Mexico City’s Ocelotl Co and Brazilian company Origem Produtora De Conteúdo, producers of Annecy 2021 Contrechamp player My Uncle Jose, have been joined by Paris-based vfx and animation company Hecat (The Matrix Reloaded, Speed Racer) on the mythological feature The Mark of the Jaguar: The Awakening of Fire. First-time feature director Victor Mayorga (producer on Blue Demon El Origen De La Leyenda, Nextli) is helming.
A work of historically-grounded fiction, citing the magical realism of films like Spirited Away and Kiriku as major influences, The Mark of the Jaguar is based heavily on the archaeological and anthropological record of ancient Mexico. Screenwriters used the writings of legendary Mexican archaeologist Dr. Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and of former director of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Felipe Solis, to ground their narrative in historical fact.
The Mark of the Jaguar unspools millennia ago after the gods give mankind the gift of the sun. However, that gift is only meant to last for 52 years. Four days before dark forces are set to devour mankind, a great young warrior name Xilactzin is accused of a stealing an important artifact and sentenced to have his hands removed as punishment.
The young warrior and his friends are forced to journey into the underworld and recover the relic, which was stolen by the queen of darkness, Itzpapalotl, in preparation of the coming battle between light and darkness. Along the way, as heroes often do, Xilactzin learns as much about himself as he does about battling dark forces.
Aside from the historical influences which went into the film’s screenplay, Studio Ghibli veteran Sunao Katabuchi (director/writer, In This Corner of the World) consulted on the narrative portions of the script, and even wrote several scenes that appear in the final draft.
However, the participation that Mark of the Jaguar’s producers are most excited about was enlisting members of the local indigenous community, Las Abejas, to sing in the film. The group, survivors of the Acteal massacre of 1997, have formed a vocal choir and will contribute to the film’s score, singing in their Indigenous language.
To get the film out of development and into production, Ocelotl Co and Origem have pitched the project at several major international events including Cannes, Annecy, and the Quirino Awards. Now that Hecat is on board, production is ready to begin in earnest.
“This is a project born from the need to rethink the Latin Americans’ own cultural outlook,” Mayorga told Cartoon Brew. “We were sold a history of shameful miscegenation based on false myths. Through 2d animation, I saw the opportunity to demolish those myths through one of the most powerful ancient civilizations of all times, the Mexica (Aztecs). The result is an incredible story of native fantasy based on the 34th plate of the Codex Borbonicus and several other anthropological myths… We did a small anonymous focus group and the results showed that we will tell a solid story that will cause great emotion.”
Hecat producer Chadi Abo added, “The creative team at Ocelotl Co made a lot of rich and interesting yet strategic choices in everything from the character design, the backgrounds, architectural details, wardrobes… and on top of that, the animation has this really nostalgic feel of the 1980s anime style that shaped my childhood. The 2d animation tests output an artistic visual cinematography that I think will please a market that is flooded with 3d and 2d animation that have this repeated pattern of déjà vu.”
“The Mark of the Jaguar is a magical story, very charming, and full of strong and charismatic characters, especially its protagonist Xilacatzin,” explained Origem producer Ducca Rios, who is footing a major portion of the film’s bill, a task made easier with the help of Brazil’s Ancine film agency.
“Today we are starting the animation and everything is very charming from the script, the beautiful scenography made by great Argentine artist Nelson Luty, the incredible character drawings made by the Mexican artist Adán, and the extremely sophisticated animation, coordinated by Aída Queirós, one of our great animators,” he added. “We already realize how fantastic it will look.”