allí donde nos invitan, como si fuéramos viajantes. Para ser más precisos: somos como cantantes de rock que en vez de tocar en los conciertos, se limitaran a pinchar sus discos y a explicarlos después en un coloquio por si alguien tuviera problemas de oído o no los hubiera podido entender del todo bien. Somos buhoneros. En fin, es una costumbre muy extraña, pero gracias a eso he podido conocer lugares que nunca hubiera imaginado visitar. Gracias a esta red mundial de festivales, Buenos Aires se ha convertido en una de las ciudades que más han marcado los últimos cinco años de mi vida. La adoro y la detesto. Siento que los porteños tienen la necesidad de extremar siempre sus opiniones y partir el mundo en dos bandos opuestos. El chiste acerca de Piglia y Aira surgía de esta idea, y de la admiración que siento por ambos, aunque al parecer ellos se odien entre sí. Como decía Borges sobre los peronistas, “no son ni buenos ni malos, son incorregibles”.

Jorge Carrión: En la estructura literaria del guión de Las variaciones, con su gusto por la coincidencia y por las historias paralelas, adivino la lectura de Enrique Vila-Matas. ¿Estoy en lo cierto?

Isaki Lacuesta: No pensé en Vila-Matas cuando lo escribía, pero en cualquier caso, lo cierto es que he leído casi todos sus libros, así que bien podría ser que hubiera un rastro suyo. Creo que muchos lectores de nuestra generación encontramos a Vila-Matas en el momento justo para que nos descubriera a la cofradía de los raros: Walser, Perec, Artaud, Musil, Polgar, Aira y compañía. En este aspecto, Vila-Matas ha hecho un trabajo similar al de Gómez de la Serna en su día. Para cerrar el círculo, hace poco interpreté en un corto a la sombra de Vila-Matas, y él me incorporó a una de sus crónicas.Estos juegos borgianos me siguen divirtiendo mucho, pero de todos modos,  cada vez siento más que estamos rodeados de un exceso de metacine y metaliteratura, y procuro esquivarlo como puedo, intentando volcarme en la vida sin encuadres ni encuadernaciones. El arte puede ayudarnos a ahondar en las experiencias, pero al mismo tiempo puede interponerse como un filtro, y eso es lo que más temo: no me gustaría nada acabar en la cama con Anna Karenina.

Jorge Carrión: Me interesa mucho esa idea: después de la posmodernidad, volvemos a la vida, sin inocencia, post-irónicos quizá; lo real, entonces, se vuelve en la raíz (lo radical) del arte. En ese sentido, La leyenda del tiempo es una película que hace malabarismos con la realidad, y que busca en ella la emoción, la piel, el paisaje, la belleza, la tristeza…

Isaki Lacuesta: Después de Cravan, que es una película de aprendizaje,  de carácter más teórico, necesitaba tratar de captar este tipo de impresiones más inmediatas, que de algún modo ahora me parecen más cercanas a la esencia del cine, entendido como un arte de las huellas y los rastros. Me apetecía abordar el cine como retrato. En fin, estoy completamente de acuerdo con la idea que apuntas.

Jorge Carrión: Hace años entrevisté a Guerin y me hizo una reflexión parecida: el cine como arte del rastreo (y de la luz). Compartes con él el interés por lo real, la búsqueda de la perfección o de la maestría técnica y una profunda conciencia literaria, además de una escena del cine español del siglo XXI, la que se ha desarrollado en sintonía con el Máster de Cine Documental de la UPF y con el suplemento Cultura/s de La Vanguardia, es decir, con Jordi Balló, que ha contado con Joaquín Jordá y con José Luis Guerin como tutores...

Isaki Lacuesta: El encargo del cazador de Jordà y Tren de sombras de Guerin me marcaron mucho cuando empecé a plantearme hacer películas, son obras que me descubrieron que era posible hacer cine de formas distintas a la habitual. Después, tuve el gusto de conocerles y entablar amistad con ambos. Ese diálogo intergeneracional me parece importante, porque ha sido algo poco habitual en la historia del cine español. Sin embargo, debo aclarar que la búsqueda de la perfección no es algo que me quite el sueño: la mayoría de mis películas favoritas como espectador son bastante frágiles e irregulares. Pretender hacer películas perfectas sólo puede conducirte a la impostura o la parálisis: si los ángeles vuelan es porque se lo toman a la ligera. Y yo quiero hacer películas sin paracaídas.

Jorge Carrión: Tu cine busca la armonía y la disonancia, artesanales, entre imagen, texto y música. ¿Es válida todavía la vieja pretensión del cine como arte total?

Isaki Lacuesta: En castellano, “total...”, seguido de puntos suspensivos, viene a significar “qué más dará, total, pa lo qué importa...”. Me parece que ésa es la acepción de la palabra más reivindicable.

Jorge Carrión: En tus trabajos en el ámbito del arte contemporáneo estás investigando con las nuevas tecnologías. Tienes un proyecto sobre escáner cerebral (vinculado con un neorromanticismo: escanean el cerebro de tu pareja sentimental y tú buscas, mediante palabras clave, que son ciudades donde estuvisteis juntos, el rastro del amor neuronal) y otro en marcha sobre Google Earth. ¿El cine sólo puede sobrevivir en diálogo con el porvenir?

Isaki Lacuesta: El cine tiene la capacidad de convertir en pasado todo lo que toca, en un falso eterno presente o pretérito indefinido como el de Pompeya, por eso ahora echo de menos un cine más volcado en el presente, y a menudo me pregunto cómo puede conjugarse con la imagen cinematográfica en futuro (de ahí mi interés por Chris Marker). El trabajo al que haces referencia se titula “Lugares que no existen- Goggle Earth” y es una réplica a ras de suelo del famoso programa, que estamos realizando con Isa Campo. “Goggle” (con dos “g en medio”) significa “remover los ojos” y “anteojeras”. Hemos sabido que Google (con dos “o”) oculta deliberadamente distintos paisajes, y nosotros vamos a ir allí para filmar lo que existe debajo de esos falsos paisajes de píxels que vemos en el ordenador.  Por ejemplo, ya hemos filmado un hotel de lujo construido en Fuerteventura incumpliendo la ley de costas, y que Google optó por ocultar y convertirlo en una playa después de pactar con el ayuntamiento del lugar. En los próximos meses, vamos a hacer lo mismo en espacios de Cádiz, Colombia, Melbourne, Ecuador, Rusia... Hay un lugar común que nos parece terrible, según el cual viajar hoy en día ya no tiene sentido, porque todos nos hemos convertido en turistas que nos desplazamos por lugares homogeneizados. Creemos que ver las cosas con nuestros propios ojos aún tiene sentido, y nos gusta recuperar el pasaje del gran Conrad: “De muchacho tenía yo pasión por los mapas. Hubiera mirado durante horas enteras mapas de América del sur, de África, de Australia, y me hubiera perdido en todas las glorias de la exploración. En aquel tiempo, había en la tierra mucho espacio en blanco, y cuando yo veía en un mapa uno que parecía especialmente atractivo, hubiera puesto mi dedo sobre él: “cuando crezca iré allá". El mundo sigue lleno de espacios en blanco, incluso en Google Earth.

Jorge Carrión: Acabo de publicar un libro sobre Australia: en ese viaje y en su escritura he descubierto precisamente eso, que tiene sentido irte a la otra punta del mundo, porque Wikipedia, Google o las páginas web de los pueblos y oficinas de turismo están llenos de vacíos, de mentiras, de malentendidos. El viaje, de algún modo, se vuelve todavía más necesario: porque antes los espacios estaban en blanco, eran honestos; ahora están falsamente llenos, están enmascarados, de modo que el viajero tiene que borrar antes de escribir en ellos. Tu video sobre el cerebro, de algún modo, apunta hacia una dirección complementaria: qué hay escrito dentro de nosotros, cómo podemos mapearnos…

Isaki Lacuesta: En realidad, me parece que tanto “Lugares que no existen (Goggle Earth)” como “Resonancias magnéticas” plantean una lectura ambivalente. Sentimos una necesidad irrefrenable de escritura, de cartografiar el mundo entero e incluso nuestras emociones, pero al mismo tiempo la gracia de estos intentos radica en su absoluta imposibilidad. En “Resonancias” jugaba con la fantasía de poder penetrar en la mente y en los sentimientos de mi amada. Esta idea, propia de la ciencia ficción, es la misma que Michaux ya soñó hace décadas: "Este fantasma, este doble que es el temperamento y sus recorridos extraños denominados sentimientos, que en la fisonomía sólo afloran y en los actos se imprimen, cualquier día, cualquier día estoy seguro y no tan lejano y felices aquellos que los contemplarán, cualquier día se les verá. Se verá, gracias a un invento cualquiera, los sentimientos, formarse las emociones, enlazarse, y sus conexiones progresivamente hasta contagiar el individuo todo entero. Se verá el amor". (Henri Michaux, "Pensando en el fenómeno de la pintura", 1946). En “Resonancias”, los científicos que contraté para analizar el cerebro de mi amada concluyeron que creían haber detectado actividad cerebral en un área misteriosa, que ellos suponen responsable del amor. Pero no podían responderme con certeza. Hace tan sólo unos días, los periódicos anunciaban que, gracias a la tecnología de las resonancias magnéticas, ya podíamos leer y transcribir los pensamientos ajenos casi al pie de la letra. Por supuesto, ese titular no era periodismo, sino propaganda. Aún estamos lejos de llegar a ese extremo. La poesía sigue siendo necesaria, y por fortuna, no es incompatible con la ciencia, más bien todo lo contrario.

Jorge Carrión: ¿Cómo llegaste a la historia de La leyenda del tiempo? ¿Cómo fueron los viajes previos hasta el viaje definitivo –el rodaje?

Isaki Lacuesta: Fui a San Fernando de vacaciones, poco antes de estrenar Cravan, y quedé prendado de su modo de vida. La bahía de Cádiz me fascina, y no he dejado de pensar que algún día seré un joven jubilado gaditano. Durante los años siguientes, regresé varias veces, ya con la idea de hacer una película, que es una de las mejores excusas que existen para instalarte a vivir durante una temporada en un lugar ajeno. Partíamos de una serie de intuiciones, de anotaciones muy breves sobre cómo podía ser “La leyenda”. Después, una vez conseguida la financiación, hicimos un casting en busca de los personajes: este cásting era fundamental, porque no sólo buscábamos a los intérpretes, sino también el argumento de la película.  A partir de aquí, planteamos un rodaje de nueve semanas, dividido en tres etapas (diciembre, febrero y julio), con el objetivo de tener tiempo para repensar lo que estábamos haciendo y dejar crecer a los personajes. Para un rodaje así, es fundamental la complicidad de los protagonistas y de todo el equipo técnico. Es lo más parecido a trabajar y vivir en familia, con todo lo bueno y lo malo que esto conlleva. Desde luego, les estoy muy agradecido a todos, porque hay que ser muy generoso para embarcarse en un rodaje como aquél, trabajando tanto tiempo sin guión y sin saber hacia dónde diablos nos dirigíamos.

Jorge Carrión: En tu modus operandi, por tanto, es importante estar atento a los estímulos que te proporciona el propio viaje... El guión está abierto... ¿Hasta qué punto también las lecturas son importantes en este sentido?

Isaki Lacuesta: En la misma medida en que pueda serlo todo lo que nos rodea: una canción, un tropiezo, un programa de televisión, un encuentro o una conversación escuchada en el tren pueden servirte como punto de partida de una escena. De todos modos, en este sentido, La leyenda es una película muy poco libresca, y seguramente me marcaron más las letras de muchas canciones populares que ningún libro.

Jorge Carrión: ¿Has pensado en “adaptar” algún texto literario?

Isaki Lacuesta: Sí, varios, aunque de forma muy poco literal. Supongo que todo llegará a su debido tiempo... De momento, aunque no sea una adaptación, para mi próxima película, Los condenados (una historia que ocurre en la Argentina actual, coescrita con Isa Campo) hemos pensado mucho en el tono moral de Joseph Conrad, sobre todo en su libro Una visión desde Occidente.

Jorge Carrión: ¿Cuál es tu primer recuerdo como lector, entendiendo “lectura” en el sentido más amplio (cine, publicidad, literatura, artes visuales...)?

Isaki Lacuesta: Me recuerdo de niño leyendo las caricaturas de El Periódico. Mi padre trabajaba entonces en una empresa de alpargatas y yo pensaba que el que aparecía en las caricaturas del diario era su jefe, al que confundía con el presidente del gobierno Adolfo Suárez. Parece ser que en mi mente infantil aquellas dos figuras tan poderosas se mezclaban en una sola. Y la primera novela que recuerdo haber leído es Los piratas del Halifax de Julio Verne, aunque sé que no fue la primera.

Jorge Carrión: ¿Y el último?

Isaki Lacuesta:Ahora estoy leyendo la Autobiografía de Chesterton y soy adicto al blog de Arcadi Espada y al dibujante Liniers. Por si no lo conoces, te recomiendo encarecidamente a Liniers, que es un poeta, el Lewis Carrol de los pingüinos.  Y también recuerdo haber leído hace poco un titular en El Mundo que decía: “Patrick Swayze lucha contra el fantasma del cáncer de páncreas”. Escribir un juego de palabras tan miserable como éste debería ser delito.

Ray Cuza

Ray Cuza and his band playing at The Palace Hotel in Barcelona on September 29th 2017.

A conversation between Katsuhiro Otomo and Koji Morimoto

First meetings, new animation ...

Otomo: I think we first met doing Genma Taisen.

Morimoto: I was observing you from a distance. You were hunched over your desk like this ... so close to the paper that I thought, "Is he asleep?"

Otomo: No way was I asleep. I was probably just trying to block out my surroundings.

Morimoto: After that we worked side-by-side for the first time on Order To Halt Construction from Manie Manie.

Otomo: While you were doing key frames we talked about alot of different things. Later, Robot Carnival was like that too. It was very interesting to work with animators like you and Kitakubo, Inoue, Nakamura. It seemed like everyone was trying to do something different and unique.

Morimoto: Madhouse itself was like that. That all came from Rintaro, making films with such a powerful visual impact. Bringing in folks from art school or with no animation experience to work as colorists and stuff.

Otomo: That started even before at Mushi Productions.Beliadonna and One Thousand And One Nights. Alot of pretty strange work.

Moderator: What about Morimoto's first directorial effort Franken's Gears ...

Morimoto: Didn't really have the freedom to think about doing new things. Was overloaded just trying to do what had to be done. But the challenge of drawing robots that was fun. I like robots. During Robot Carnival and Manie Manie you introduced me to music by Art Of Noise ...

Otomo: Music is such an important part of moviemaking. Difficult too. When I was doing Order To Halt Construction I was listening to Hajime Tachibana but didn't actually use that music for the film. Didn't think it would go with the final images. Since then I try to avoid making decisions about music while storyboarding. You never know if something's going to work until you hear what your music staff puts together.

Morimoto: I'm always listening to music. Sometimes listening to it as though it were sound effects.

Otomo: With your music video Extra you already had music from the beginning.

Morimoto: Music helps extract some good images from within you. The first music that had that impact on me was YMO. When I was doing Tomorrow's Joe that's all I listened to. When working with director Desaki I was just hearing "Tokyo!" and stuff like that.

Otomo: (laughs) That's totally different!

Morimoto: Big mistake, Japanese country music. But YMO was very stimulating. I was always baffled by the crazy sounds they managed to make. And after that, you introduced me to Art Of Noise and Kraftwerk. That start– ed everything.

Sketches and stories ...

Morimoto: In the old days, you told me, "Your drawings have no life in them.'"

Otomo: "They don't! "

Morimoto: I always have one idea and then try and build a story around it.

Otomo: Don't you think of movement before story? 

Morimoto: Yes, right. Probably just thinking "It would be interesting if this guy did this" and using that as a point of departure from which to draw. I think I'd have to multiply that by a factor of one thousand to complete a feature film. I'd like that.

Otomo: I felt that way when I saw The Tin Drum years ago. It was just like he made one scene at a time and the final film was those scenes strung together. Like, "Ok, here's the scene where the mother eats an eeL .. " and stuff like that. A lot of short films put together. Worked really well.

Morimoto: It can be really interesting to compose things as a series of shorts.

Otomo: Same with a lot of European movies. Fellini, stuff like that.

Otomo: Sometimes it can just be drawing absurd pictures to go with an absurd event. Like drawing "autumn" and then drawing "winter". And before you know it you're done.

Morimoto: Maybe I'm like that too. People always say they don't get my stories. Maybe I'm just not interested in how the main character evolves.

Moderator: Perhaps you're just more involved in intense characters and continuing to string out one particular gag or another.

Otomo: There's alot of them in this book of yours. 

Morimoto: Sometimes I'm drawing because I'm interested in the film itself but other times it's just a particular idea that strikes me, like a light bulb going on in my head.

Otomo: You should draw a weird character like that. 

Morimoto: I'll slyly direct the conversation away from myself by asking you why you don't work like that. 

Otomo: Just absurd stuff? I always think about it. Sometimes when I'm tired I'll put on a Fellini film. I love watching his films.

Morimoto: Feels so absurd sometimes. I drew the characters in here because I was interested in these types of characters. But at one time I was just doing mechanical stuff and backgrounds - no characters at all. That was fun too.

Otomo: Do you ever think of your childhood? .

Morimoto: Can't remember. But Wakayama Prefebture is covered with ruins. Lots of interesting scenery, but I was just playing when I was a child.

Otomo: I've heard about Wakayama in old times. Intense. I think that prefecture has a very strong survival instinct!

Morimoto: But I'm in love with cities, crowded and messy. Can't draw anything of nature.

Otomo: Why not?

Morimoto: Tedious.

Otomo: (laughs) It takes all kinds. People who hate to draw trees and stuff like that. But trees are much funner than man-made objects.

Morimoto You like drawing trees?

Otomo: Yes, yes. But I never have any in my stories. Morimoto : Something really crazy, like your version of Hansel And Gret!.

Otomo: I like that story. The trees there are not normal though.

Morimoto: The trees that you draw are like ruins though. I like when there's fine detail and interesting textures. 

Otomo: Tons of that stuff in Wakayama! Such a green place.

Morimoto: I liked tunnels more than trees. The ones that cut through mountains and stuff like that. They have some for irrigating the rice fields. There were some near my elementary school. Used to go there on the way home. Totally falling apart.

Otomo: Dangerous!

Morimoto: Very! People always told me to stay away from them (laughs). Bats flying in and out of them. Badger nests and stuff. I once crawled in an enormous hole and found badgers.

Otomo: Really? In my home town, people said they were very cute. Surprising. Doesn't that feeling come out in your artwork? So intense.

Morimoto: In those days, I just thought it was normal to take a tunnel to school. There were no buildings around. So I was very intrigued by the big city. It was so great going to Osaka. In a way it's even more messy than Tokyo. Like something from Blade Runner. Cooooll! Made my heart beat faster wandering around there. Where did you like going to when you first came to Tokyo?

Otomo: Mmm. When I first came to Tokyo, I found Ueno amazing. Like being in a different era. Just after the war or something. There were all these old shops lined up on the railway platform. I loved those kind of messy, dirty places. Nothing like my home town.

Morimoto: I always wonder what's next after Blade Runner. Not something like Kowloon City, though that's something fun to draw also. Eventually maybe there'll be green conduits and tunnels instead ot trees. Maybe eventually machines and plants will merge ...

Otomo: Perhaps things will evolve to a larger scale. That would be interesting.

Morimoto: It would be nice to see this kind of line style in a film.

Otomo: Vegetation is a motif you see in Gaudi's artwork. Like the Sagrada Familia vegetables and piants on a macro scale. That's cool. Not just normal vegetation, but really strange stuff.

Morimoto: I grew up in the mountains so I have a sense for the forest and green areas. Maybe it's unrelated but my drawings now are less about complicated forms than about curves, which I find very pleasant to draw.

Otomo: People who draw end up liking those kinds of curves. Feels good drawing them.

Morimoto: It's like drawing and hoping you'll find a good line in there somewhere. Spending three months doing that can be fun. But for some reason the characters always seem.so far away. Like I'm trying to catch up with them. (laughs)

Otomo: I don't really sketch that much. In my case thinking of the next story, the words and such.

Morimoto: Don't you think there's a difference in stories that begin as words and stories that begin as pictures? I think manga and animation's power comes from the drawings, so don't you feel like things are moving in the wrong direction when your head is full of words instead of pictures? Often I feel like I just want to forget language altogether.

Otomo: I get to that when I storyboard. Trying to come up with cinematic pictures, camerawork, lighting, lenses. I don't think stories emerge from the line artwork. I was thinking of a manga idea recently and I found I was thinking very cinematically, even though I was planning a manga not a movie.

Morimoto: From the beginning?

Otomo: Yes, from the beginning. Like "this is how I'll compose this frame." There's not too many characters in this. I don't think "this guy should be wearing these kinds of clothing." If I start thinking of stuff like "there's this strange machine over here" and "what's this thing over here", I never build up momentum.

Morimoto: I know what you mean. I always get stuck at the same point. While writing the story I get hung up on details. But if I don't think of the details I can't move forward with the story.

Otomo: I know what you mean. When I think of manga, for example something in eastern Europe, or anything for that matter, thinking of background details can be so time consuming. It's hard to come up with pictures you're actually pleased with. You sometimes start to hate everything that's in your head! And you know your taste and your strengths if you're always drawing. But you want to draw scenes that you've never seen before, buildings that don't look like the buildings you draw. And eventually you have to populate these scenes also. 

Morimoto: There's some sense of comfort or balance in your work and you have to destroy that.

Otomo: You start drawing and then you think "oh no, not this again."

Morimoto: Yes! That's why I always start to reverse the direction of the drawings, or see things a bit differently. I always feel like I'm trying to break free of the gravity of the place I'm at. It feels safe to have my feet on the ground here so I know something interesting' will come

from destroying that. '

Otomo: There's definitely a weightless feeling in your drawings. Maybe that's from music?

Morimoto: Weightlessness is the best. I'd love to be able to fly.

Moderator: There was the flying stuff in your Animalrix episode Beyond ...

Otomo: And your short film Noiseman too. 

Morimoto: I didn't really feel I directed those too well. Like in music, particularly trance music, there's that moment where you're thinking "it's and then "boom!" That's the kind of music I like. 

Otomo: Visceral pleasure.

Morimoto: That's the kind of music I'm fixated on. Techno starts out very simple and then gets heavier, but that's just a fixed pattern. And while you hold on to that pattern, there's other stuff changing as well. And you never know exactly where it's taking you.

Drawing with an eye towards the future ...

Morimoto: This book is a collection of sketches, but right now I'm trying to draw a manga.

Otomo: A short?

Morimoto: Yes. I have the basic story, but not the actual panels worked out. I have it all in my head but when I start to draw it takes up too many pages. Any advice? 

Otomo: (laughs) I'll have to think about that and get back to you.

Morimoto: I don't really know enough about manga, like why you sometimes use triangular panels or trapezoids. 

Otomo: Trapezoids are tough. You could do what Moebius does and try and just work out each individual panel's structure.

Morimoto: I realized that picture structure can really help dialog flow naturally. Just put the dialog where the reader's eye goes and you get a very easy-to-read manga. I just realized that recently. Obvious?

Otomo: (laughs) Everyone's doing that. Well, unlike animation, you can use very wide compositions and biframes. So when you really want someone to spend time looking at a picture you can draw it big. Can't do that with animation. That's a big limitation. Every scene is drawn in the same proportions and size. Storyboards can end up looking very empty. Are you going to do the manga in color? Will you use halftones?

Morimoto: Digital. I've never used a G-pen.

Otomo: You should! You'd be like a real manga artist. Draw with a pen on Kent paper.

Morimoto: I have to do a lot of layering to get the pictures I want. That's' how you do animation. If you want to add something you just add another layer. "A eel, B eeL .. " like that. Of course I do my rough drawings all together.

Otomo: Better to just draw on instinct. If you have the ability to correct, you'll never finish.

Morimoto: I know, I know. But I'm so used to dealing with each element individually.

Moderator: Listening to you speak about sketching and stories, I feel like you two are total opposites.

Otomo: I think about the entire image first. A certain feeling or a way of drawing a particular character. Always want to do something that's not entirely familiar to me. That's probably a bit unique. Most people probably want to express everything that they have inside, but guys like me want to do something totally new every time. Maybe it's more important to value your own ideas. Like Akira  and things like that. But by the time I'm finished with a project my head is already somewhere else.

Morimoto: That probably is a big difference between us. I feel like I'm just drawing my world. Everything occurring in the same city. Same locations. Or perhaps you could compare it to different rooms in the same apartment building. That's the world I want to draw. The city's bakery, noodle shop, etc. Strange items in that world. The 'people who live in that world.

Otomo: Sounds like a remix! Ok I get it, so you want to do a whole city.

Morimoto: A city that I like.

Otomo: I want to go someplace I've never been! I like looking at a picture and thinking "this is something I would have never imagined". Some little alleyway in Mexico. Or an old house with buildings in the distance, and in the foreground an adobe wall with birds on it. Dirty children sitting in the mud. That would be great. That kind of back alley. That's what I like.

Morimoto: In the manga I'm thinking of now there's a strange scene with a little girl. You know those school crossing zones painted on the streets? I was thinking of an "old zone". When you step into the old zone ...

Otomo: I have to do something interesting like that. Maybe do another manga ... Yeah, a "strange zone" .... (laughs)

Morimoto: (laughs) No, no. I can't wait to see your next manga. As a fan of yours, I have to say I love your movies but I also want to read your manga. Thanks for your time today. You've inspired me!

(Originally post on March 2012)