Antti Haikala • Producer of Fleak
“We want Fleak to be a compelling story for people with walking disabilities, too”
by Marta Bałaga
- We talked to Antti Haikala, the co-founder of Anima Vitae and the producer of Fleak, the recent recipient of the Eurimages Co-production Development Award at Cartoon Movie
Produced by Finland’s Anima Vitae, together with Poland’s Animoon and France’s Godo Films, the upcoming animation Fleak got some love at the 22nd edition of Bordeaux-based Cartoon Movie as well as the Eurimages Co-production Development Award, courtesy of jurors Karin Schockweiler, Julia Müntefering and Eric Geay (see the news). Scheduled for release in the summer of 2023, with production starting next year, it promises to take its viewers to another dimension. And back. We spoke to its producer and the co-founder of Anima Vitae, Antti Haikala.
Cineuropa: Your project was part of the Finnish Film Affair line-up in 2017, already teasing the arrival of the “bug from another dimension”. How has it evolved since then?
Antti Haikala: It’s a story about a boy who experiences big changes in his life. He loses his ability to walk, and then he meets, yes, this bug from another dimension. They go there together and find a way for the boy to walk again – they do that by giving away his shadow. Then, when he is about to return home, he refuses to take it back. The shadow attaches itself to the wrong creature and becomes a monster, one he will need to defeat at the end. He basically needs to learn to move on with his life.
When you create a creature like that, it needs to be a little bit threatening and a little bit funny. But how do you animate it in order not to scare all the tiny viewers away?
We really wanted to make our monster exciting. This other dimension that we have in the film is very different from our own world. It’s more “cartoonish”, which already helps. We needed to figure out a way for the monster to move, and we needed to decide what kind of sounds it would be making: it’s a mix of 2D shadow and real texture in order to make it interesting, but also less scary and less “physical” when needed. It’s also important to understand that it’s not exactly evil – it doesn’t want revenge, it doesn’t want to hurt anyone. It just tries to consume everything in sight, which makes it dangerous.
As a company, do you think you have already developed a specific style at Anima Vitae? Especially after the success of The Flight Before Christmas [also known as Niko & the Way to the Stars [+see also:
What we have been developing for a long time is this attempt to create sumptuous, cinematic lighting. That work was already visible in Niko and everything else we have done since – also in [the 2019 3D-animated adaptation of Tove Jansson’s stories] Moominvalley. It’s a TV series, but the images are still very cinematic. So this lighting and these powerful moods, that’s what we are good at, I think. Even with our small budgets, we can deliver quality on an international level.
It’s interesting because very often one hears people say that the animated film they just saw felt a bit “flat”.
One thing that’s really important to have in animation is variety and contrast. You don’t want to boost everything all the time. With Fleak, we want it to be a bit more low-key when we are in the “real” world, experiencing some of the saddest moments. And when we go to this other dimension, only then do we start playing with the colours and the light. That’s something to keep in mind, I guess – it’s not just about one beautiful shot. It’s about the dramaturgy of the whole story, as for us, a film always needs to stand on its own two feet.
There are some serious issues you are trying to tackle here. Do you think the Eurimages Co-production Development Award will help you take this concept further?
We will use it to make the script even better, as that’s the main thing we need to get right, and we will probably do some visual development as well – these two things are certainly on our list. On the other hand, once you start translating the script into images, you can be sure that there will be surprises. This kind of film is obviously not an easy sell, as people suspect it might be too scary. But now, we really feel that we have a story we can believe in.
I think our monster is very helpful; it makes this boy’s fears more concrete, and as I mentioned, we designed it so that we could tone it down sometimes. It’s a family film, and we certainly don’t want to make the children too anxious. We have also been doing our research because we want it to be a compelling story for people with walking disabilities, too. The response to that has been really wonderful.
In films directed at children, there is often a struggle at the beginning, and then it just disappears. But for many people, that is not exactly an option, is it?
We didn’t want to show yet another situation in which all your problems just magically go away. For us, the message was that the boy might be able to learn to walk again, but that’s not the point. The point is that he is now ready to try and move on. Which might be the single hardest thing to learn, ever.
You can see a promo image for Fleak below:
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