Drawing out the Truth

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“It was pretty gloomy reading,” says Pooley. “We had certain things we knew we were looking for, but one of the problems you have with the diaries is that a lot of them were pretty matter-of-fact; ‘it’s hot’, or ‘Joe died’. I needed diaries that expressed what the experience was, and maybe what the meaning was, not just what the weather was.

“I needed somebody to be there at the beginning and I needed somebody to be there at the end, and ideally at certain events. There was a famous battle called the Daisy Patch. That was a big deal for the New Zealanders so I wanted at least one of my characters to have been there. As it turns out, three of them were.”

Graphic novel style
Pulling the story into an animated feature documentary format means starting with a blank screen, but from the beginning, the guiding concept was a graphic novel style. If you’re not sure what that means, best watch the trailer, or better still, the whole movie. It is certainly not cartoonish or childish, and the word graphic has nothing to do with soft porn or gratuitous violence.

“I wanted it to feel grown-up,” says Pooley. “It’s about war; it’s violent and sad.

“You can make animation look almost photo real but I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to embrace the fact that we were animated. I wanted to see the brushstrokes, I wanted to see the lines, I wanted it to feel like a painting, and not be afraid of that.”

Visual freedom
“There are moments where you can use visual metaphors in a way that you couldn’t in live-action – it would look naff. For example, there’s a scene where the British Navy boats turn into birds and fly. I can do that because it is animated. In animation you’re expected to do it,” she says.

The result of all this is a unique perspective on Gallipoli that doesn’t distance itself from the gravity of the subject matter.

“I am hoping that five minutes into the film people forget that is animated and they start to identify with those individuals as people,” says Pooley. So far this holds true, as she recounts more than a few sniffles around the debut audiences at the Toronto and Santa Barbara film festivals last year.

No waste
To produce the movie, animators at Auckland’s Flux Animation started with storyboards, and then created an animatic – a sort of greyscale-animated storyboard cut to length.

The animatic is important because, as animators seem to regularly remind you, even with digital techniques animation is a laborious process. In other words, if you don’t nail it down accurately early on the process can eat cash. The last thing you want to do is create animated footage only to have it end up in the bin in the same way that a big proportion of live-action footage does.

With the editing effectively taking place at the animatic stage, Pooley shot preliminary interviews with the actors and used those to cut the animatic.

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