Sony Production Designer Noelle Triaureau on “Smurfs: The Lost Village – Animation Scoop

Sony Production Designer Noelle Triaureau on “Smurfs: The Lost Village

A veteran animator at Sony Pictures Animation, Noelle Triaureau worked on the first “Surf’s Up”, the first “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and the first “Hotel Transylvania”. Most recently she was Production Designer on “Smurfs: The Lost Village”, which comes out on Blu-ray/DVD this Tuesday.

Jackson Murphy: Smurf Village dominates the beginning section of the film. What did you use as inspiration for the different mushroom houses?

Noelle Triaureau: Well, our main source was obviously this gold mine of comic books that Peyo has drawn and the design that he’s been embracing, which is very round. There’s a lot of buoyancy in his shapes – and especially reminiscent of the Smurfs themselves. So there’s, kind of, already a pre-set shape language going with a lot of spheres, very… generous, rotund, curvy shapes for the houses. We extrapolated that throughout the whole environment around the village itself. The houses – we not only designed them following the comics as closely as possible, but then we arranged them in a topography that was on little hills, little mounds, with… terrain, streets and paths that would lead from one house to another.

Marcelo Vignali, our Art Director, was instrumental in designing the overall topography – the overall layout of the village itself – to echo the bounciness, that friendly curving style of those houses – which help make it feel friendlier with all those curvy shapes. And then we have also bushes in the distance and trees. All those plants kind of echo all the roundness.

JM: And which of those Smurf mushroom houses would you most like to live in?

NT: Ooh. Probably Brainy’s because it’s full of apparatus and pseudo scientific contraptions and inventions, which must be so fun just to observe. So I think that’s the one I would be most drawn to.

JM: Is Brainy your favorite Smurf as well?

NT: Yeah, I suppose. I guess so. I do like the way [director] Kelly [Asbury] depicted him in this movie. In Peyo’s comics, he tends to be kind of beaten up a little bit by everybody else because he’s always annoying them. He’s a little too much of a know-it-all, I suppose. But there’s something fun about him always trying to look at the scientific side of everything.

JM: When watching the movie, you recognize that the colors – even of the Smurfs themselves – but especially the backgrounds and the scenery – are very soft and bright.

NT: From the get-go, Kelly thought it would be really cool to look at the Impressionists, especially the French Impressionists, and how they used colorful palettes and also those blue, purple-ish shadows, just to keep things very light-hearted, playful and colorful. So we really embraced that, and I thought it was kind of fun to do this.

JM: And there are so many different kinds of flowers, fruits, leaves, trees and nests. How were you able to differentiate and distinguish them all?

NT: Well, on our end in the Visual Development team, we are designing different assets for different locations, so for the Smurf Village and the forest around the Smurf Village we started off inspired by what Peyo did. And he actually did quite a lot of plants in his comics that we looked closely at. As we go to different locations, we tried to make the vegetation – the terrain – fairly different, so you really got a sense of all the different places you would go to. And then to keep track of all that vegetation: not everything we designed was built in Production. And then Production has an amazing pipeline just to tag everything and keep track of everything.

JM: And Gargamel’s tower has a sort-of dark tone to it, but it’s also kind of light because this movie is geared for very young kids.

NT: Absolutely. It’s a playful version of dark, I think. (laughs) At first, we looked at… kinds of German Expressionism movies and how they played with angles of shapes and pointy, triangular cast shadows and things like that to create an environment that felt very ominous and very dangerous – and yet, kind of, a little surreal… to take the edge off of things. Yes, it’s kind of… a villain’s mind. Yes, [Gargamel] is a villain; yes, he’s evil. But he’s also kind of a blubbering buffoon, so things are a little bit broken. It was a fun combination to develop his lair. Of course, there’s the lair drawn in the comic books, but I think we were trying to push it also with the lighting and those really strong… shadows and colorful lighting so that it doesn’t go too dark and gray and dangerous and ominous.

JM: One of the big surprises in the movie is seeing those glow bunnies, which help some of the Smurfs escape from those dark tunnels and caves.

NT: I really like the bunnies. I think it’s part of Kelly’s fantastic humor. It’s set-up, obviously, in those dark caverns. And you think there are going to be dangerous, scary characters coming out of the dark. And they come out, and they’re just stuffed, fluffy bunnie . The design itself was actually done by Peyo. There are some drawings of bunnies that are exactly like that. But our character designer, Patrick Mate, helped us translate it in a 3D volumetric version. In Peyo’s version, they’re just regular bunnies – they’re not glowing. But I like how Kelly just took that and ran with it and made something funny and unusual with it.

JM: And that raging river in mid-air sequence must’ve been both challenging and exciting to put together.

NT: It was really fun in a daunting rollercoaster kind of way. (laughs) Do I really wanna go on that rollercoaster or not? (laughs) We wanted to go crescendo with that sequence. At first, it felt unusual, it felt magical and enchanted, but probably still tamable and doable. And then, as [the Smurfs] go along, they realize that was really the wrong idea. One of our vis-dev artists, Aurora Jimenez Seoane, was wonderful in designing a lot of different gags or things that could happen on this rollercoaster ride. She did go ahead and do quite bit of research on the Internet with images, ideas and designs for rollercoasters and other action-packed things that could happen on such a crazy chase.

JM: You were a visual development artist on “Surf’s Up”. So did that experience help you with the Smurf-boarding sequence?

NT: Yes, it did. We are always enriched with all the other movies we have done. I worked on “Surf’s Up” and on “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and also on “Hotel Transylvania”. All of them were fun experiences with characters that kind of defy reality sometimes and do really unusual, fun things. For example, in “Surf’s Up”, at one point, the penguins go through some lava tubes and there’s also a really fun ride through the lava tubes that’s also reminiscent of a rollercoaster. On those days, I was mostly focusing on colors and it was really fun to make it feel dangerous and yet fun at the same time.

JM: So tell me about Smurfy Grove – this whole new Smurf world.

NT: Smurfy Grove is where the girls live. Kelly wanted the whole village to be camouflaged. When our heroes arrive to that location, the girls say, “Oh, here’s our village” and they look up and they only see an empty clearing. And they wonder “What are you talking about? I don’t see a village.” And [the girls say] “No – Look up!”, and then they discover it up in the branches. That was really fun because it gave us a chance to create a completely different type of village and figure out how they live. They’re more, kind of, like acrobats. They’re even closer in tune with the animals that live, especially those who live up in the trees. It’s really fun to work on all those little huts and houses that are… made of leaves and branches and linked to each other by little rope ladders and bridges. It was a whole different environment.

JM: And I love that climactic scene because of how emotional it is. Was there input from the entire staff on how it should be done?

NT: Perhaps from our department, especially for the lighting – to help out with the colors and the mood and the transition because that really supports the whole emotion that the viewer goes through and experiences as we go through that emotional scene. But the story side of it was really boarded and developed by Kelly and the story department. So it was kind of teamwork on that one.

JM: And it’s great that on the Blu-Ray/DVD, you have “How To Draw Smurfette, Brainy & Clumsy” videos – so kids watching them may get inspired to pursue this as a career.

NT: Yes. And our character designer, Patrick Mate, is fantastic. He was really our Smurf expert. And he was telling us every day that he’s got a big smile coming into work because just drawing those round, buoyant shapes makes him feel very happy. There’s something very fun and playful about those designs. I keep saying it’s somewhat similar to Mickey Mouse designs, you know, with a big head, a small body, tubular limbs and big hands and feet. And there’s something really fun and playful about those kinds of proportions and shapes.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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