Interview with Aleksa Gajic, part 1: Rendering spaces, drawing stories

by deborah on 01/5/2011

Here is my next guest from Funny Comics Show 2010! Serbian comic book artist and animator Aleksa Gajic… Beside being a respectful international comic book artist, illustrator and video maker, Aleksa launched in 2009 his first feature-lenght animated film ‘Technotize: Edit and I‘.

Technotize has been warmly accepted by the audience and critics in the whole South East European region, not only because of shared memories, but because it showed that with passion and persistence ideas with smaller budget than you would expect can arise on the horizon.

Photo above: Aleksa Gajic
Photo bellow: ‘Technotize: Edit and I’

Shall we start with your comics, because in your life prior to film were comics?

AG: Well, I have been drawing whole my life and I have always believed in the correctness of my path. That’s it! I attended the high school for electro-technics, and in that period I’ve realized what I really don’t want! (laughs). I don’t want industry; I don’t want a company or a firm. I want to draw.

Somehow, after that everything went easy. I entered the Academy of Arts in Belgrade. Simply, my switch from electro-technics into art was like transformation of an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. I’ve realized that I definitely belong to it.

Then first deals followed, Tic Tac magazine, Politikin Zabavnik magazine, illustrated magazines, etc. Parallel with this I was doing comics all the time. When we were little kids, my brother and I have drawn comics selling them around.

Eighties were rather strong period for comics on the Balcans…

AG: Yes! I was a small kid then, but that influenced me, definitely. I bought lots of comics in that period. Actually for us, comics were textbooks.
Usually, I talk a lot with people who lead comic book classes and workshop, and I always say to them that if someone is destined to be a comic book artist, this talent will emerge out sooner or later.

Milorad Vicanovic Maza is a good example for that. He started to draw in his forties. His talent boiled for such a long time, and in one moment it came out. It had to jump out of him. Therefore, I was lucky enough that this came out of me much earlier. So, I had an opportunity to explore illustration, comics and now animation. I also did some videos, web pages, and also worked a little bit as a VJ.

Who has influenced you in the field of comics?

AG: Well, when I was a kid somehow I started with the Americans. I remember these little Marvel editions. Afterwards, I’ve found interest in European comic book artists, especially when I started to work for the French market.

Especially when I had started to dig through their bookshops, that’s the moment when I got the introduction to manga, anima, and then the idea to make an animated film has been born. Actually, I never wanted to do just one thing, I’ve always wanted to do lots of different things at the same time.

How did you start to work for Soleil from France? Did you sent them your portfolio or have they contacted you first?

AG: This is almost like a film story. I took my portfolio in hand and went to Paris, introducing myself to all possible publishing agencies.  And in one agency everything opened, they said: Well, this is not bad at all. Do you want to draw comics for us? And I just said: YES! I will! And then they said here’s your script and that’s how I started doing comics abroad. So, no philosophy, nothing hard.

How much freedom do you have in your work? What is like the situation in Europe regarding editorial policies and so?

AG: Generally speaking, it’s freer than in America, but I have a privilege too that in this freedom I have even more freedom. Because I have already proven myself with the series Scourge of the Gods in a sense that I really know what I’m doing. Now, for the new edition they gave me complete freedom. Of course, I like it and, naturally, it makes the working process quite easier and rather interesting. Hence, I really enjoy this work and freedom.

Scourge of the Gods: The Fall, Soleil & Marvel (c)

Let’s get back now a bit to your work in animation. I have to say that what I find appealing in ‘Technotize: Edit and I’ is the usage of Serbian language. I know that people find difficult to adapt to local languages when they are confronted with scenes and visual language they had already seen in international cinematography, like the Matrix, Animatrix, or Ghost in the Shell.  But at the other hand, I had so many triggers and the use of language reminded me on some of my dear friends from Belgrade, and their way of talking. I find it very important for the whole region, because I really don’t see why SF and cyber punk stories wouldn’t be presented in our languages… usually everything happens in Tokyo, Paris, Berlin or New York, you know…

AG: Exactly! That was my point of view when I started to work on Technotize. When I started to boil some frames for the film, I’ve realized that I want to do something that isn’t result of a compromise. Usually, authors have this strong need to flatter the audience in order to be accepted. Meaning, they will answer to all ‘expected’ patterns from the public.

As a matter of fact, most of the films we are watching today are made having these patterns in mind. I really wanted to run away from these things with Technotize. I wanted Belgrade to be like that, let them talk in Serbian, and let them express local jokes and natural urban expressions in SF story. And I had rather good feedback on this. Simply, they couldn’t compare it with anything they have seen so far.

I could find some reference with Enki Bilal’s work Hatzfeld Tetralogy… his character Lejla and your Edit… Bilal has broken Sarajevo, you have Belgrade and its buildings that don’t exist anymore… Tell me something about the plot?

AG: Well, it started from the initial idea on how this film actually has to look like.  Unlike Enki Bilal, I wanted to be funny (laughs). I said back then that I want to make an entertaining film. People must be entertained with my film.

Actually, the story has been triggered by a small text published in Politikin Magazine on the theme of M formula. This formula mentioned in the film isn’t my invention or fiction, because the idea really exists in the mathematical circles through the history. Mathematicians through the history have always wanted to write down the M formula. If this formula could exist, it would have to include the force of gravity, electromagnetic force and nuclear force. So, if something like this could exist, there would be an existing cosmos where something like this in the story could be possible.

Technotize: Edit and I

So, that’s the ground of the string theory, and the theory of the multidimensional space. To me it sounded like a real science fiction. Therefore, when I had read this, I just said to myself: OK, this is a plot for my story! Why this wouldn’t be my Holy Grail. Especially, because the Holy Grail story ends similar to my story. If this kind of formula could be possible, an unknown energy would arise, and that unknown energy would be life energy, like god or whatever you believe in, but you’re unable to describe it. This is something that pulls our humanity through millenniums backward, so there is this idea that someone can calculate it. Wow!

So, one scientist says that this number would be a telephone number of the god. This is a kind of wonder that we can certainly start to believe in. I’ve never been a huge fan of fantasy, you know, a dwarf and a fairy, etc. When you have such plot, everything is possible. One character can spit a fire and the other have some superpowers. Hence, science fiction was something that stands on the ground and really good SF writers have to understand the science very well in order to build the fantasy based on science. That was the most convenient thing for me.

Technotize: Edit and I

Truth! And how did you go with this switching from comics to animation?

AG: I had a few attempts before starting with feature animated film. While working on short music videos and clips, I got an introduction to the technology that is the basis and it’s not so complicated. But after a while, it turned out later on, that it could be complicated. At the beginning I thought that we will make a film in easy going atmosphere. If I knew this is going to be so difficult and hard to make it, probably I would never start doing it. Fortunately, I thought this is going to be easy.

The whole team has learnt a lot while working on this animation. We have often encountered some difficulties during the working process, not knowing how to handle it, but then we managed to work out the issue in compositing with the combination of 3D and 2D. We had few programs exclusively for particles, like smokes or bubbles.

Aleksa Gajic: Blue Angel (c)

I see, hours and hours of rendering…

AG: Yes. I think the biggest problem was directing. I have realized while working on this movie that in animated film there is a different perception of time, compared to comics. It’s rather natural that between two frames in comic book something might happen, while in animated film you have to connect frames with the same content, otherwise you characters bumps up in the scene with no obvious reason. So, sometimes it was successfully handled, sometimes not. But, in animation everything can be ‘repaired’, you know.

Technotize: Edit and I

So, tell me something about Edit?

AG: Edit?! Well, there is also an interesting story about that. I was skiing on Kopaonik, and I looked girls skiing on the mountain in their overalls that show more than hide or cover female attributions. Even on skiing they were graceful. So, this descending on ski boards gave a possibility for drawing movements.

We are talking now about something that happened in 1995 and back then I was very interested in drawing movements. That’s the moment when the idea of Technotize universe has been fully crystallized. So, some kind of ‘ironed’ design combined with things we already knew. Something that is our space. Therefore, this combination of young girls and boys having fun led to story.

Technotize: Edit and I

Meanwhile, handling some serious problems in the universe… (laughs)

AG: Yes, yes! (laughs) Thus, in order to get the audience for this film, let’s figure out some problem (laughs). Technotize had three comic books as precursors to animated film. I definitely had the image in my mind how the whole film should look like.

We didn’t have any kind of development research before we started to work on the film, because we didn’t have enough money and time for something like that. I just said to my people in the studio: OK, peeps, now we are starting with the first frame till the 1500 frame. And if we will stumble on some problem, we will stop and think about that how to move forward. This saved our time and money, and actually made this film possible. We had to think constantly about tempo and deadlines, otherwise we would break the budget, and that wasn’t an option.

Read the second part of the interview with Aleksa Gajic titled Flowing imagination / science inspiration