Originally released through Channel 4’s Random Acts, and now the winner of Best Animated Short at the SXSW Film Awards, Nicolas Ménard animated short Wednesday With Goddard is not only hilarious but a wonderful merging of aesthetic media.
Featuring a combination of Nicolas’ bright, blocky characters and forms, and the delicate pencil drawings of Manshen Lo, the animation has a unique feel. It tells the story of a man’s search for God, narrated by Denis Foley in soft Irish tones, which adds a subtle humour that perfectly suits the visuals. For a little more insight we spoke to Nicolas about the story and its ecclesiastical beginnings.
What was the brief and the concept for the film?
When Channel 4 showed interest in broadcasting a film of mine, I submitted this script, which I had been thinking about for a while. I initially wrote it for the Late Night Work Club’s second anthology of short films called Strangers. The idea was to make a story that starts like a children’s book, but ends in a sudden, dramatic way. It became a film about the search for God, or perhaps something else.
How did the collaboration with Manshen Lo come about?
Since I met Manshen at the Royal College of Art, we have wanted to collaborate. After graduating her student visa expired and she had to go back home to China, but we wanted to keep in touch in a more profound way than only by Skype. So we starting working on this film, developing this style that mixes fully rendered pencil drawings with simple, colourful characters. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out the style, but once we had one functional image, the rest followed rather smoothly.
Once she was finally back in London, we produced all the artworks together. I would work on a layout, she would patiently draw the required background on paper, scan it in, and send it back to me for compositing. It took 2 and a half weeks and a lot of coffee to draw the flower-opening animation, which is made of 21 individual pencil drawings and lasts less than three seconds.
Could you tell us more about the ideas behind the film?
Believe it or not, I went to church as a kid until the age of seven. Each seat had this little prayer booklet, cheaply printed in black and white, with different pastel covers every week. The best way to pass time during the service was to browse through them. They had illustrations of mountains and flowers inside. That was the starting point for the idea of having these monochrome pencil drawings on pastel backgrounds. In fact, the first artwork we did was the drawing of the mountains with the title next to it. It seemed to capture the appropriate feeling of ‘grandiose’ I was looking for.
For the characters, I thought I had a thing or two to learn from cel animation. In cel animation, characters were painted on celluloid with solid colours and clear outlines, on top of a hand-painted background. In our case, all the character animation was done in Photoshop, so the backgrounds and characters would complement each other by contrast.
It’s so funny – how much fun was it to make?
Animated shorts are usually exciting and fun to work on for the first few weeks, when everything seems novel. However, the process being slow, there’s always a point where you’re wondering why you’re doing this to yourself. Working with incredible people always brings back the joy and motivation needed to keep going. I’m incredibly grateful when I have the chance to put together a bigger personal piece, versus doing commercial work.
The voiceover was a hard thing to figure out. I’m not a native English speaker, and it was my first time directing actors, so it felt intimidating. Even if their parts were short, there was a tone I was going for that was difficult to obtain at first. I slowly realised that deadpan doesn’t come naturally to everybody, but when we finally found Denis Foley, he got Eugene instantly. Same with Aneta Piotrowska (Evelyn), who was really fun to work with. Regarding the sound, David Kamp was brilliant. He created this cinematic soundscape that really helps make these flat, book-like compositions come to life.