WRITING ANIMATION : GUY PIROTTE

 

Guy Pirotte : I’m going to talk about how the cinema I propose came about, so, from the beginning, very early on, all the elements that evolved over the course of my life and led to the work I’m presenting to you now. I didn’t know at the start, from the age of perhaps 2 or 3, where I was going. Let me know if you have any questions.

 

 

Zepe : When you arrived at La Cambre, how did you feel compared to the other students in the department? What were your influences in animation at the time? Did animation motivate you?

 

 

GP : I came to the studio when I arrived in Brussels from my province, from the college where I went to secondary school in Wavre. In 1964, I wanted to study film at INSAS, where there were still no directors who had completed four years of study. There were a lot of students in those first years who went through the selection process, which consisted of a week-long exam. I was told that I had an orange light, so I was accepted. I spent 3 months at INSAS on a trial basis. I was interested, I wanted to make films, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. After 3 months, the school didn’t keep me and I found myself out of a job.  I couldn’t enrol anywhere else, enrolments were closed. I was offered a photography course at La Cambre. I spent about 3 months in photography, hoping to pass my exam at INSAS with a bit more maturity. I could take theory classes in the morning, art history, aesthetics and so on. And I’d go to the lab to develop my photos. Then I found out – I don’t remember how, but I don’t think it was by chance – that there was a film workshop run at the time by Gaston Roch and Robert Wolski. I moved from the photography section to the animation film workshop at La Cambre, which hardly existed at all – it had just come into being.There was already a film workshop at La Cambre, it was one of the first film workshops, where we also did animation, especially beforehand with Gaston who was more interested in animation and whom Robert had chosen for his aptitude. He was also a graphic designer, he worked at Expo 58 as a graphic designer. There weren’t many students in that studio at the time, you have to imagine. I hadn’t yet been admitted, but I decided at that point not to go back to INSAS and to sit my exam at La Cambre for the next entrance exam in 1965, because that interested me too. I was admitted, of course, but there weren’t many people taking the exam. So until 1969, for 4 years, I did all my animation and live-action work, because there was equipment and because the cinema section at La Cambre was largely organised around live-action cinema. There was also animation. There was George Van Aarschot who came from the Flemish equivalent of INSAS, the Ritz. There was Ivan Ségar. There was Pierre Lucas a year before me (with whom I later became colleagues as a teacher).

 

Z : When I studied at La Cambre, the teachers encouraged us to make live-action films. 

The films you show have a graphic side that’s closer to painting or engraving. I don’t know how this influence arrived at La Cambre and disappeared at the beginning of the 70s. Then the animated films, which were obviously still very interesting, started to become more homogenised. When I look at your films, I get the impression that you had graphic and cinematographic influences like Robert Breer or Len Lye, but also painting. Were there, at La Cambre or among your influences, forms, graphics and movements that spoke more to you and guided you in this direction?

 


Si les bœufs savaient peindre, 1969

 

GP : The Atelier de la Cambre wasn’t originally an animation workshop, it was an experimental workshop. And both George Van Aarschot and I wanted to make live-action films. As there were title frames so that we could film photographic documents, this prompted Robert Wolski to reorientate the section. Robert’s partner was the daughter of the director, the architect Léon Stynen. This gave him a certain ease. Robert had attended a film school in Poland. The film section at La Cambre was due to close because INSAS was already there. Robert obviously wanted to avoid such a loss. As there was the whole artistic environment, painting, drawing and all the other possible arts, he wanted to create a pure animation section. But there were always 5 or 6 students finishing their film studies in live action.  As Robert and Gaston were in charge of the pure animation workshop, we didn’t see them too often coming to show what they were doing.

 

Z : Some students have told me that there are now artistic secondary studies in Belgium. At the time you came back, people came back more freely. Students came from much more diverse backgrounds than they do now. Now there’s a certain homogenisation in the profile of students. 

It reminds me of Dominique Willoughby’s book, Le cinéma graphique. It’s not so much about cinema or animation or trickery. It’s more a graphic approach to animated movement. He gives a huge number of examples from the beginning of the last century. He gives a whole history of graphic cinema, expressionism, through his own filters. 

What were your influences in terms of animation and painting? 

Because NFB films like Caroline Leaf were already moving in a more cinematic direction. I get the impression that your base is still peripheral to all that.

 

GP : My introduction to animation was obviously Walt Disney. There was nothing else. You didn’t see much of it apart from Len Lye or Robert Bree, but that was much later. But the great animated film machine was – there’s nothing you can do about it – Walt Disney. I knew Bambi. 

 

 

First of all, I was born in Liège in February 44, under the flying bombs. My mother took me down to the cellar in a sheepskin. It was the end of the war, the last German offensive and the bombs were falling on Liège. I lived in Liège for 5 years until I went to my first primary school. That’s when I discovered the Walt Disney films that my mother used to take me to see. Children’s films like Bambi and Dumbo. I used to collect Dumbo chromos in the Beukelaer chocolate shop, hence my addiction to chocolate. I still have that Dumbo book after 80 years, and I’ve used it in my work too. Because my work is my life’s work. It doesn’t show on screen, it’s not a documentary about me. But there are a lot of elements of my life that will resurface in this film, but in completely crazy graphic forms that ultimately nobody can understand except me. So I go to Walt Disney screenings, I see Dumbo, I collect chromos and I love chocolate.

 



When I went to primary school, my parents left Liège to live with my grandfather in Grez-Doiceau in Walloon Brabant. I went to the local school in Doiceau for 10 years and discovered the thaumatrope and the phenakistiscope to cut out in the newspaper Tintin, or rather the newspaper Spirou, with Lucky Luke in particular. I was less than 10 before I went to college. It was fundamental to the films I would later make. Around the age of 10, I went to the Athénée in Wavre, where I had other very fundamental experiences. For some reason, my parents gave me a 35 mm film projector with a crank and a reel of film for St Nicholas’ Day. A few years later, when I was 12-13, I discovered a shop in Wavre that sold 35mm film by the metre. With a bit of pocket money, I bought metres of film without ever getting a complete story. It’s bits of Tarzan, bits of Westerns, and I project these bits of film one after the other onto a bed sheet. It’s a fragmented montage, with no narrative. 

 

 

During my studies, I went to the Athénée de Rixensart after failing a course, and I was heavily influenced by film magazines such as Les amis du film, one of the first film magazines to appear at the time. That’s what made me decide to enrol in a film school. The only one I knew of was INSAS, which had just been set up 3 years earlier and about which I got some information from a student who lived in a nearby village. I went there for the photography. But then I discovered the film workshop at La Cambre. Animated film was not my primary goal. I didn’t want to take the INSAS entrance exam again, so I decided to take the entrance exam at La Cambre. Every year for 3 years, I made a film, including On (vimeo.com/63738299). There’s no editing, it’s live-action cinema, with George Van Aarschot filming me with his Paillard camera. It’s the story of a corpse that two friends carry around the city. For 3 years, from the 2nd year onwards, I did more and more animation because I was passionate about it and already at the very beginning there was in my animated films the question of perception as found in thaumatropes and phenakistiscopes.

I discovered the Musée du Cinéma, which was phenomenal and where I went every evening. Ledoux, the director, went round the distributors with Robert Wolski to collect as many copies of films as possible and, with their agreement, programme them at the Cinémathèque on a non-profit basis.

 


On, 1966

 

Z : I have three questions about the later film Si les bœufs savaient peindre

  • the style of representation is particular. How do you find your graphic style? What are your influences?

  • It’s not a particularly narrative film, so how do you work it out from the start? It’s not in the editing process, I imagine?

  • What do you think of the result in relation to the initial idea?





Si les bœufs savaient peindre, 1969

 

GP : I still have the script for Une girafe (vimeo.com/63700727) but I don’t work much from a script. I work more on the basis of drawings, from which the story is born. The film is not structured in the way that most films with a script are. It’s an exploded cinema, like what I used to do when I was a child, editing 35mm reels.


Une girafe, 1967

 

Z : When we were kids, we used to find film stills in chocolate or chewing gum wrappers, which they must have recovered from a film archive. It was like accessing a part of something bigger, it was quite magical. 

During the Second World War, in Portugal, a huge number of 16 and 35 mm projectors were distributed to schools for propaganda purposes, with institutional films, but thousands of them were never used and remained in cellars. Between 1945 and 1960, they were put back into circulation and bought at flea markets.

In the end, do you create your films at the editing stage or do you know from the start how they are going to be made?

 

 

Georges Sifianos : Just to broaden the debate a little: we’re looking at the roots and origins. The Disney Empire was usurped by television, which forced Disney to adopt a more jerky animation style, with more ‘adult’, more geometric forms, influenced by the famous Zagreb school. 

If you’ve been bottle-fed Disney and its finished forms, how can you then position yourself in the opposite direction, in a way that challenges Disney? There has to be a reason.

Guy Pirotte’s films remind me vaguely, without knowing whether they are later or earlier, of the spirit of films by Walerian Borowczyk, sometimes Peter Földes, sometimes the Zagreb school or Bulgarian films, in other words a type of angular, limited and jerky animation. Did this type of film already exist when you were at school?

 


Surogat de Dušan Vukotić (one of the founders of the Zagreb School of Animated Film), Academy Award-winning short film in 1961.

 


Les jeux des anges, Walerian Borowczyk, 1964

 


Au delà du temps, Peter Földes, 1976

 

GP : One of my teachers, Gaston Roch, used to go around with a suitcase of films that he would pick up at the Canada Film Board. I was greatly influenced by Norman McLaren during my studies at La Cambre. The very first film I saw of his, without knowing who he was, was Il était une chaise in 1958 at the Brussels World Fair in the Canadian pavilion (onf.ca/film/il-etait-une-chaise). I was 14, but at the time I hadn’t said to myself that I wanted to do animation. I met McLaren in Montreal shortly before he died. I was very happy to meet him because, for me, he was a fantastic, wonderful person, a researcher: drawing on film and so on.

 


Il était une chaise de Norman McLaren, 1957

 

Later, of course, I discovered Caroline Leaf, who worked with modelling clay, I think. Le mariage du hibou : une légende eskimo that I saw in Annecy (Editor’s note: made with sand, 1974, onf.ca/film/mariage_du_hibou_une_legende_eskimo).

 


Le mariage du du hibou : une légende eskimo de  Caroline Leaf, 1974

 

In  Si les bœufs savaient peindre (If oxen knew how to paint), I use persistence of vision like the thaumatropes of my childhood. 

In It’s a long way from home (vimeo.com/64103094), I used a Télécran, a children’s toy with two buttons that can be manipulated to create drawings.




It’s a long way from home, 1968

 

We were working in very complicated conditions. As a student, I never worked on a negative. The negative began with the atelier de production (production workshop) in 1980 thanks to funding from the French Community [Editor’s note: an atelier de production is a structure supported by the Centre du Cinéma under an agreement. The aid granted to school workshops is used to finance student films]. Before that, we worked with commercial Reversal Ektachrome film, a single copy that could be used as a negative, but as we didn’t have much money, we didn’t print any copies, so the negative was used as a copy that was circulated and screened.

 

GS : Wasn’t there a Line test?

 

GP : When I was a teacher, we started with the line test of Alex Carola, a former student of La Cambre whom Zepe probably met. In the past, we used super-contrast film for line tests, which we soaked in water and laid out to dry for several metres on the premises. Then, at the end of the 80s, we had the opportunity to use computers, which saved us. First the Japanese model, then Alex Carola’s model, which was more powerful because it allowed us to display four values of grey, whereas the Japanese line-test was limited to black and white.

 

Z : The super contrast film must have been in 1972-73. The test line was a negative film, white on black. It gave an idea of the rhythm, but it wasn’t very practical because obviously you needed a whole afternoon just to do a test and you could only do one or two tests maximum per film. For the first commercials I did in Portugal from 1982-83, all the animation was painted and it was shown on television without a single test.

 

GP : We didn’t do any tests for the films I made. We did virtually no editing except for the live-action films, which I was able to edit on the editing table with the splicer. For the animated films, we tried to be as accurate as possible so that we didn’t have to cut into the films and we presented them practically as they were.

If there was a mistake, we cut out a few frames if we could and stuck them on with adhesive, but we didn’t even use glue.

I’d like to come back to Georges’ question about Walt Disney films. There’s one Disney character who still enchants me. It’s not Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, it’s Iga Biva the kumquat-eater, who has nothing to do with Disney’s graphics. I loved this character and I still do. He has attitudes that have absolutely nothing to do with Disney’s straightforward side and there are still stories of Iga Biva in old Mickey. I must have been about ten years old. It’s that difference that interests me, to answer Georges.

 

 

GS : In a way, it’s a questioning.

 

Vincent Gilot : According to Wikipedia, he appeared in 1947, found at the bottom of a cave, and is said to be the man of the future, as man will be in 1,000 years’ time.

 

 

Z : It’s close to certain characters by Ziraldo Alves Pinto, a Brazilian cartoonist.

 

GS : In Guy Pirotte’s films, there is something that persists: the flickering, the stroboscopic effect. This produces an invigorating result, but it’s not easy to contemplate. It’s a bit irritating for the viewer, like being slapped in the face…

 

GP : It’s not a question of slapping people in the face. People do say that my work is difficult. How did I get into it? When I retired in 2008, 15 years ago…

 

GS : Sorry, Guy, but you can see this from the very first films. In La machine à viande est cassée (The Meat Machine is Broken), there’s already this flickering effect, every other frame.

 


La machine à viande est cassée, 1974

 

GP : I agree, but now it’s much more complex in terms of perception. In La machine à viande est cassée, there are as many as four images in succession. In this project, which I started in 2008, I have 40 hours of film. Yes, as you say, it’s difficult work. But I’m thinking of Impressionism – it’s not complicated in itself, it’s just different. Cubism and Picasso are difficult.

On the website that my daughter created, every day I created little animated sequences of four or two images on a loop.

 


La Machine à Viande est cassée in Clés pour le spectacle – Novembre 1974 – Boris Lehman

 

When I retired, my first job was for the Brussels Cartoon Festival for their 25th anniversary. They asked around twenty directors, including Raoul Servais, students from La Cambre and Zorobabel, to do 10 seconds.

 

Les 25 ans d’Anima, 2006

 

As a teacher, I don’t want to teach film research. It’s up to the individual to decide whether or not to engage in abstraction, in other words, in cinematic research. It’s a personal journey. One day, my students saw my films, which I had never shown before. They said Why didn’t you show us that? I said no, it’s up to you, do you want to do that? you can always do it. As a teacher, I always made sure that they were trained as much as possible, that their films were shown in festivals all over the world, abroad, let’s say from the 90s onwards, when we had a certain quality of production and a certain quantity too: we could show a reel of an hour or an hour and a half. And Gaston was part of that. He taught in Charleroi and Espinho for years.

 

GS : And at Gobelins too. I also had him as a teacher for a year.

 

GP : He’s a fabulous guy. There were two characters: Don Quixote, who was Robert, and Sancho Pansa, Gaston, who was also mutilated in the war following an explosion. He still had a stump where his arm used to be. He carried his suitcases around Belgium, both in Wallonia and in Flanders, because there was also a collaboration with Raoul Servais [editor’s note: Raoul Servais founded the Animation section of the Ghent Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) and taught at La Cambre].

 

GS : Can we go back to the stroboscopic effect?

 

GP : Yes, that’s how Philippe Moins and Doris Cleven, who were in charge of the Anima festival at the time, came up with the idea. In 2008, my daughter set about creating a website. She did everything she could to learn computers, she took courses and she created my site. Every day for 15 years, I’ve accumulated a huge amount of animation material.

It’s the Columbus egg, which makes an egg stand upright: I create an image in Photoshop, using filters, which are incredible, and I turn it to the right three times in a row. This generates four images, but sometimes there are series of six. There are also modules of two images. It produces a particular perceptual effect. You’re the first to know and to have seen the rushes.

 

 

Montaigne is a very important figure here. What does Montaigne have to do with animation? It has to do with duration, time, the time it takes to work, the resilience that comes from doing this for 15 years. I knew Montaigne when I was a student. His working method interests me. He worked on time. At one point, he wrote some articles [editor’s note: dictated], took them up again years later and then took them up again years later, over three periods, with a general vision. I took sequences created in 2008 and approached them differently, reworking them again and again. 

This produces an effect of continuity because there is still a link between these sequences.

 

 

GS : There’s no music or sound, but there’s a visual that has something musical about it. Is this planned?

 

GP : In principle, if I can finish Inchallah, there will be music. I made two films outside school, La machine à viande est cassée, in 1974, and Lis tes ratures with a musician, a pianist, Georges Deppe. It’s a film with obvious political overtones, a bit old-fashioned in political terms because the events that took place in Chile with Pinochet’s coup d’état and the final music is Chilean.


Lis tes ratures, 1983

 

GS : The US anthem is also played twice.

 

GP : Yes, it’s all mixed up. A few years ago, I met Georges Deppe again to work on the soundtrack for the film, but I didn’t feel he was interested for some reason. 

While I was thinking about it, I discovered the way I was going to work on the soundtrack, which I would do myself. I discovered Henri Pousseur who was doing electroacoustic work, the beginning of computer music, including a work he did shortly before his death, Paysages planétaires.

 

 

I also recently read Nouba by the writer Eugène Savitzkaya, accompanied by a CD. Both in literary terms in the book and in terms of sound on the CD, it’s a work on perception because there are several intertwined voices speaking.

 

 

GS : There is also the notion of fragmentation.

 

GP : I was also nourished by musique concrète, as in Symphonie pour un homme seul, a ballet by Maurice Béjart, created with the sound of doors and creaking noises. It was obviously badly received.  On the theatrical front, La veuve joyeuse (The Merry Widow), which he revived in Brussels in 1963, when he came over from France, caused quite a stir at the time by attacking the bourgeoisie during the war, with all its joys and pleasures, and introducing soldiers and the war during the performance. It obviously caused a scandal.

 


Symphonie pour un homme seul de Maurice Béjart, 1955

 

GS : In La machine à viande est cassée, you can read the phrase ni dieu ni maître, neither god nor master. There’s the word morcellement, fragmentation, the notion of broken. La machine à viande est cassée, The meat machine is broken. There is a political content behind this permanent vibration that follows you for years.



  

 

GP : I consider myself an anarcho-communist.

 

GS : On a psychological level, without necessarily resorting to psychoanalysis, there is a certain difficulty in watching these stroboscopic films, but also, inevitably, a fascination for this difficulty, this aridity or this austerity. There’s a seduction in difficulty…

 

GP : I’m well aware of that.

 

GS :Politically, this broken, disruptive aspect refers to the questioning of established forms previously embodied by Disney or the United States. The American hamburger machine is broken. And at the same time, for the creator and for the spectators, there is somewhere an attraction to difficulty.

 

 

GP : The difficulty of La machine à viande est cassée worked from the first screenings. There was an audience. There were many sessions in general except in Annecy where I got whistled. My two films were criticized in Annecy where they were in competition. Research experienced a very lively period in creation in general in the years I would say 60 until 1974. I have been told your film arrives at the end of this period.

Read your erasures especially caused a ruckus. It is a text of which we only perceive components and we cannot read it all at once. This is an excerpt from an interview with Julian Beck of Living Theater with Judith Malina. They did happenings, notably in France at the Avignon festival. I saw two of their shows at the Théâtre 140 in Brussels, Antigone and Frankenstein.

 

 

Z : There is a group in Chicago, that no one knows, from 1962 called Harry Hoe and who created a certain graphic design, a kind of underground Op Art painting and that led to films like those of Peter Foldès or Yellow Submarine by George Dunning. It was the origin of all underground American comics.

Vincent, do you remember that Guy’s experiments were followed by students from La Cambre? When I arrived in the 70s, there were certain people, Patrick Theunen or others who were doing that. It was more an influence of fashion than of research itself. It imitates tapestries, computer drawings that we see in the early 60s. We can also find that in the drawings of Saul Steinberg. Vincent, do you remember people at La Cambre who perpetuated this path around retinal persistence or did it disappear in the 70s and 80s?

 

VG : It kind of disappeared. It still happens from time to time. I think that these visual experiences are very linked to the film which allows you to see all the images next to each other. Whereas, when you look at a USB key, you don’t see that it’s a series of images. For several years, a script has been required as a necessary basis for production, especially if you want to submit a request for assistance to the Film Selection Commission at the Centre du Cinema. If you don’t have a script, your film will never succeed unless you go to a commission like the Lab, which helps experimental films.

I remember a jury of which Guy was a member and Guy explained that, in an experimental film, there is 80% to throw away, but that it is worth throwing away this 80% in order to be able to nourish the remaining 20%. such a calculation is very poorly received today. We aim for efficiency. There are many more students today than when you were studying, Zepe, or when I was studying. There is an explosion of creators at La Cambre.

 

GP : As I said, the desire for research comes from the people themselves. It can’t be taught.

I haven’t made many films but that wasn’t the goal. During these 15 years, I could have made a film to be in a festival or two. I have 40 hours of film so I could have made a short film without any problem.

It’s very difficult right now in a world that needs history to consider my work but that’s not why I won’t continue to spend hours and hours and days and nights working on it.

 

GS : I have observed the change in forms since the arrival of the UPA studios and the Zagreb school. This whole trend of “adult” angular animation which is opposed to the elastic and rounded animation of American cartoons in particular. As in design, a round looks better, an angle is more aggressive. Like an awareness of the pain of war. Because this generation has experienced something not unimaginable, but still very trying. Obviously, it leaves traces.

Can we establish a connection with the experience of humanity during the Second World War?

 

 

GP : It’s very possible, but it’s not conscious for me. It is true that wars have marked my films. In La machine à viande certainly. Read your erasures much less because it is more neutral than La machine à viande which is more obviously politically marked. In an article in the cinema magazine Banc-titre, there is an entire page devoted to it by one of the animators I met in Annecy.

For the moment I don’t see any possibility in terms of experimentation. There are probably a number of them working in isolation. It’s more complicated to see them.

From the 40 hours of rushes, I hope to make a four-hour film. Four hours of screening. That makes sense to me. It must be long. I’m also curious to see the number of people who will stay in the theater and who will watch four hours of this type of film. It will be very difficult, it’s an experience. It will exist anyway as Sleep by Warhol as I saw it in its entirety. It was a time when we saw this kind of film for hours where nothing was happening. The grand prize of the Knokke festival is a magnificent film: the camera approaches very slowly and plunges into an image of the sea. It was the 70s. After that it was over. A very long time ago, there was from time to time at the cartoon festival a somewhat exceptional session with experimental films.

 


Sleep de Warhol, 1964

 

At times I tell myself that this isn’t going to work. At 80, we also want to live more calmly. I am responsible for what I do because I impose conditions that are difficult during the screening. Even if it was only 20 minutes, it would already be long.

 

Z :  Is it absolutely necessary for you to show it in a dark room? Does it really have to be a film with a sequel, a chronology, a beginning, an end? Do you see these sequences randomly or as series that echo each other? Could you consider programming these sequences in a loop and projecting them on a wall in a museum? The loops could be triggered depending on the movements and inflections of the spectators. Does this absolutely have to be a film?

 

GP : I understand very well what you are proposing. I would be entirely in favor of being able to project it in a room where the public can move around and stay for as long as they want.

 

Z : I was talking about it with Vincent and William: at La Cambre, we make films which are projected in a dark room with people who sit down and perhaps whistle at the end.

In ambulatory mode, you have to avoid it being decorative otherwise it is no longer interesting.

 

GP : Yes, probably if I get to the end of the editing and sound system, I will consider places like for example the Wiels [Editor’s note: contemporary art center in Brussels]. Who would dare to have this experience today? There will be no one there. They will stay 5 minutes or not even a minute and they will leave.

But the film will also have meaning as a film, as a montage. It’s still the film of my life. There will be elements that refer to, they are not just abstract images, there are many images that are abstract but there will be plenty of figurative images: a little butter, an hourglass, a death mask at the end of the film… because it’s my end: one day I’m going to die, I can’t avoid it. It will go from my birth to the end of my life. It’s my life too because I’ve worked there for 15 years, all day and night. There is therefore a point in watching the film for a fairly long period of time and this will disturb the viewer, who will lose the meaning of the thing a little bit because it will not be explicit. There will be moments of rest and calm. That’s all the editing work, with images that also revive the viewer. I don’t know yet what it will look like once assembled.

But I can envisage it being projected on multiple screens. It’s a different concept of storytelling.

 

Z : We were talking earlier about the aggressive dimension of these vibrant colors but a question of habituation.

 

GP : I agree that there is an aggressive side but this aggression is difficult because it is not habitual. In the 60s until the mid-70s, whether it was music or any other art, we were in research. Now it’s over. We are working on a project that is well-framed and well-defined. I have nothing against that, I’m not against this kind of cinema. I am in a type of cinematographic research, both in form and in design, which is different. We are no longer in this period where we could accept seeing a sleeping man filmed by Warhol for hours.

Many of us are looking for each in our own world. But there is no possibility of showing these things like in the 60s and until the mid-70s. There was also invention in the feature film: the New Wave was still astonishing, in a fairly classic mode with a fairly classic structure. À bout de souffle [Jean-Luc Godard, 1960] proposed a different tone.

 


À bout de souffle de Jean-Luc Godard, 1960

 

We still find this from time to time. The Czech film Diamonds of the Night [Jan Němec, 1964]: magnificent!

 

 

You have to have this desire to seek out Henri Pousseur or Boulez. They are not all dead but many are dying. How many friends die per week, it will soon be my turn. It’s not serious. The material is there, if someone wants to take it and do something with it, it is at their disposal. As long as I can do it, I will.

 

 

Isabel Aboim Inglez : I’m very curious about long film. And I think I am one of the persons that should see the film whatever time it takes. And I’m just saying that the ways of expanded cinema are always there. There are lots of people working in mainstream cinema but the expanded cinema is a way of thinking and working . And I think animation is close to that experimental way of thinking the image and the sound in expanded form of cinema. I don’t make any distinction between animation and live action cinema. The image can be made by a pen or a computer or a camera. It reminds me The Tulse Luper Suitcases by Peter Greenaway and Soft cinema by Lev Manovich. There are lots of people thinking outside the box in the idea of expanded cinema and I think animation is a way of doing expanded cinema.  And I  don’t know if you agree. With the new possibilities we can think in other ways and showing images in other ways. If we consider it cinema or not is a detail for me. It is cinema. It is the same thing if one say that the Nouveau Roman is not literature. It is. So I’m very thrilled to see the experiments of Guy. 

 

 

GP : Animation was initially designed especially for children, like comics. It was Walt Disney who industrially dominated the world of animation. There were experiments but then it was always short films. Disney tried to reach another audience with Tron, a feature film combining live action and computer animation, but it was a total flop. Peter Foldès had used the computer previously but in a short film. There are the films of the American Ralph Bakshi, which were not aimed at children, notably The Lord of the Rings, produced in rotoscope.

 

 

The research is interesting but you have to be sure you want to do it. You need this will. In literature, I love Georges Perec and also in the films that he was able to direct. He died very young.

 

Cinema initially is trivalent: the path of documentary. The first films are documentary films, like L’arrivée du train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat Station) or La Sortie de l’usine Lumière (The Exit from the Lumière Factory) in Lyon, these are not films constructed and thought out with an editing logic.

Then there are edited films like L’arroseur arrosé. This is the second way.

The third way is that of the imagination. He’s the great Méliès. It’s fundamental.

In 1968, and I am unfortunately of that generation, it was necessary to put imagination to power.




L’arroseur arrosé, Louis Lumière, 1895

 

Z : Dans , un livre de 600 pages de Patrick de Haas, il rassemble notamment des interviews de Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter et de ceux qui ont pensé le cinéma dans les années 20 et 30 de façon non-narrative. Aujourd’hui la situation est exactement pareille que dans les années 30.

 

In Cinéma absolu avant-garde 1920-1930 (Absolute Avant-Garde Cinema 1920-1930), a 600-page book by Patrick de Haas, he brings together interviews with Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter and those who thought about cinema in the 20s and 30s in a non-narrative way. Today the situation is exactly the same as in the 1930s.

 

 

Rita Cruchinho : I think that we still are experimenting. Every way to do something the way you think is an experiment. An individual way of thinking. The industry is very strong and doesn’t gives many place to other films. But I don’t think that you cannot say that people no more experiment things nowadays. I don’t really agree.

 

 

GP : I think that the fact of experimenting, of researching, of reflecting on what cinema is no longer an issue. I’m looking at the work of Joseph Plateau who burned his eyes looking at the sun and who also contributed a lot in terms of fundamental research on cinema.

 

 

When I was 7-8 years old, my grandfather, who was a farmer, and I harvested the potatoes and, every year, we then made a fire. I took a stick and twirled it and drew cabalistic signs with this point of light. All the elements that I can relate to my life came back to me in a form of introspection. I did my psychoanalysis thanks to cinema. You have to have this passion like in all areas even if it only has an outcome for yourself. It’s an addiction and a joy.

 

Z : You said that La Cambre initially called the section the cinematographic department, and that INSAS was established in Brussels. So there were two places, and the one that won was ultimately the one that took the word cinema.

 

GP : Pierre Lucas also started at INSAS which took on a lot of people but had to reduce at one point. Pierre Lucas arrived with Ivan Segar. Gaston Roch and Robert Wolski first chose Pierre. La Cambre and INSAS were born around the same time in terms of animation because there was still the film school before the pure animation workshop at La Cambre. There was a school in Flanders with Raoul Servais, KASK.

Pierre wanted to start puppet animation. His graduation film was a puppet film and his first film outside of school was a puppet film called La roue de Ronkeloulou. 

Raoul Servais also taught at La Cambre but the spirit of La Cambre, freer and more individualistic, did not agree with that of Raoul. Its setting was much more academic. Gaston and Robert had their method. I arrived as a teacher in 1980.

The producer of the filmmaker André Delvaux had said that it was necessary to found production workshops in schools, INSAS, IAD and La Cambre. If 68 served any purpose, it served at least that: the creation of the ateliers de production (production workshops) [Editor’s note: an atelier de production is a structure supported by the Centre du Cinema within the framework of an agreement. The aid granted to school workshops makes it possible to finance student films].

 

Z : In other places, there are attempts to create non-commercial production workshops, in cooperatives, such as at La Cambre or at Zorobabel. There is a dedicated budget which is not very high. Why isn’t this becoming widespread in universities?

Because the workshop managers are overwhelmed and can’t take on additional responsibility? Or is it because the political system prefers that people enter working life directly and that industry is in charge, instead of having an alternative within universities which changes the direction of things ?

 

GP : Workshops like Zorobabel, like Caméra-etc have inherited the spirit of La Cambre because there was no entrance exam at the start. We took everyone. There was quote unquote a lot of waste.

This is how the workshops were able to recruit because many had not succeeded at La Cambre because we were very limited. Pierre Lucas set very difficult quotas because we worked on film. There were camera standards. There were considerable schedules that I did with Pierre so that everyone could work with the cameras. I started to finance outgoing students like Luc Noorbergen, Pierre Dalla Palma and Pierre Haelterman, a graphic communications student, he is still a cameraman at RTL. Vincent Gilot, here, is also a beneficiary of this era with his film Marionnette, a magnificent stroll through the buildings of La Cambre. Then a volume film, Plein cirage au tournage (vimeo.com/63742784).

 

Plein cirage au tournage de Vincent Gilot, 1985

 

We were recognized in Europe for the diversity of the films. Each student had their own personality and a particular style.

We worked with these cameras until pretty much my retirement.

I tried to introduce the computer graphics, it was very complicated. We had a person who came from the university – and who came to eat his sandwich at our house at lunchtime, because we couldn’t hire staff – and he came to give lessons to a few students who did very briefly CGI films.

It was truly a pivotal moment. I couldn’t follow. The students were more computer savvy than us. I tried to get Stéphane Simal who worked at Little Big One, a big IT company [Editor’s note: from its creation in 1990 to its bankruptcy in 1993, the production company Little Big One (LBO) specialized in use of video techniques, digital graphic creation, production of clips, studio filming, etc.] This allowed Guionne Leroy to present to the jury at La Cambre her end-of-study film Tagada et fugue. She was then hired by Pixar. Stéphane Simal was asked to give a course but he refused. I asked the school and partly the production workshop to be able to finance Silicon Graphics [Editor’s note: workstations dedicated to computer graphics, 3D, video processing and high performance computing].




Tagada et fugue de Guionne Leroy, 1991

 

I brought Luc Otter and Florence Henrard to my house on weekends to train them on the equipment. Luc had the opportunity to go to Canada.

I could not any more. Pierre was leaving and I said I’m leaving too.

Pierre was my kingpin. He prepared the reels for the festivals. We had dozens of requests with large mailing books. 120m reels of student films. With great diversity: a student made a film with a pinscreen that she made herself. We made plasticine using transparency like Caroline Leaf. The National Film Board of Canada was a wonderful source in terms of research. At the forefront of research with obviously Norman McLaren.

 

 

The production workshops benefited from this contribution from La Cambre because a dynamic was created in terms of animation. And these workshops emerged, Camera-etc in Liège and Zorobabel in Brussels, which are driving forces in animation today and which still maintain a spirit of research.

Furthermore, we could not accommodate everyone. Louise-Marie Colon, a student who was selected at Cannes after two years at La Cambre with her film Paulette, previously worked at Zorobabel and now works at Camera-etc in Liège. Éric Blésin, Vincent Bierrewaerts, Luc Otter, Florence Henrard also went to Cannes. Then Annecy, Clermont-Ferrand…

 

 

Paulette, Louise-Marie Colon, 2000