Animating their careers 

Students get hands-on in Spike Jonze production

By Anna Sarkissian

Jennie (voiced by Meryl Streep) leaves home to follow her dream of becoming the star of the World Mother Goose Theatre in <em>Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life</em>, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski.  Magnifying glass

Jennie (voiced by Meryl Streep) leaves home to follow her dream of becoming the star of the World Mother Goose Theatre in Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski.

While watching the latest film by the award-winning duo Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, it’s easy enough to immerse yourself in the story and forget the painstaking attention to detail that went into each carefully crafted scene.

Graduating student Caroline de Koninck can attest to the amount of care and precision required to combine the live action, stop motion and puppetry.

The 23-minute film, Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life, based on the book by Maurice Sendak, was shot in the revamped cinema studio in the basement of the Hall Building in 2009. De Koninck was one of about a dozen Concordia students from film animation, film production and theatre who interned with the National Film Board of Canada/Warner Home Video production in exchange for credit and some pay. A few recent grads were also hired to take part.

De Koninck spent several months working on post-production and compositing, digitally removing the wires and rigs which were used to animate the puppets. A shot which lasts a few seconds onscreen might take days to alter.

“I worked a lot of hours but it was totally worth it,” de Koninck says. “I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

Produced by Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay and Marcy Page, the film was created as a special feature for the Blu-ray disc of Jonze’s film Where the Wild Things Are.

Higglety Pigglety also has some big names lending their talent: Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker, whose voices were recorded in New York and Los Angeles.

Fanny Berthiaume, winner of the cinema school’s newly created Pierre Jasmin Award for Excellence in Animation, started as an intern and was later hired to build props and sets. She explains that the discipline she learned in her animation courses really helped her once she was on set.

“I had to take life-size objects and create them in miniature form. It takes a lot of patience to reproduce decorative elements,” she says.

Line producer Nicholas Fonseca says one of the challenges of incorporating interns on such a time-sensitive production is finding the time to teach new skills. “But it’s always good to have a mix of people when you’re in production. It keeps everyone alive,” he says.

Page, who also produced the Oscar-nominated Madame Tutli-Putli with Lavis and Concordia grad Szczerbowski, says that the collaboration with the university was a win-win situation.

“Part of our mandate at the NFB is to provide opportunities for emerging filmmakers and craftspeople,” she says. “We were surprised at how easily the students integrated with the rest of the crew and how fun it was to have a gang from Concordia hang out with us.”

Amely Jurgenliemk, administrator of the Department of Cinema, (then Chair) Peter Rist and associate professor Cilia Sawadogo from animation helped broker the deal.

“Everyone was thrilled with the experience. It created a real buzz,” Jurgenliemk says. De Koninck and Berthiaume agree, adding that they were able to make contacts in the industry and improve their technical skills.

“I was so lucky to be there at the right time,” Berthiaume adds. “I was able to work with talented people, understand how big productions work and pick up useful tricks. Hopefully, students will have these opportunities again in the future.”

Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life is screening next month at the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto. The NFB plans to release a stand-alone DVD next fall. In the meantime, behind the scenes videos will be available in a few weeks online.


Concordia University