12.12.2000: Interview of Bernard DEYRIES
On the occasion of the recent DVD release of the series "The Mysterious Cities of Gold", Cerclo met Bernard Deyriès on Wednesday, December 13th 2000 at 4pm. With Jean Chalopin, they produced many successful series during the 80's (Ulysses 31, Inspector Gadget, The Littles). Navarro, from Cerclo, met him in his animation studio "Story". Before the chat session, Deyriès told him the story of his adventure and take stock of animation in France.
How did you get your passion for animation?
When I was a child, through the Disney movies. The first one I saw at the cinema was Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. This was subsequently confirmed with the comics, the newspaper Mickey, Tintin. In the 60s, I was 10 and I do not think you could make animation a career.There were fewer references than today, and after studying the drawings, it is in cartoon ad that I began to exist.
And from cartoon ad to Ulysses 31?
Jean Chalopin was a childhood friend who had a production of commercial films in Touraine. He needed to do some animation. So I dropped everything to work with him. Animation was a passion for both of us, but we had to find a target. So we left the province to Paris and soon we felt the necessity to make series. During the 70s, the first Japanese series arrived in France. So we set up a studio of 120 people and when Ulysses has sold 31 to FR3 [French TV channel], it was obvious that our studio was too small. We found a studio in Japan, via the TMS society, and we have submitted the co-production of Ulysses. They liked the subject and the co-production began: 51% for the Japanese and 49% for us. The French market was too small and Jean Chalopin, who never gave up, left to the United States. "Fortune favors the innocents", as one says. We were lucky! The Americans were fed-up with the Hanna Babera/Scoubidou style. We proposed our Franco-Japanese series and the novelty of the project has worked in our favor. We developped The Littles, and then Inspector Gadget. Our company DIC has gradually grown. Later there was Mask, Jayce and the wheel warriors, Pole Position, Lady Boucleline, and many "Saturday morning". That's how from the desire to make cartoon, I switched to reality.
And the Cities of Gold?
It was the opposite of Ulysses, always in co-production between France and Japan. This time 51% French and 49% Japanese. It was a series that NHK wanted to produce, they proposed the concept. They brought the scenarios and we had meetings, It was an incessant exchange. At that time, I asked to shrink the eyes of the characters, to round their chins, because it should not be too Japanese. The Japanese concept of Cities of Gold is based on the search of Esteban's father, on a historical background. We immediately fell in love with this story.
SF comes from the French or the Japanese?
Both. First the Japanese, but strangely we had to push them a bit further. They had brought a fantastic dimension to the story, for example with Solaris. This ship is driven with an energy, without knowing exactly how, as it was built by an ancient civilization. They wanted to leave some doubt on the existence of a powerful ancient civilization, which would be close to the Spanish.
What do you prefer? A French scenario and Japanese graphics, like Ulysses, or the opposite?
Both, but it allowed us to see how it was with Ulysses and see how the Japanese planned the scenario. They have taught us the accuracy of scenarios, to know the history of the characters, even if it did not appear in the story. In fact, they have learned the psychology of the characters. However we brought over some fancy and poetic essence. The Japanese like to know the reason of things, it's mathematical and they must be logical. It becomes almost sad. In the West we accept certain things that are not necessarily logical, because it is magic. We have also provided Western culture, especially with Ulysses.
Documentaries at the end of each episode came from the French or Japanese initiative?
The Japanese have had this idea. The NHK TV channel was a huge state channel, comparable to the ORTF in France. NHK has two TV channels, a channel of varieties, for the general public, and another more cultural. NHK had teams of reporters all around the world, and wanted to highlight them. The Japanese asked to shoot short films, being related to the current episode to illustrate and support the story. It was a very good idea because children were not interested in documentaries. This initiative was highly appreciated by the youth program unit and it was a hit with young audiences because the documentaries were short and did not exceed two minutes.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold is now a cult series, how can you explain?
I can not explain it (laughs). Honestly I did not think that 20 years later, generations of children would plebiscite this series. I noticed this three years ago, during a cartoon convention in Bercy (France). I was invited to autograph videotapes for the public. I thought it would last an hour and actually I left at the end of the convention. I was very surprised but at the same time, so we gave our best (pause). We did not do this to boast later, but we were young, passionate, we wanted to surpass ourselves.
Lots of rumors, especially on the internet, talk about a possible sequel to the series, real information or brainwashing?
No, not brainwashing. I would say that today there is an even chance that this sequel exists. We are talking about it.
Does the project is scheduled for 20 years?
No, honestly we talk about that for 2 years. Following the success of DVD, the distributor saw commercial interest, but paradoxically the TV channels do not rushed so much. Yet France 2 (French TV) regularly broadcasts the series since 20 years ... Not long ago, the the TV channel manager told me: "It's extraordinary, it still works very well." M6 would agree to a co-production, again with the Japanese. Then, if it starts, the sequel would begin where we left our heroes at the end of the first series. The backgrounds will be slightly more modern, more realistic, using the techniques of today. Our heroes should leave South America to North America, to finally arrive in Japan.
I can not tell you more, because it is the only information I received from Jean Chalopin. It is not clear today. In fact I wait for him. He wrote a few pages, but it has not the whole concept ... Our heroes will meet an English man on the way, thanks to the great Condor, which still working. They will take him in Japan, on the footsteps of Esteban's father ...
Esteban's father dies at the end of the first series ...
Yes, he died in the heart of the city, but perhaps not (laughs) ... You can always write this, but it is really subject to change. Again it is the birth of the concept ... At first we must speak, it grows, it is revised then it is consolidated, depending of the evolution of the story.
What differences do you see between the youth programs of the 80s and today?
For Cities of Gold series, Jacqueline Joubert was on Antenne 2 (French TV channel). She wanted quality and was very happy with the result. In France there were only three public TV channels, today there are dozens, almost all commercial TV channels. Today is less conducive to youth programs. Yet children have not changed. The image evolves through the technique but true concepts with strong stories remain the key to success. Look at the Disney studios, they have adapted all the great classics. Their films are successful via their commercial machine, the scenario of Dinosaurs is saved because of it. Perhaps children are less tough than me and they see things in the scenario I do not see ...
Today do you still have unfulfilled wishes in animation?
Always. We will do a feature film, with an European producer, about a classic tale of Grimm: The Brave Little Tailor. It will test a new 3-D technique for rendering in 2-D. We will have a fluid animation thanks to 3-D, but the technology will allow us to get rid of the cold side of the 3-D with the 2-D rendering. "Toy's Stories" is a wonderful concept, but this technique, applied to other characters than toys, and in particular to humans, makes the characters too metallic, too cold. We want to make a 3-D skeleton in a 2-D skin.
When can we see this feature film in theaters?
The film will be released in 2002, probably in April.
So in 2002, The Brave Little Tailor beats Dinosaurs?
No, we are not a competitor of Disney. They have bigger financial resources than us, but technically we will try to bring another wealth. The most important is the scenario, even with the best technology in the world, if the script is bad the cartoon will be interest free and sulk by children.