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Annecy: Director Gustavo Steinberg on Brazil’s ‘Tito and the Birds’

Variety logo Variety 6/12/2017 Jamie Lang
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ANNECY, France — Brazilian animated feature “Tito and the Birds” has recently reached its initial financing goal after winning one of two prizes for animation from the Brazilian National Bank of Development (BNDES), with the other going to Oscar-nominated director of “Boy and the World,” Ale Abreu, and Luiz Bolognesi, co-director on “Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury.”

Featuring at this year’s Annecy Works in Progress after a productive campaign last month at Cannes, where it was showcased in Annecy Goes to Cannes, the film’s creators, Bits Productions, will look to keep the Brazilian cartoon mojo going, following in the footsteps of their fellow prize winners.

For Bits, it will be its first animated project, making the move from live-action TV and cinema. Organizers of Brazil’s BIG Festival, the largest indie gaming fest in Latin America, there are also plans for a “Tito and the Birds” video game.

Co-directing the film are screenwriter Gustavo Steignberg (“The End of the Line”), Gabriel Bitar (“Cidade Cinza”), and André Catoto (“Say I Am Only Seventeen”). The animation is being handled in Sao Paulo by Split Studios.

The protagonist kid of the film, Tito, lives in a world on the brink of pandemic. Fear is crippling people, making them sick and transforming them. The 10-year-old realizes, based on his father’s past research, that there may be a way to utilize the local pigeon population and their songs to create a cure for the disease. His father was forced to leave when Tito was only six and the struggle to find a cure becomes linked with the search to find his father again, along with his own identity.

The impressionistic style of the film has helped keep the budget down, while artistically enhancing the themes of fear and pandemic. Most of what is present on-screen is static – forcing the viewer to focus on what movement there is, inducing a feeling not far off from vertigo.

The film is set to debut in the first semester of 2018. In Annecy, producer-director Steinberg talked with Variety about his inspirations, the challenges faced by his dual roles on the film, and animating in Brazil.

We are thrilled to be able to announce that you have reached your financing goal, thanks to your having won the National Bank of Development’s prize for animation. Can you talk a bit about the award?

This last investment was a contest where animators submit projects. It’s probably the most important one in terms of a prize. There were two spots for animation and one went to Ale Abreu and Luiz Bolognesi, the two guys who both won the top prize at Annecy, an Annecy Cristal (and the first was nominated for an Oscar). It was necessarily theirs, so I was just disputing the second spot.

What is the state of production now?

We are in production. We have a little above one-third of the animation ready. We have to prepare a few things here and there, but basically our schedule is to have the animation ready by the beginning of next year. We have already started compositing but will be starting in earnest now. It’s going to run in parallel and go until a little after January. We hope to have the film ready in April 2018.

You have said that the impressionistic style of the film’s artwork works well with the themes of fear and confusion, but that it was also an economic decision. Can you explain that?

I’m both a director and producer so I have to think as a producer too. It’s no use getting the perfect style if I cannot produce it. Since the beginning I knew how much I had, or an idea how much I could raise in Brazil which was my main area of focus. So we developed the looks and concepts so that we could make it happen. I think it was a rational choice really. It makes sense. The artists that I work with are comfortable with it, and we can pay for it.

What languages do you plan to have the film available in?

We are animating everything based on Portuguese and the plan is to dub in as many languages as we can. That all depends on sales and we are working on that part right now. It’s my first animation and part of the choice of making an animation was that it’s more international. I am new at this but we have been talking to people and basically there is possibility of dubbing based on the distributors. So we are hoping for at least French, English, and German and Spanish is a must. We don’t know but we hope for Asia.

Where are you with distribution?

We have a distributor in Brazil and I am in negotiation on sales and distribution. We had several conversations with very enthusiastic candidates in Cannes and hope to continue the conversations in Annecy. We are looking, now we are focusing more on a sales agent, and of course we are talking to a few distributors. Big ones. Good ones for independent animation. We are focusing more on sales agents so we can get things going.

Can you talk briefly about the talent involved with the film?

For the voice artists, we went right to the best in Brazil. We did a very big campaign to find young talents, the kids. For artists, I started the project partnering with the guy who designed the first edition of the characters, André Catoto. Then there was the first person to start to discuss the artistic perspective and how the film would look, Gabriel Bitar, and now they are both co-directors of the film.

I have also been working closely with Daniel Greko, who is the executive producer, he was the producer of “Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury,” the first Brazilian film to win Annecy. We are animating at a studio from Sao Paulo called Split Studio, one of the best in Brazil. They brought a lot of very good talent to the film: Art director Paulo Torinno and animation directors Chico Bella and Vini Wolf. Vini also developed characters, visuals and helped with the story .

Was it always your intention to use real kids for the voice acting?

Yes, because it’s a film for kids but it’s also about our society. We wanted to be as naturalistic as possible so an adult voice mimicking a kid would sound fake. We didn’t want that. One of my inspirations was one of the greatest movies of my childhood, which was “Goonies,” we gotta have the kids right?

You also help run a video game festival in Brazil: Any chances there will be a Tito game?

We have a plan for that. It’s going to be an educational game, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. It’s going to look great and be beautiful but it has to be meaningful instead of just being about shooting pigeons. We would like to use the game to help the promotion of the film.

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