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Feature Film

Jonathan Demme To Make An Animated Feature


The book cover illustration above by Rachell Sumpter is responsible for one of the more intriguing animated feature announcements I’ve heard in a while. Director/producer Jonathan Demme has optioned the rights to the Dave Eggers novel Zeitoun, and inspired by its cover, he’s decided to make it as an animated film. Demme told The New York Times:

“I was staring at the book and there’s this wonderful line drawing on the cover, the character of Zeitoun in his canoe, paddling through a submerged neighborhood. And I suddenly imagined, What if we could do an animated film and visualize the experiences of the Zeitoun family and all of New Orleans?”

Eggers’s story is in the thoughtful vein of recent features like $9.99, Perspepolis and Waltz with Bashir, and has little to do with the conventional animated fare being churned out by the major studios. It is a true-life account of an Arab-American man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, and his harrowing experiences in New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Demme says that he is currently “deep, deep, deep into researching” how he’s going to produce the animation for the film, and that he wants to stick with a hand-drawn style.

And now a personal note to Jonathan Demme: Mr. Demme, if you’re reading this, I beg you not to use cheap Flash/AfterEffects-style animation. Don’t Waltz with Bashir this film, and compromise the personal impact of the story with mechanical movement. Maintain the integrity and vitality of the graphic illustration that initially drew you to the project, and bring it to life with the nuance and lushness that only traditional hand-drawn animation can provide. Look at the works of Koji Yamamura, Frédéric Back, and Sylvain Chomet to understand the unique storytelling possibilities of the animation medium. Prove to the world that not every live-action director has a clumsy, heavy-footed, Bob Zemeckis-like approach to the art form.

(Thanks, TStevens, for the story link)

  • Blake

    another excuse for cartoon brew to denigrate flash and after effects, what a surprise *yawn*

  • Jorge Garrido

    I’m a HUGE fan of Jonathan Demme, he’s one of my favourite film directors. But I’m not sure I understand why he’s qualified.

    This is gonna go either way.

  • That’s really cool that Jonathan Demme decided to make an animated adaptation based on the cover. Usually, book covers have little or nothing to do with the author’s vision of the book. Most often it’s done by a designer trying to satisfy editors, executives, Barnes & Noble, etc. I’m very interested in seeing how the project unfolds. Stop Making Sense is one of my favorites.

  • aaron

    You’re dreaming with hand drawn. The illustration looks like roto scope/Waking Life to me. Plus with a live action director he can shoot his movie and edit it and not have to direct animators. But of course I’d never go to see it if he did it that way.

  • Peter

    I just love how unlikely this all sounds.

    Of course, I thought that about Eggers’ and Spike Jonze’s plans for the ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ movie, too, but then found the end result deeply disappointing.

  • In defense of what Amid calls “cheap Flash/AfterEffects-style animation” and begging to use a hand-drawn style expense is always a factor. On one hand animators want to make money to eat, live drink and do what all other animators do. That said they want a fair wage. These films usually don’t make that much money. When you want to make a film in a style that costs 10s of millions on a film that will make only a few million the math doesn’t work out. Thats why so many flock to the “cheap Flash/AfterEffects-style animation”.

    Mind you Im no fan of the animation in Waltz, you can do “Flash/AfterEffects-style animation” and have it look better, you can hybridize it like the Japanese do. Either way there are more factors involved in just deciding to hand draw the whole thing.

    There was a valuable lesson I learned from a guy whom I learned graphic design from in High School, MANY years ago. Design has 3 concerns TIME, MONEY (cheap) and QUALITY. Of the 3 you can only favor 2. The same applies to animation.

  • Shulman D

    Not for nothing does “Waltz With Bashir” culminate by going into straight live action. The impact of those scenes would have been distanced from their reality had they been executed in Flash/after effects.

  • Demme is no hack. He is an artist of great vision. If he decided to create a film done in the “Waltz with Bashir” style of rotoscopy (or whatever that was) I’m sure it would have artistic merit and impact. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with, should it see the light of day.


  • FP

    Gee, I thought BASHIR looked great, in a low-budget, modern-day JOHNNY QUEST style.

  • Blasko

    In my opinion, nothing about BASHIR felt compromised. Two of the three filmmakers you mention as inspiration work exclusively in the realm of the short film. 90+ minutes might be hard to sustain in that style — for the audience and the filmmakers. If the film is half as accomplished as Folman’s BASHIR, it will be a success, CG or no.

  • Spike

    This is an extremely negative way of looking at it.

    If it succeeds as Waltz with Bashir did in terms of animation and the quality of the actual film, then we have another brilliant animated feature for grown-ups, made by an extremely established (and, yes, live action) director that will draw mainstream attention to this film.

    I hope to hell that in a few years adult animation will become something more established than what it is today (one or two very good independent films per year that draw critical acclaim).

  • It’s not Flash which is to blame for a not-so-good style or animation. It’s always a director/producer not being able to free himself from the limitations of one software, for financial or other reasons.

    I like films where the artist’s vision is somewhat visible in the result. I found that this seems to be more likely if the team uses whatever means were necesssary to that end, whatever combination of skills or software. But there’s a phenomenon in amateur animation as well as in big budget films: the “we have to work with the software we have” approach which often leads to painfully crippled results. For an amateur it’s OK, he can’t afford a whole range of different software packages. For a studio, this is a shame. Unfortunately all the big production systems have their limitations, stylewise, so you’ll see not much variation in terms of line quality and animation style. It’s not a studio style anymore, it’s a software style. (Or even a “we spent much money for this, so we’ll use it till the end of days” style.)

    The handful of recent films which stick out visually have one thing in common: they used whatever mixture of techniques was necessary to achieve the result. (Some examples are “Persepolis”, “Brendan and the Secret of Kells”, or the new “Lascars” from France.) And even Flash may have its place in the mix.

  • Rextherunt

    If the film works the film works – and it’s as a totallity, not just an exhibition of animation craft. Bashir has enormous impact, especially the move into live action at the very end. The stiltedness was part of it’s dream like feel – and also helped them afford to make it!

    Richard Williams or Joanne Quinn’s Waltz might have had wonderful drawings but the wonderful drawings would have been calling attention to themselves and saying ‘look how wonderful we look’ – and sometimes what the film is about is more important than that.

    That said, it would be a shame if static and stilted became the standard style for all ‘indie’ features – as it often is for the graphic novels themselves.

  • yvette kaplan

    I agree with RextheRunt, Spike and Blasko. Waltz With Bashir has enormous impact. Yes, it is often a difficult film to watch–but not because of the animation. I never disengaged from what was on the screen, from the story I was witnessing. I never imagined what it would be like animated in another style. It all felt of a piece. Right and complete. Yes, the artwork was flawed, but also beautiful. Fitting I think. And I don’t expect my next statement to gain me much popularity, but perhaps the film succeeded on the level it did because the artwork knew it’s place. Whose to say? The film is the film, and it worked.
    I also agree that the cover art in question looks like roto/Waking Life and likely will be done in the same style(s) as Waltz. May it have the same heart wrenching impact. Though sigh, I don’t know what to say about another live action director getting into animation, if he makes the movie it sounds like he wants to make, I say bring it on.

  • Connot wait

    Jeeze, has anyone here ever read the book? It reads like a graphic novel. The brilliant thing Demme may or may not have been consciously aware of is that many, many people have some sort of relationship to Nola, and will be able to , at least in part, contextualize the animation. Meaning that it will in fact draw more people in because people will already have some some of relationship to the setting, but the actual story is way too surreal(and scary as hell) to tell in live action format. To make it live action would be redundant, expected, boring and very, well, hollywood.

    Who cares about style. A live action director was inspired to make an animation in part because of an illustrated book cover- how awesome is that!

  • CIA Joe

    That book cover drawing looks awful. It’s completely boring, why do you think animating this traditionally would give it more feeling? There is no feeling here in this drawing, but to do it that way sure would cost a billion dollars.

  • Rick

    Jonathan Demme is a fine director but I never found him to be a real auteur so I don’t know if I can see him making an animated film. Of course you don’t need to be an auteur to be in animation but it’s far more important to be so then live action.

  • brik-a-brak

    I think this is fantastic news!

    I completely agree with the first comment, though. Neither flash nor After Effects ever has to look cheap–it is a tool, a medium. You don’t blame paint when you see a bad painting. You dont’ blame the brushes. It’s the artist who is to blame and it’s foolish to think otherwise. Saying (or implying) that Flash only offers a cheap solution is the kind of disappointing (and frustrating) opinion that I have come to expect from most animation executives; but I expect more from Cartoon Brew. (This “blame the medium” mentality is exactly the reason Eisner favored 3D over 2D animation.)

    Furthermore, in this particular case, I actually think vector-based animation would be the perfect medium to maintain the integrity of the original artwork.

  • ask

    It IS ironic how you push his initial inspiration for traditional animation- the cover LOOKS traced. In fact, when seeing the cover and looking through the post, I had initially assumed Jonathan WAS responsible for ‘Waking Life’! :O

    Whether you want to believe it or not, Flash offers a fast and cheap way to produce animation, which exactly what executives want to hear when considering new shows.

  • brik-a-brak

    While it is true that Flash can offer some shortcuts and cheap solutions, “ask”, I don’t think that is what Amid was contesting. In fact, I think that was Amid’s point–Flash is so often used to create content fast and cheap. My point–and where I take issue with what Amid is implying, that Flash and AE are used exclusively to create cheap content, that neither program can be used to create incredible animation–is that Flash can also be a versatile tool for creating beautiful 2D (and “cut out”) animation. I have seen many Flash animations that ultimately do not look like they were created in Flash at all, that were slick and quite frankly inspiring.

    In any case, it remains foolish to blame such versatile meda when it is the artists (and executives) who are to blame.

  • Lippy

    I think a “Bashir” style would be completely appropriate for the illustration example of the front cover.

  • Alex

    Ah, Zemeckis bashing. On an animation site no less. How quickly we forget Who Framed Roger Rabbit…

  • Deaniac

    No offense to the author of this article, BUT…

    Who do you think you are telling this director how he should make his film? Unless your name is Jonathan Demme and plan to make a film based on Zeitoun, you have no right to tell this man how he should do it. And criticizing Flash animation nonetheless.

    Flash is just a tool; it’s how the artists/animators use it that effect its quality. Flash is capable of creating more than just “cheap, mechanical movement”, and shows like Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends and Superjail are perfect examples of this. In fact, Superjail is one of the only Flash cartoons that is animated TRADITIONALLY.

    On that note, you should also keep in mind that not everyone can afford to produce traditional animation, as it is extremely expensive. Waltz with Bashir was created with Flash for a reason; Folman was more than likely looking for an animation program that wouldn’t blow his budget, considering that it WAS an independent film being made in Israel, to boot. And you know what. Flash animation works for Waltz with Bashir. It really does. I’m not sure why, but it just flows well. And I think Flash would work well Zeitoun.

    Besides, if you really want to see the “nuance and lushness” of traditional animation, go see The Princess and the Frog. Sheesh.