Tito and The Birds: Interview with Gabriel Bitar

Tito and The Birds: Interview with Gabriel Bitar

Our Zippy Frames Correspondent Eliane Gordeeff meets Gabriel Bitar, the Brazilian director of Tito And The Birds (2018) at the 2019 Quirino Awards; they talk about this highly interesting 2D feature-length animated film. 

Tito is a shy 10-year-old boy who lives with his mother. Suddenly, an unusual epidemic starts to spread, making people sick whenever they get scared. Tito quickly discovers that the cure is somehow related to his missing father’s research on bird song. He embarks on a journey to save the world from the epidemic with his friends. Tito’s search for the antidote becomes a quest for his missing father and for his own identity - Film Synopsis

ZF: How did the idea to create Tito and the Birds come about?

The film talks about fear; fear as a disease, which attacks the population, turning them into stones. It is a metaphor. However, we think that this is a real disease in São Paulo city. People are scared and they are petrifying themselves. It's like the disease of panic: you did not do the things that you wanted to do because... The violence does exist, but it's not so abundant. It is much more screened and talked about on TV, and it is more present in the unconscious, in the imagination than it is actually experienced on the streets.

I stop at the traffic light and I close the car window because I'm afraid of an assault, even though I've never been mugged. People do that. If your neighbor puts barbed wire on his wall, then you think: “ah, I will do the same”. So, through Tito we had a chance to talk a little about that. We looked to communicate with children to see if they have this perception, and to give parents opportunities to talk about it in a more welcoming environment. For children understand what has happened, but in a different way than adults do.

ZF: How did you experience the making of the film?

- It was very painful, all the stages were very difficult. We took five years to get the project off the ground and our paper, and to get the money and start. And we had three years of production. At the peak of production, there were a lot of people working; around 120 to 160 people, I don't have the exact number, among which were musicians, animators, production people. However, at the same time, it's not that many people because it's an action movie; it's  very fast, dynamic, with a lot of scenery changes, and the characters are always moving, so it makes the production a little more difficult. So, it was complicated; all the stages were difficult: and the hardest is what you are working on (laughs).

ZF:  What was the hardest challenge in the process, however?

: I think the most difficult was to raise the money. And it was the longest worry. It took five years, and we got just 50% of the budget. We were getting the rest over time. There was a risk of starting and stopping, which was our reality for a while.

ZF: Financiers and funding bodies they do tend to have this fear in general:“Will this guy finish the film?"

GB: Yes, but if they do not give us all the budget, then they lose everything that's been invested, and all the work that's been done will be lost. And this almost happened in the last funds notice that we took part. We are afraid. This was a real fear during all production stages.

ZF:  On the other hand, what was a cool thing for you to do?

GB: Well, I like the artistic creation part. I was responsible for the co-direction, but I did the art co-direction and also the graphic composition. Over those five years, we were on another project and Tito had another aesthetic visual. However, we could not stop working at that point to create something else. We used any free time to assemble the project and all documentations for the funding applications. Animation projects need more stuff to submit than live-action ones, although both have the same length, and this despite of the fact that the animation has a much longer production time! Still, a lot of things need to be adjusted in this kind of selection process. People need to be truly informed that animation filmmaking has a different timing.

ZF: I think that it is the trend of the market, and not only the film market, of lumping things together. Things can be triangular, amorphous, larger than the box, it doesn't matter: they have to fit inside the box.

GB: Yeah... and when we won from the first funding source, I stopped what I was doing, and I started working only on Tito. And we decided: “let's think how the "Tito" look will be?”. So, we delved into the subject "fear", doing aesthetic research, and found Expressionism. But, at the same time we thought,  “Ah, this aesthetic is cool, but we don't have money to develop it, how will we adapt that to our budget?"

ZF: I thought the character of Tito resembled The Cabinet of Dr. Kaligari's sleepwalker. His eyes were too marked.

GB: (Laughs) We had based more on painting, but it's all connected. The film has many scenes in the hospital, and expressionists painted about it. Edvard Munch (1863-1944) himself had many cases of diseases in the family, with his sisters. He was always portraying them sick in bed. So, we got a lot of inspiration from George Grosz (1893-1959) and Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943). They are from the first movement of expressionism, at the beginning of the 20th century.

ZF:And how was the work division with the other two directors?

GB: Gustavo Steinberg came up with the idea, and he wrote the script along with Eduardo Benaim. They called André Catoto  and me to work with them. We had made short films with some strange things (laughs), and he thought we could contribute to the film. We started this process about ten years ago. André Catoto made the characters, who were redesigned by Vini Wolf (from Split), and the whole thing evolved. We also had another art director, Paulo Turino who was responsible for the backgrounds, and also for the entire painting team. It was the work made by several hands.

ZF:  What is your impression on the Quirino Awards and the participation of Tito?

GB: Well, I think that Brazilian animation is growing. It is gaining international recognition, it is our manner of making films in an almost impossible way. I met Michel Ocelot in Lisbon and he told me “I do not know how you managed to make the film with that budget!”. And I think that would not be possible in many places in the world, but we always find a creative path to solve problems. Therefore, it ends up revealing differently, visually. We needed to work with people who have never worked before with animation, to train the staff...  What it means to stay here in Brazil is  to recognize all that talent contributing, and the awards already received at Annecy Festival for Brazilian animation. We were the third film to participate in the festival, so all this is amazing to the Brazilian animators. For all these , I'm really enjoying Quirino Awards it's really an award, not a festival, so it's really nice to be here.

ZF: I also stand feverish for you Gabriel, but one last technical question: How did you make that initial sequence plan of the film?

GB : We call it a Grosz Plan,  because it was precisely influenced by this artist (George Grosz). He has this game of multiple perspectives on the same painting. It plays with the lines,  so that you understand the perspective in different ways. I looked at his work and thought: “God, how to get into it?” I mean, how would camera go around in an animated way into that universe?

So, I made several drawings, each one with several different perspectives; I then put them on a light table, and I did a lot of experiments. In other words, I put them together, trying to create different visual compositions. Afterwards, I went to computer to work with these drawings and compositions digitally. I also made a lot of camera tests, but it was a table-top camera, a 2D camera, with 2D scenarios / 2D backgrounds.

In the real environment, to get the movement so close to a screen would actually reach the canvas texture! However, that is not what happens in Tito, because the viewer actually goes from the "first" image (visual composition) to another one, and then into another one, which gives a three-dimensional sensation - but I did not work with 3D. The whole movie is in 2D.

ZF: However, do you paint every frame digitally? Ι do think that the Tito and The Birds highlight was just its some graphic solutions: the textures, the backgrounds.

GB:  Not completely. The scenery was all digitally painted, and the characters were made in cut-out 2D digital; however, in graphic composition, we also used oil painting, frame by frame. We used digital painting, but we researched how to simulate the gesture of real ink on the computer. A quick, blurry, gestural painting. During the creation of the storyboard, I already knew where the painting sequences would be used. So, I made a large database of smoke, lights, and various animated elements, to simulate the animated oil painting. The intention was to do everything in real painting, but with our budget, it was impossible, for that we needed to adapt.

Before co-directing Tito and The Birds, Gabriel Bitar worked on title sequences and animations for several TV shows and feature films in Brazil such as Tropicália (2012), Cidade Cinza (2013) and Tim Maia (2014). His unique identity is defined by his wide range of skills using mixed media on all of his projects. His personal work involves painting, etching, photography, and he is also part of Várzea Ilustrada, a multimedia collective responsible for interactive multimedia projection and live animations. Four times winner at the short film festival Festival do Minuto in Brazil, he has also produced, animated and directed the short film The City and Desire Nº5”. Gabriel is a partner at Veranito, an animation studio based in São Paulo, where Tito and The Birds was composed.

Original Title: Titos and the Birds / Nationality: Brazil 2018
Premiere: February 14, 2019 (Brazil)
Length: 1h 13min
Direction: Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto, Gustavo Steinberg
Screenplay: Eduardo Benaim, Gustavo Steinberg
Production: Daniel Greco, Felipe Sabino, Gustavo Steinberg
Soundtrack: Ruben Feffer, Gustavo Kurlat
Art Direction: Gabriel Bitar, Paulo Torino, Vini Wolf
Edition: Vânia Debs
Studio: Bits Produções, NIP
Distributor: Elo Company

The interview to Eliane Gordeef was conducted in Tenerife (at Quirino Awards, 6th April 2019)


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