La Sirène, or The Siren, is an animated film by Iranian-born director Sepideh Farsi which recently opened the Panorama section at the Berlinale. The anti-war coming of age adventure story of a young boy is the product of work by 8 studios spread across 4 countries, one of them being Slovakia’s Blue Faces.
For Sepideh Farsi, The Siren is a deeply personal project. Even though the story follows a boy, she deliberately chose a young adult sharing her own age at a time when she experienced war in Iran. The strong emphasis on historical accuracy is one of the driving forces of the film. “We even recreated the local cinema or mosque exactly as they were at the time of my childhood,” she proclaims. It was her intention to remain faithful to the atmosphere of the era. “If you pay attention, you can really see the right boots on people’s feet, the right helmets on soldier’s heads, and the right type of weapons in their hands.”
Farsi also insisted that the original version of the movie be dubbed in Persian to honor the authenticity. She preferred working with live action actors rather than voice actors. But the task proved to be harder than expected. Where can you find native Persian speakers capable of dubbing in France? “I cannot go back to Iran for political reasons and can’t endanger people who live there by working with them. Searching for appropriate voices was a challenge, as was directing them from afar – I had to coach two voices in the United States via Zoom, for example. The real headaches were automatic detection tools made for the English language, which forced us to work on that part of the animation manually.”
But the story of 14 year-old Omid embraces the style with just as much attention. In fact, the combination of realism and style was one of the directo´s main objectives. “I am totally self-taught in animation and filmmaking and I love searching for different solutions.” She spent 8 years on the project and cultivated a team of animators and close co-workers who she was able to lead to a united, coherent vision. For example, the film has a distinct color palette focused on greens and browns. And, of course, the combination of 2D and 3D animation is very deliberate.
The character design became a lengthy process when every inch of every face and wardrobe was so carefully considered. “Every character needs his or her own ‘something’ that makes them unique and easily distinguishable – the most obvious are the grandfather with his goat and the brightly red scarf of the most important female character,” explains Farsi.
A film of this magnitude truly cannot be a work of one person, nor one single team of people, at least in Europe. The Siren is the result of a concerted effort by 8 different companies that had to work separately from one another and yet achieve a result that flows seamlessly.
One of those studios was Blue Faces, located in Bratislava. Its animation head, Tomáš Danay, doesn’t hide how hard the commission was – his studio needed to create 30 minutes of animation in three months, which is seemingly a genuine Mission: Impossible. His team needed to use motion capture technology that hastens the process and makes the work easier for less experienced animators. “Today, motion capture is portable, easy to transfer and easy to use,” says Danay, praising the technology that made the job possible.
“Motion capture, however, is not a magical tool that will simply do anything for you,” warns Danay, “the technique is not suitable for highly stylised movement, most of animals, and overall a vision that strays away from realism and aims for hyperbole. Luckily, The Siren is a film rooted in the contrast of reality and style and the movement fixed in our physicality fitted in.” Still, one of the biggest challenges was to achieve the look of the animation that had already been done, admits Danay.
The film premiered at the Berlinale and is preparing for Annecy. The result may be influenced by some necessity to compromise, yet Sepideh Farsi and her team have delivered a confident animated feature able to claim a spot at the best European film events.
This session of CEE Animation Experience was organized in cooperation with APAF and VŠMU Bratislava. You can watch it here.
CEE Animation Experience is supported by Creative Europe MEDIA and the International Visegrad Fund.