Exclusive interview with Iulian Grigoriu: “Latte is a feel good movie, about friendship in the first place”
This weekend, Latte and the Magic Waterstone (directed by Mimi Maynard, Regina Welker) arrives in cinemas in Romania. On this occasion, we bring you an exclusive interview with Iulian Grigoriu, the Romanian who was animation director for this film.
How did you get to do what you do now? Working in this area of animation?
I always wanted to make cartoons. When I was a kid, on Saturdays, at the end of school, I was running home to see final minutes from the Gala Desenului Animat (Cartoon Gala – a famous Romanian show in th '90s). Then they took me to the Doina cinema. (in the past a famous Romanian cinema where they running only family films and animations). It was like I arrived in the cartoon country.
They had wallpapers of animals from the jungle on the walls, it was a small room and somehow intimate, weekly program where you could find full-length movies that you would see on TV only in the parts of a few minutes a week. What can I say? It was fantastic!
I've been drawing since I was little, and even tried to be a serious artist and to focus on things with more weight, respectable but I failed. When I entered the high school of arts and saw that they had the animation section I had no doubt. I didn't have to choose between sections. Things were no longer the same at the academy where there was no animation section.
Animation was not an art there, so I choose graphics and painting which was very useful to me later. But not to dramatize. I had a nice chance to work at Animafilm since I was in high school. That was practically the time when I was really inoculated with the animation virus and I say this because during my student years I tried to do other jobs but I always went back to animation.
A friend of mine, Olimp Bandalac told me: "Once you have got the animation virus you will not escape". And so it is for most of us.
Then I worked through almost all the studios in Bucharest in the '90s. But as I was young, inexperienced, those years were pretty gray. In the late 90's, after finishing college, I went to Hungary and that was it. After a year my girlfriend from then came with me. She became my wife after a few years.
What does the job of animation director and supervisor mean?
This position is a very responsible one and quite difficult from several points of view. Job descriptions can be found on the net but I tell you what it means to me and how I relate to this position. First of all you have to be an animator yourself. Only this way you can help where it is needed.
Every time I start a new movie I try to document myself as much as possible. What is the original story behind the script. Who are my directors, possibly the producers. After that I try to understand as best I can the script and the characters in the film. The deeper I get into the story, the better I realize the subtleties and layers of the film.
From here I start to have discussions with the director (the directors in this case of Latte) and to deepen the story and the characters. What kind of acting we need, as well as in what sense to exaggerate etc. Once it is clear to me what the directors want, I start working on the animation style, find a rhythm of the film, look for references by actors to help the animator understand the character.
Many times I even make a database representing what kind of expressions should be used and the limits of deformations. I can usually select the team after tests or portfolios. Once the team or teams are chosen, I usually do an acting workshop on the characters in the movie. I'm trying to make the animators understand why character X is moving like this and why it has to be different from other characters.
How a character evolves during the film and how important it is to animate as much as needed and where needed. Only then do I begin to talk about each sequence and each scene. If the animation is not correct I send additional drawings to the frame where something needs to be changed. As a simple supervisor the work is a little simpler, having to follow the instructions of the animation director.
How long have you been working as animation director and supervisor?
I think I started in 2009 or 2010 with a famous series in Germany. A production for preschoolers called Kikaninchen, a position assumed by Anca starting with season 2, becoming "kikaninchen's mother" over a few years.That's how they called it in Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in an article about the series. In the meantime, I started working on the first feature film as animation director in Belgium.
There I had the “baptism of fire”. We were working on a big film, produced in Paris and we had to send weekly a fixed number of seconds to a quality that we had not worked before. I learned a lot and realized that I still have a lot of work to do. It was a good school.
I know that before you settled in Germany you had a period when you also worked in Hungary? How was that experience?
In Hungary were the years of my growing up professionally or at least the beginning of them. We went through some experiences and we had the chance to qualify professionally, being forced to keep the deadlines, doing a large volume of animation and doing many tests. It was a good school.
You have worked on many successful animated films. What project do you keep closely to your heart and why?
I can't say I liked one movie... it's like asking a parent which of the children is dearer to him. I mean a good parent :-) Each production is different, and has its problems and solutions. Teams often differ completely. For example, now we are working on a new film by Enzo Dálo. For me 90-95% of the team is new. We will have first and foremost many young animators who will need a lot of advice. It will be fun and very interesting of course but it will be also a new adventure from which I will learn a lot.
Who has influenced you the most in your career?
Work in the studio. I learned a lot by watching a lot of movies and here I mention that not only animation and not only American. I read a lot and try to document myself a lot. BUT! I happen to work with people who are really big names in the field and and I can learn a lot from them.
I learned from Tahsin Özgür who animated for Disney in a few big movies. Another name that inspired me through the vitality of work and professionalism is Jesper Moller and in the last year and something I have worked and still work with Daniel St. Pierre from which I learned many details that you can not find in books. Of course, I learned something from each film I worked on and there are several names that influenced my evolution whether or not I was aware of it.
How much does working on a European animation differ from one for a larger studio? The difference is only about money, or also involves more special technology?
This is a good question :-) First and foremost, in Europe, there are increasingly competitive productions, by American standards. The only problem is the budget of the film. The bigger the budget, the more time you have to work on story, design, style, animation, effects, light... etc. The last film I worked on and we hope to release this year is an India-China co-production and is at a high standard. Here I worked hard on the quality of the animation and it will feel.
In 2019 you worked on the animation Latte & the Magic Waterstone as animation director. Can you tell me how you got to work on this project?
I first saw the trailer on the net. It was kind of love at first sight. I knew I could do a lot with a character like Latte. About 7-8 months, when I was approaching the final production of that time (Marnie’s World or Spy Cat) I announced online that I will be free of contract.
Then I received an email from a Belgian colleague from the production company if it is ok to recommend me to the German producer of Latte Igel. Do you realize that I was flying on a cloud and seeing the city from above :-) I said yes, I was contacted and that was it.
How did you work with directors Regina Welker and Nina Wels?
The collaboration with these two beautiful ladies was extraordinary. And I'm not exaggerating. I anchored Latte's acting based on the personality or the way Regina moves. The funny thing is that she says she moves the same way I do but you should see her. He is an animated character full of energy and humor.
After we had our first Skype talk, I was a little scared that we didn't quite understand about the message of the movie. That was my impression and I don't think it was that way, but I'm an emotional guy, so I belived that.
It was only when we met face-to-face in the studio I realized how they are and what they want… we started to know each other and actually worked on the construction of the film. We made many ideas exchanges and sometimes we argued about things, but in a constructive way, and all of that practically served to raise the quality of the film.
Nina helped me a lot with the team from Ludwigsburg and Halle / Saale, I also had to work in India. We had a total of 4 teams and fortunately all were talented and motivated.
Prorom will release on February 7 in Romanian cinemas Latte & the Magic Waterstone. Do you have a special message for the spectators who are going to see it?
Latte is a feel good movie, about friendship in the first place. You may be surprised that the story will catch you and you won't know when the time has passed. I just hope you like it as much as we liked to create it and bring it to the cinema. I look forward to the reaction of the Romanian audience.
Interview by Emanuel Lăzărescu.