Ink & Pixel: The Triplets of Belleville

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

What moves you? What's your passion? What gets your blood pumping, your toes tapping, and ultimately overwhelms you with the urge to boogie down? For me, it's all of the music that I've loved and identified with over the years. Every day of my existence involves rocking out to the bands and musical artists I’ve chosen to create the “soundtrack of my life”. Now that you know this, let me tell you a little something about music in regard to animation. There's sort of this golden rule in the industry that as an animator you never, ever, animate while listening to music.

What? Why not? Well, as you know, music has a tendency to get inside of your head. Before long, the animator who chooses to listen to music while working will begin animating to the beat of whatever they've chosen to play. Auditory distraction is a big no-no that can potentially cause major consequences for everyone involved in the project, and is therefore a forbidden practice when hoping to successfully animate an object or character. The last thing you want is to accidentally animate your character to the beat of a song that no one else can hear. A mistake like that has the potential to set you back in an industry that eats, sleeps, and relies on deadlines. The more you know!

While we're on the topic of music, this seems like a fine opportunity to speak on the animated musical comedy THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE. Directed by Sylvain Chomet in the year 2003, this Jazz-infused, vaudevillian send-up to the treasured animation of the '30s is a film that combines hand-drawn animation with quality CGI techniques to deliver an unforgettable marriage of both artistry and song. Presented as a nearly dialogue-free animation that relies almost entirely on the act of pantomime to convey its emotion and story, THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE is a product of international production with companies hailing from the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, and Canada all coming together to make it happen.

Okay, so we already know that THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE is rich with rhythm, song, and dance, but what is the film about exactly? Meet Madame Souza, a squat, humble, and elderly woman who has just learned that her grandson - Champion, a Tour de France cyclist - has landed himself in a spot of trouble after allowing himself to be kidnapped by the French mafia. Upon hearing of her grandson's misfortune, Madame Souza - along with her obese dog, Bruno, and three aged songbirds known as the Triplets of Belleville (featuring the voices of Béatrice Bonifassi, Lina Boudreau, Mari-Lou Gauthier) - set out to rescue Champion from his unfortunate circumstances with a song in their hearts and a mean right cross waiting for any mobster who has the audacity to interfere.

Now, I learn a lot of cool things through the process of researching the films featured in this column. For example, today I learned that Sylvain Chomet requested that his sound technicians find a way to conceive unique instruments to be used to help create the score of the film. What did they dream up exactly? Well, while watching some of the behind-the-scenes footage of the film, I got to see how an ordinary vacuum cleaner was transformed into a theremin -like instrument by skillfully obstructing the air flow of the device with a pair of carefully placed fingers. The technician then allowed the air escaping the vacuum to pass through the gap left between their pointer and middle finger, thus creating this high pitched – but wholly melodic – whine. The person playing the vacuum can then manipulate their fingers over the airway, thereby warping the air to create a series of strange but musical sounds. Additionally, everyday objects like folding fans, pots and pans, washboards, kettles, sandpaper, and much more were all used to compose the film's inspired soundtrack.

Another aspect of the THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE that's worth noting is the attention to detail displayed in the character movements seen throughout the film. As I've mentioned earlier, a large majority of the movie features no proper dialogue, therefore the execution of character movement became all the more important to its success. When watching the film, you'll notice that everyone you meet travels through their world using very exaggerated locomotion. For instance … the triplets themselves move about using a series of sweeping motions and have a sort of rhythm to their step as if they're walking to a song that only they can hear. Another illustration of this concept is seen within the calculated movements of Madame Souza, or the slow and awkward steps of Bellville's posh and obese citizens. The next time you sit down to watch this film, take a look; I guarantee that you'll see a very clear pattern start to emerge.

Let me ask you a question: when watching a film, have you ever felt like the location where the story takes place is a character all its own? You have? Oh good, so then you'll understand what I mean when I say that the city of Bellville feels just as alive as any of the other characters you meet in this film. Evgeni Tomov, the TRIPLETS art director, worked with many other talented artists in the creation of the city of Belleville. Using the cities of Paris, New York, and Montreal as templates, Tomov and his team designed Bellville brick-by-brick to include the vibe, culture, and sophistication of each in order to build a place equal to telling the story of Madame Souza, Champion, and the Triplets.

Chomet wanted the city of Bellville to have the feel of a busy metropolis that is rich with culture, history, and consumerism. One thing you'll notice immediately about the populous of Bellville is that many of its citizens are rather obese. This was purposefully done to convey to the film's audience that the city is a place of indulgence, decadence, and rich, succulent foods. When prepping the bustling city for animation, the team had to use five separate layers of art - with each one of them moving at a different speed - to complete the desired look and feeling of space between the buildings.

What's more is that all the vehicles you see traveling throughout the film were made using distorted 3D CGI effects. This method of animation allowed the bicycles, trucks, and cars to appear as if they were hand-drawn when in actuality they were created using sophisticated computer software. The process of distorting the 3D is rather simple actually. It's really just a matter of flattening the image on screen so that even though it's built using a 3D program, the image appears flat, leaving you with the impression of it being drawn using a pencil and paper.

When the song, dance, and danger brought about by THE TRIPETS OF BELLEVILLE came to an end, the film only pulled in a worldwide total of $14,776,760. However, like many other under-appreciated animated films, this movie continues to be a success in the hearts and eyes of those who have been fortunate enough to see it. At the present moment, the film boasts a 94% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com with 132 positive reviews out of a total of 140.

I've seen THE TRIPETS OF BELLEVILLE on more than one occasion, and have found that I enjoy the film better each time I see it. The soundtrack is wonderful and oddly hypnotic, the characters are oddlypeculiarly designed in their stretched, almost angular presentation, the city of Belleville itself is teeming with life and personality, and the story carries with it a lot of excitement and adventure. If you're in the mood for an animated film that will leave a taste of culture and uniqueness on your tongue, then I strongly recommend that you fall into line with the triplets and start snapping your fingers to the beat.

Extra Tidbit: The Tour de France returns this year and will run from Saturday July 5th all the way to Sunday July 27th 2014. The tour will be comprised of 21 stages with the total distance of the event measuring in at 3,664 kilometers! Anyone want to join me in signing up? I could totally do that. It won't be any problem at all, man.
Source: joblo.com



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