A Glimpse of Colombian Animation: Interview with HIERROanimación
A visit in HIERRO animation productions in Bogota where we found out about their current developments, animation in Colombia but also about a very promising feature they’re working on, called The Other Shape.
HIERRO (meaning ‘iron’ in Spanish) officially started in 2010 when Carlos Smith, producer, came back from Spain, where he was studying animation directing. The group has been making animation (TV series, feature films and transmedia projects) destined for both adult and younger audiences but truth is that, among the variety of their thematic approaches and topics, there is a tendency for adult animation, with a distinguishing element of storytelling.
There is a quite solid circle of animators and animation companies in Colombia which is gradually getting bigger and bigger, as Carlos explains. They also tried to make a catalog including most of the more or less 30 companies which created a sort of a guild among them. Most of them are mainly located in the big Colombian cities – Bogota, Medellin and Cali.
ZF: What has HIERRO been working on recently?
C.S: Currently, we are in the middle of the production of Old folk tales (Cuentos de Viejos) - also a co-production with Piaggiodematei and Señal Colombia - a documentary series of a collection of stories told by older people about their childhood, which started more as an artistic rather than a television project. The technique used is rotoscope. Every chapter has a different art design and the series consists of 40 episodes already having been released in Señal Colombia. The first season came out in 2013. There is also a transmission platform for the series, where every artist working on the project can upload their interviews. In the last season, we had a contest and we chose the best story from the platform which will be split into 2 chapters. The series is also nominated for a Quirino award. The stories are coming from more than 13 countries and there is a mix of different animation techniques.
ZF: What about the feature film The Other Shape?
C.S: The director started this project around 10 years ago – we have already worked together on some other projects so he has been developing the script slowly. He won a writing grand 6 years ago and he had the almost complete script 4 years ago. Then he joined Hierro productions showing his willingness to work with us. We hope to release the film around the summer of 2020. So, we still have around 2 years to finish because we have the grand with the FDC (Film development fund). We have been working on the storyboard since December 2017 but it has gone through many reviews. Also, the director has been working with a very small group, less than 10 people. We didn’t start to deal with the resources from the national fund before we had secured our international funds since the process is quite time-consuming.
ZF: Who are your co-producers and collaborators?
C.S: IKKI films have the post-production and also Oeste films - they have some very good artists, we were talking about working together with a couple of them. Most of the budget is accomplished by now. Another local studio called Dinamite are going to work with us in the animation as well as with the character and background layout. We are waiting for the final process.
ZF: Is the film any different from Hierro’s previous productions?
C.S: Actually not, it’s not that different, we have collaborated with Diego (Guzman) again in the past. We have always worked with underground and fantasy, maybe this film is a bit more fantastic. Is a diachrony, there was also another film Diego was involved in so there are some similar things in production.
ZF: Other artistic plans for the future?
C.S: We are still working on new projects, we want to develop 2 films, one based in a spin-off of Old folk tales, we want to take 3 strong women and tell their stories mingled together. We are still waiting for the results of this year’s grand for developing our feature For a plate of soup (Por un Plato de Sopa) so we can start working on that and also we are in negotiations with Señal Colombia for the 2nd season of our sci-fi series. We are also finishing a short called Lenses, which won a grand 1 and a half years ago.
Diana Eraso, assistant director of The Other Shape, talked about her collaboration with the director.
I am currently working on the big board, we have an animatic with 58 minutes long, we have 92 scenes in animatic. The duration of the film is going to be around 75 minutes long. We have our first version of 58 minutes. The story-boarder is working with the director to finish the last scenes. It is my first time working in an animation feature and animation in general and I have learned a lot working with the different applications. The process is very different from live action animation
Diego Guzman, writer and director of the film, shared his insight and thoughts on the development.
ZF: How did you come up with the idea of the story?
D.G: It was something I was quite obsessed with; looking around, I realized everything was in square shape. You can just look around and you’ll find a square screen, a square notebook, a square cellphone... I was wondering why everything is in this shape. Why don’t they make iPads rounded or something for example? I came up with some kind of an ideological/political view of the world that has to be a square. From that point, I started to create some ‘squarisms’, squarism machines. If all the objects are square, then maybe, in the future, people will want to be in square shape too. But how can they be like that? Maybe if you put on of these machines in your head, it can be through a box or a device or some kind of plastic surgery… lots of ideas came through my mind so I started creating these machines and putting people in them, thus creating the characters of the movie. And then I realized that these characters actually have a lot of things to say. All are in the middle of a conflict: whether to fit in the society (so you have to be a square) or to just stay the real person you are. But if you let it (your real self) come out, then you will not be a square anymore! So, if you expose your individuality you are going to be the pariah. It is an inner conflict, our world telling us how we should think, look like, what we should eat, study, etc. We are bombarded with external information so it is actually hard to think by ourselves.
It is not the typical war of an ideological movement, it is not a rebellion, mostly because it’s a world resembling the one we are living on: we have got used to being squares, or we haven’t even noticed that we belong in this world. There is no rebellion as such since squarism seems to have already conquered the world. It is more like the awakening. It is about the inner conflict of the main character that there is another possibility and you can think for yourself. Characters are the main reason we are using animation to this because we can explore all the possibilities, we can stretch and squash a lot with these machines or create new ways of how characters walk or look. We prefer the animation because it is more expressive and that is the type of animation that we love.
ZF: Also, the film is without dialogue.
D.G: Yes, firstly ideologically since language is not something square, language is more fluid. You don’t really need dialogues to show this world, you can just see it, you don’t have to say it, we bet that all characters express everything by their body language and they can also talk to each other but in a language that we don’t understand. They can make noises, they can scream and cry and speak but without words to express their feelings. And we really like it because that makes us and forces us to trust in dialogue. Show, don’t tell. That’s the only way we can do it. That’s a very nice exercise.
ZF: What about the audience of the film?
D.G: The target of the movie is adults. A man pressing his head into a square does not seem so fitting for kids! There is no other type of violence – like blood or guns. But we deal with issues that are more moving around an adult topic of interest.
ZF: Your artistic influences?
D.G: In that sense, we have a lot of influences. Films of Satoshi Kon such as Paprika, Perfect Blue, Millennium actress. All these movies have a psychotic but really fun way of showing you the problem of a situation, these are also movies for adults. From European inspiration, I would say the Triplets of Belleville.
Z.F: Do you have any ideas for the music?
D.G: It depends on the co-production agreement. But from the director's point of you, sound and music are almost as important as the visuals. So, the sound is a very useful tool in order to keep the audience searching for the dramatic emotion of the characters. In order to achieve the sound design and the music, the world that we have created is a playground of the sound designer. He has a lot to play and sounds to come up with. We have thought about some things and we also have some musical and visual references in mind for that. We will try to combine around 2 or 3 genres, maybe blues, gospel or a bit rock and experimental - this is a world where we can create music with the objects. It is a world with metal sounds, of squeezing, pushing etc. It will be very interesting to make music with the metallic objects, but let's see how this will come up. We will also try to play with the subjective part of the sound of the city.
The Other Shape Team
Director – Scriptwriter: Diego Felipe Guzmán
Producer: Carlos Smith
Executive Producer: Sebastian Patiño
Assistant Director: Diana Eraso
Update May 2022: 'The Other Shape' has now been selected in the Contrechamp Competition of the 2022 Annecy Festival.