Spacefaring sci-fi meets hardboiled noir in Mars Express, a French animated feature presented as a work in progress at last week’s Annecy Festival. In the year 2200, a private detective and her robot colleague search for a missing woman on Mars, which has long been colonized. The mood is cyberpunk, specifically Blade Runner.
These genres, rarely found in European animated features, share an essential quality, said director Jérémie Périn: mystery. The detectives’ quest to solve the disappearance will tie into a greater sense of cosmic unknown.
Watch the 2019 concept trailer for “Mars Express” below:
The plot wasn’t described in detail in the presentation, but the concept of the Martian society was. As humans have inhabited the planet for several generations, the settlements will have a complex design, melding different architectural styles, explained artistic director Mikael Robert. The team spoke of the temptation in sci-fi to over-design everything, constantly adding props, details to machines, etc. They said they’re trying to rein that in.
The animation is hybrid, combining 2d for the humans and cel-shaded cgi for the robots, so as to subtly distinguish their acting. The two techniques will always yield different results, argued Périn: “The volume is too perfect” in cgi for it to look truly drawn. The team is using a variety of softwares, including Blender and its drawing tool Grease Pencil, which was also deployed in I Lost My Body. (Gao Shan Pictures, which handled the cg animation on that film, is also working on this one.)
Périn is known in France for his anime-influenced, action-heavy series adaptation of the comic Lastman. Mars Express too will have action, but the animation and animatic we saw (and the voice acting we heard) suggested a relatively naturalistic approach, with a mise en scène influenced by live action. What we saw of the film’s world was atmospheric and appealing.
The film is at the layout stage. A delivery date wasn’t given in the presentation, but I’ve read 2022 elsewhere. Gébéka Films will distribute in France, with MK2 handling international sales.