Spanish animator and graphic novelist Roc Espinet is working on his feature directorial debut Girl and Wolf, adapted from his graphic novel of the same name. The film recently began production in earnest, and Espinet shared the film’s first trailer with us to celebrate the occasion.
Girl and Wolf tells the story of Paula, an innocent girl who lives in a medieval village attacked by wolves. In the film, the stalwart young woman faces dark childhood traumas, soulless hunters, magical wild spirits, and an ancient pack of wolves.
Over the past decade, Espinet has worked as an animator on several standout Spanish titles, including Unicorn Wars, Homeless Home, and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. He also worked on Prime Video’s original series Niko and the Sword of Light, Disney’s Future Worm!, and helped animate Rick and Morty bumps for Adult Swim.
Spain is in the middle of a hot streak when it comes to independent animated features, culminating in this year’s Oscar nomination for Robot Dreams. Looking forward, few animated films from the Iberian country are as exciting as Girl and Wolf.
Girl and Wolf is produced by Hampa Studio, Sygnatia and Alesa Films, with a budget of around 4 million euros ($4.3 million). That’s a handsome sum for a Spanish animated feature from a first-time director. Unicorn Wars was produced on a 3-million-euro ($3.6 million) budget, and that film was directed by one of the country’s top animated filmmakers, Alberto Vázquez. Robot Dreams, helmed by Spanish Academy Award-winner Pablo Berger, had a budget of 5.5 million euros ($6 million).
Espinet spoke with us about fulfilling his dream of adapting Girl and Wolf as an animated feature, the influences that inspire him as an artist, and the challenges he faces as a first-time director.
Cartoon Brew: You’ve been working on this story for years and first published it as a comic. What visual influences did you rely on while developing the look of Girl and Wolf?
Roc Espinet: Because Girl and Wolf started as a comic, my main visual inspirations come from there, comic books. I have a lot of influences from French comics such as The Quest for the Time Bird, Rork, and, of course, the great genius of Moebius. I am also drawn to American indie comics like Cerebus, Bone, and even Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And, of course, a lot of manga. All of these were very important to my artistic development, and that’s clearly reflected in the style of Girl and Wolf.
What kind of animation inspires you?
Regarding specific animation influences, my greatest inspiration came from anime. Like many from my generation, Akira had a mind-blowing impact on me on many levels and continues to reverberate in everything I do, like my last comic book, Harpoon. Above all my influences is the great master Miyazaki, who keeps inspiring me and always guides me in my path. In Girl and Wolf, I wanted to combine all those influences that make up my art style, applying graphic solutions from the comics to the big screen and always looking for that rich and hand-made flavor that suits a movie like this so well.
How much did you have to change when adapting the comic as an animated feature?
A lot! Adapting my comic as a film was a huge challenge. The original comic is 320 pages long. Many characters were involved in the story, and many narrative arcs spin into a tense and emotional spiral until they reach an epic climax. A literal adaptation would have resulted in a film of about five hours. Clearly, we couldn’t make a movie that long. That said, the plot is well thought out and built like a house of cards, where if a single element is removed, it all falls apart. So, putting together a team of several screenwriters, we did a precise surgery to get the film down to 75 minutes. Some narrative arcs had to be removed. Some characters were taken out or merged… It was a difficult process because, as a creator, it’s challenging to get rid of work that you believe enriches the story and characters. It was a long process of refining the plot while ensuring we maintained the comic’s essence. In the end, we went through more than a dozen versions of the script, but I’m especially happy with how we managed to keep the soul of the film intact through to our final script.
You’ve worked with some tremendous filmmakers on several important Spanish titles. How exciting is it to be directing your own film now?
I feel so lucky to be directing my own film. Girl and Wolf is a very important project for me. In a way, it’s like my life’s work from which I’ve learned so much. I started this adventure about 15 years ago when I began assembling the story’s universe. For all these years, Girl and Wolf has been a source of learning for me since the project escalated from an idea to a comic and now into a film. All the while, I worked on amazing projects like Birdboy, Nerdland, Unicorn Wars, Niko and the Sword of Light, Future Worm, Deadly Class, and bumpers for Rick and Morty. All along the way, I was learning the steps to making a film from a group of great directors. That said, it’s so different when you actually have to do it yourself. I quickly realized how important stuff like psychology and communication skills are to the process.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Transmitting my vision to the rest of the team and ensuring we keep the soul of the story through all the different departments involved in production is tricky. Sometimes, it requires being creative in ways beyond paper and pencil. It can be difficult at times, but at the same time, learning about the whole process is so much fun. I’m really enjoying it, as is the rest of the team. There are not many animated movies with this kind of action, adventure, and fantasy in Spain. I feel honored to contribute to the development of these kinds of films here. So, to expand on your earlier question, I am extremely excited to be making this movie, and I really can’t wait to show the world what we’re doing.