Mathieu Auvray on the making of Cosmos Laundromat
Every few years the Blender Foundation launches a new creative project to help drive Blender development forward in the environment of a real production system and to showcase the software’s capabilities. Due to the success of the first such project, Elephants Dream, which premiered in 2006, the Blender Institute was founded. Fast forward nine years and we find a film that shows how much Blender has progressed and matured as a 3D tool. We’ve seen the open source 3D software show up in the headlines much more often in recent years due to the quality of the work produced with it, as well as to the add-ons developed by a growing and enthusiastic user base.
In addition to its technical merit, Cosmos Laundromat also surprises due to its script and sense of humor. Resources have been invested in developing an elaborate, non-decaffeinated script, which implies taking risks but also results in an original film. Thanks to this it has received wide acclaim from the public and praise from artists from Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks and ILM, among others. The production team was invited to screen the movie for artists working at Dreamworks and Pixar, and the short has recently won the Jury’s Prize at the Animago Festival.
We had the pleasure to interview Mathieu Auvray, director of the film (known also for his “Babioles” TV series), who shared a detailed account of the production of Cosmos Laundromat.
Cosmos Laundromat is an ambitious project. Please tell us what were the basic guidelines set by Ton Roosendaal for the film and how you got to join as director.
I met Ton in 2011 for the first time, when the production company I work with in France (Autour de Minuit) was searching for people to make the “Babioles” series using Blender. Since that time we kept exchanging emails. Two years later Ton invited me to the Blender Conference. I was very pleased to finally go there !
Ton had already mentioned publicly that he wanted to make something special for the next open movie project, and at the conference he explained more in detail what he had in mind : “The Gooseberry Project” : an open source feature film made by multiple studios from around the world. The idea would be that each studio would make 8-10 minutes of the whole movie, each with their own style and art direction.
And on top of that, he asked me to direct it. Bam ! There was no way I could let pass such an honor and opportunity ! He told me this on the last day of the conference and I couldn’t sleep that night. All kinds of questions crossed my mind.
I knew we had to make the constraints part of the story, that I had to come up with an idea that would make every scene different from an artistic direction point of view. But I also knew that to make such a thing pleasant to watch, we should have a strong story and something that provided continuity along the narrative (such as an actor’s voice, the quality of the animation, performance from the actors, etc.).
So I started thinking about the story, the core meaning of the film, the main emotions and characters. We talked about it with Ton and we agreed on a story that will not make a statement, to carry a political message. What he wanted was an animated movie that was as entertaining as possible. So we had to open wide the doors of creativity !
A lot of work has been dedicated to the script. How was the process of working on it with Esther Wouda?
First, I worked with a French scriptwriter I know well : Regis Jaulin. Regis is a very talented scriptwriter but he was not very comfortable with the “love story” idea… I loved Sintel’s script and when I met Esther Wouda (she wrote it), we instantly felt connected. So we talked a lot, and started developing ideas and stories almost from scratch, again…
Since we had to make each scene very different, we thought of a story in which the main character would appear every 5 minutes as something or someone totally different like “Quantum Leap” but with the drama and humor of “Groundhog Day”. The main character could become a robot, a chair, a tree, a fish, a samurai wolf… Anything !
Having characters that change appearances in every scene could be a wonderful support for a love story ! You get rid of the “appearances” of someone through repetitions and focus on who they really are and their personality will show up even more in the long run. You’ll end up seeing only who he really is ! As we say in French : “the outfit doesn’t make the priest”.
So we wrote a basic feature film complete beat sheet. What happened to the main three characters, how they are connected and how they will interact with each other and most importantly : why. Since the crowdfunding didn’t reach its target, we focused on the first 17 minutes only.
Unfortunately, as the production started, we realized that 17 minutes was too much if we wanted to have good quality animation / render / simulation / lighting… So we had to cut it down to 10-12 minutes. And by doing so, I had to remove what mattered the most for the big story : the love story. Instead, we focused on having a strong beginning that would lead to a “good” frustration feeling when the end credits would appear : I want more of this ! And that’s what we were aiming for mostly, for people to get interested in the project and to support us to continue it.
The great thing was that Esther and I shared a common feeling of what we wanted to put on screen. “Cosmos Laundromat” is about love, and how complex it can be. We wanted to write a story that would reflect the feeling of ‘letting go’ (without any annoying song !). When someone you love doesn’t give this back to you, you have to let it go, even if you don’t want to. That’s what motivated us at first, that’s the key thing we were after. So I don’t want to spoil it (even if most of it can be read online I think) but we wrote this movie focused on this feeling, this emotion, and to make the audience care about this sense of abandon, of sacrifice, that can tear you apart…
This is something I wanted to talk about from my personal love life at the time. But also because it raised a very contemporary question : doing what’s right. Making a good decision and acting like you should is something that cannot be more important nowadays. Doing what’s right for someone you love, making the right decision not for you but for others. Putting your ego, yourself out of the equation and stopping to be selfish or self-centered in order to make good things for others, is really a concern I think. It’s not a black and white thing, it leads to a lot of grey areas, to subtle things… It’s also a story about stopping a curse, changing things that you think you can’t…