Le Petit Prince: Animating Saint-Exupéry’s Classic Tale

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Le Petit Prince is a novella written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and published in 1943. Since its publication, it has become of the most popular and widely-translated works of fiction in history. The story has been adapted in many ways over the years, including two prior films, one a joint Soviet-Lithuanian production in 1966, and another released in 1974 in the United States. The year 2015 will mark its third adaptation into a feature film. The new animated adaptation of Le Petit Prince is directed by Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda, Spongebob Squarepants), written by Irena Brignull (Boxtrolls) and Mark Osborne, with Mikros Image in Montreal, Canada providing the animation production services.

The story centers on a pilot stranded in the desert that meets a young prince fallen to Earth from a tiny asteroid. Watch the trailer below to get a look at the beauty of this film:

Tania Simeons and David Wesch are animation artists, and were part of the team that brought the Le Petit Prince movie to life. The two were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their experiences working on the film.

Daniel: Can you tell us a bit about yourselves? How long have you both been animating, and what are some of the most recent projects you’ve worked on?

Tania: Dave and I met at Vancouver Film School in 2007 and have been moving through the industry together ever since. Our first job was at Bardel Entertainment, on a TV series called “Zeke’s Pad”. We continued working in TV for around three years, until we decided to enroll at Animation Mentor to further our skill set. In 2012 we landed our first feature gig at Sony. I was hired for The Smurfs 2 and Dave worked on Oz: the Great and Powerful and Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs 2. After working on The Little Prince we are now back at Sony, finishing up on Hotel Transylvania 2.

Daniel: You both moved from Vancouver to Montreal to work on Le Petit Prince. What is it about the film that appealed to you enough to move across the country to work on it?

Dave: The Little Prince is probably my all-time favorite book, so just the chance to be involved with the film adaptation would have been enough to lure me anywhere in the world. Add to that Mark Osborne as the director (I was blown away by Kung Fu Panda!!) and Jason Boose as the animation director (whose work includes Presto – which to me is animation brilliance) and it became an even more fantastic opportunity. Not to mention, I loved the idea of using mixed media to differentiate the two worlds in the film and I really respected and appreciated Mark’s desire to remain faithful to the book.

Tania: I felt the same way as Dave. It was an opportunity to work alongside people whose work I greatly admired. The subject matter of the film really appealed to me as well. The book is very visual, which really lends itself to the medium of animation. At the same time, it carries a beautiful message and deals with many universal themes, such as love, friendship and loss. I just felt it had so much potential and once I learned more about the scope of the story, the aesthetic of the film and the animation style they were going for, I was pretty much sold.

Daniel: What was the average day like animating on Le Petit Prince? Can you talk a bit about the collaborative process in animation and how you two fit into the pipeline?

Dave and Tania: Our typical day started with dailies. We were a small team for the majority of the production, so we would all gather in the sweat box while Mark would review the shots that were up for the day. Everyone was welcome to give feedback and propose new ideas. Mark also used dailies as an opportunity to update us on the goings-on outside the studio, such as test screenings, recording sessions etc., which really kept up our excitement about the film. In the afternoon we would have another review (appropriately named walkies), but this time at our desks. Mark and Jason would go around and look at people’s shots. Approvals were followed by a round of applause from the whole floor. The rest of the time was pretty much spent animating in close collaboration with our leads. It was a great day-to-day experience. Everyone at the studio was very approachable and generous with their feedback and technical advice. There was a wonderful chemistry throughout, and we grew very close as a team.

Daniel: Were there any major differences in the production environment from your previous opportunities in features and television?

Dave: I have never worked so closely with a lead before. Marc-Andre Baron, my lead on the show, collaborated with me on every aspect of every shot I worked on, right from brainstorming through to final polish. It was incredibly helpful and I learned more on this film than on any other production. In terms of animation, this film was also very different from other shows I have been involved in. The style was much more realistic and subtle, and I came to rely heavily on reference. Even then, the general rule of thumb was to take your first pass blocking and dial it back 80%. I was unaccustomed to that style so, while it was initially intimidating, it was also an extremely rewarding experience.

Tania: I think the biggest difference was the small size of the team and how closely we worked with Mark on a daily basis. At a big feature studio, the teams can get quite large and, logistically, it is not always possible to have that same level of personal interaction with the director and the other animators and supervisors. I guess we had worked in small teams back in television, but the intense TV schedule did not allow for the same degree of collaboration. On The Little Prince, Mark was always at the studio! He knew everyone personally and was always open to discussing ideas. He really put his heart and soul in the project, and his enthusiasm was contagious. We all felt so invested in the film, it was never just a job. I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but to me it was an absolutely wonderful experience, which has completely changed my perception of what it means to be fulfilled as an animator.

Daniel: Without revealing too much of course, can you tell our readers a little about the film? What sets Le Petit Prince apart from other animated features? What kind of film are we all in store for?

Tania: The book is really the heart of this movie and I think what sets The Little Prince apart from most other animated features is absolute commitment to its emotional core. The wonderful content of the book dictates the tone of the whole movie and, as such, makes it devoid of cynicism, while keeping the story really fun and entertaining.

Many people cherish the book, and I think Mark really felt a responsibility to protect it. Instead of trying to stretch its limited plot to fill a feature-length movie, they decided to build a more contemporary story around it, which achieves the double goal of keeping the content of the book intact and making the message even more relevant and accessible to a contemporary audience. These parallel stories are reflected in the two different styles of animation. The contemporary story is in CG, which is the part we worked on at Mikros. The book part is in stop motion, which was done by TouTenKartoon studio, also in Montreal. I am thrilled that Mark chose to include the use of stop motion. The result is absolutely beautiful and a perfect visual complement to the poetry and whimsy of the book.

Dave: I can’t add much more to what Tania said, except that I cried reading the book and I know I will cry watching the film. Bring tissues.

Daniel: What advice can you give aspiring animators that have ambitions of working on films like Le Petit Prince?

Dave: I feel that working in this industry on any production comes down to three things: timing, the quality of your work, and the people you work with. So I would offer the following advice:

Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find work! Timing is crucial in this industry. Every job I’ve ever had came down to being in the right place at the right time. It’s often not up to you, but it depends on who is hiring (if anyone is hiring at all) at the time when you are available. And remember, even if one door closes another one opens – that was definitely the case for me with The Little Prince.

Secondly – put yourself in situations that will challenge you and help you grow as an animator. Whether it’s tackling a shot you’re not comfortable with or going back to school or surrounding yourself with others you can learn from, there are many ways to improve the quality of your work. Don’t get comfortable or complacent with what you know!

Lastly – play nice! Animation is a team effort, and it’s a small industry. Being nice goes a long way!

Tania: Most people starting out as animators are not going to get to work on a big feature overnight. Some people do. Most people have to work really hard for it. But every step you take towards it has its own unexpected rewards, and they should be cherished. There are fun challenges on every project, and there is so much to learn! My advice would be to find the value in every experience and to go into each project with an open mind. Don’t be so focused on landing your dream job that you forget to enjoy and value your achievements along the way.

If The Little Prince has taught me anything it is that the people you work with make all the difference. Being in a group where everyone is there to support, encourage and inspire each other really helps you grow as an animator and, more importantly, makes you love your day-to-day experience on the job, regardless of what you are working on. If you’re not having fun, the long hours will get to you and you’ll end up forgetting what you loved about animation in the first place. In the end, being able to share the result of all your hard work with your friends can make any project really special!

The film is currently streaming on Netflix.