A Monster in Paris comes to Blu-ray and DVD this week from Shout Factory, a gorgeous ode to early 20th century cabaret music and The Phantom of the Opera. I interviewed director Bibo Bergeron (Shark Tale) about returning to Paris after DreamWorks to make this labor of love.
Paris, 1910: Flood waters rise, a monster is on the loose, and panic sweeps the city. Having unintentionally unleashed a mysterious monster from an eccentric scientist’s greenhouse, Emile the projectionist, Raoul the inventor, and Lucille, an enchanting cabaret singer, embark on an unusual adventure. The English-language voice cast includes Adam Goldberg, Jay Harrington, Bob Balaban, Sean Lennon, Vanessa Paradis, Danny Huston, and Catherine O’Hara.
Talk about the opportunity to return to Paris in 2005 after working at DreamWorks to make this turn of the century French tale about art, science, technology, music, and cinema. What inspired and motivated you and what were your goals?
I had the opportunity and the chance to work with European people I really wanted to work with and old friends too. And to tell a story which was very close to my heart.
I wanted to tell a story of love, friendship, compassion, and passion for music. The turn of the century was a great canvas to do so and especially set in the city of romance. Being a Parisian myself, I felt like I writing a love letter to the city that raised me.
What were production opportunities, challenges, and obstacles?
I could be responsible for all department decisions, which means freedom but great responsibilities too. Which was challenging because here in France, we don’t enjoy the same budget than in the Hollywood studios. We have a quarter of it and I wanted to offer the same quality on screen than a studio movie. We had to be smart to give the best where it counts and not making it look cheap. For example: Lucille spends the entire third act wearing a cap and pants, and she looks great but the reason was because it was cutting down the costs by two. Long hair and a dress floating in the air is expensive.
It’s certainly a distinct design. Talk about how production designer François Moret and you looked to the atmosphere, lighting, and mood of paintings by Gustave Caillebotte and Alfred Sisley.
François Moret and I have been friends since we attended the famous Parisian animation school Gobelins, and we share many artistic tastes. When I said Caillebotte and Sisley, he clicked. From day one, I said that I wanted an Impressionistic look, and I had in mind the Paris rooftops from Caillebotte and the Marly winter pieces from Sisley. Those convey a winter atmospheres which are moody and romantic but not sad or depressing. And I wanted to avoid photorealism.
Describe how you incorporated the influence of the late Belgian comic-book artist André Franquin and Peter Pan.
Well, Franquin is the master for me. He’s the artist who gave me the vocation, the need for drawing and for the rest of my life. The dynamic, the expressions, the humor, the humanity in each of his drawings are phenomenal and a lesson. Franquin never stopped to inspire me and he was the reference for the character designs.
Peter Pan was the film that woke me up to animation. I mean, it’s when I saw this movie that I realized that it was series of drawings that gave me so many happy emotions. I was intrigued and fascinated, so I decided to do animation from that day on. Peter Pan is and will always be dear to my heart.
How did you attain the painterly look and feel in terms of technique and software?
The key was to assemble a killer team of matte-painters, beautifully lead by François Moret.
What was the most difficult part and what are you proudest of?
Most difficult part was the clothes, the long hair, and the crowd. Very expensive but essential in a movie with a pretty singer/young lady and many scenes in Paris. But we found ways to achieve that with the help of an amazing hardworking team and good ideas. What I’m the most proud of is that we have made a movie that conveys a message of friendship and love that make people happier for a moment.
What are you working on now?
I have been developing several projects in the passed 18 months and I will be announcing my next feature film during the coming Cannes Festival.