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Esteu aquí: Inici Magazine Interview with Marcy Page and Normand Roger, Animac 2018’s Honorary Award

Interview with Marcy Page and Normand Roger, Animac 2018’s Honorary Award

Canadian composer Normand Roger began his musical career as a freelance composer in 1971 for the National Film Board of Canada. Although he has worked primarily in the domain of animation, creating well over two hundred sound tracks in the last 47 years, he has also composed music for documentaries, features, television dramas, children series, commercials, multi-media installations and many music themes for television in Canada and in the US.

He has been associated with the work of some of the best known figures in animation such as Frederic Back (Crac, The Man Who Planted Trees), Paul Driessen (9 films including their most recent Cat Meets Dog), Co Hoedeman (The Sand Castle), Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove (Every Child and Village of Idiots). Productions completed more recently include Tragic Story with a Happy Ending by Regina Pessoa, Leon in the Wintertime and Melie in the Springtime by Pierre-Luc Granjon, Retouches by Georges Schwitzgabel, Lost in Snow and Wings and Oars by Vladimir Leschiov, Missed Aches by Joanna Priestley, Le Cirque by Nicolas Brault, “The Spine” by Chris Landreth, I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors by Ann Marie Fleming, and Muybridge's Strings by Koji Yamamura.

These films have garnered several hundred prizes in international festivals including 13 Nominations for Academy Awards of which 6 received Oscars. Although he works in a traditional way when he composes music for dramas or documentaries doing exclusively the music, he has a particular approach with animation where he creates the full soundtrack including the sound effects.

California-born Marcy Page has pursued an interest in animation for around 40 years. Prior to joining the National Film Board of Canada in 1990, in addition to her personal animation work with films like Paradisia (1987), she animated for over a dozen companies and taught animation courses at San Francisco State University and the California College of Arts & Crafts. As a NFB producer before her recent retirement in 2014, she remained committed to collaborating on eclectic, unusual productions that garnered more than 250 awards for the NFB, including 6 Academy Award nominations with 2 Oscars for short animation.

Animac Magazine: Thank you so much for your time and for being here with us.

Normand Roger: It’s our pleasure.

AM: Our first couple questions are for you, Normand. When did you discover animation and its potential as an expressive, visual medium? And how did your relationship with the NFB begin?

NR: When I was a kid I watched cartoons – like every kid – and eventually, I studied music while I was very interested in visual arts. When I was a teenager, I was writing music over modern pieces of art from books. I was curious about the relationship between music and visual arts, but I didn't think about animation at the time. But I went to art school to deepen my research and in there I met some visual artists. I also had a musical band – it was 1968. I’m sure this year resonates in your memory: this was the year where students all over the world went into the streets and revolted for a new order. It happened in San Francisco (where Marcy grew up), in Montreal, in Paris... There were many events around the school and, with my band, we had lots of concerts where I played and composed music. A year or two after we graduated, one of those young visuals artists I met did an animation film for the National Film Board. He knew and remembered my music, so he asked me to score his film, and that was it. I worked on that film and I discovered a whole new scene of author films. And I loved it and I felt it was exactly what I was looking for.

AM: So the first film you worked on for the NFB was animated! And it's been a really long relationship and most of your work for them has been short films. What's so appealing about the short film format?

NR: Well, the thing with these short films is that they allow the artist to be very personal because he could do it mostly by himself with very little help, because if you make a feature film and you have a whole studio working on it, well the style will have to be adapted to that many people can work on it, but in short films there is more possibly for experimentation, research, being personal… So, I like it, because every film is so different. You never get bored because you finish a film and the next one, you don't know what will be the music, the style, the soundtrack… So, I really enjoyed it and also maybe my character is very eclectic. I like all forms of music, I'm curious about learning about music, so each film brings an occasion for me to do a new research and learn something as well.

Marcy Page: There's also a particular situation within the NFG: it evolved so that it doesn’t need to be in competition with the private sector. Which, for example, in the feature animation are, everything gravitates around being lucrative. While short filmmaking usually makes no money. And so, the NFB tends to produce short animated films and documentaries that aren’t so commercial.

AM: Next question is for both of you. We would love to know more about the piece that brought you together creatively: Paradisia. In fact, Marcy: was this the only short film you directed before becoming a producer?

MP: Yeah, it was my only major personal film, but there were some other student that I never wanted to share. But Paradisia was one that I wanted to put out into the world. I was teaching and lecturing at San Francisco State University, and I had a good relationship with the Canadian counsellor. They brought me and other directors for the National Film Board, and that year we said: “well, maybe this time we should get a composer!”. So we brought in Normand. As part of the instruction, I showed him a pencil test I was working on, and we did kind of a little psycho-drama in front of a production class, where we held the interview with the director and the composer. He proved to be was very astute and sensitive and so, afterward, I asked him if he would actually be interested in doing the sound on my film.

AM: So, which kind of sounds and music were you looking for?

MP: Well, I wasn't sure, you know. I had some ideas about instrumentation.

NR: Yeah, she had a great idea: she suggested that maybe we could use the glass harmonica. I don't know if you know the instrument, but it's made of glass disks that produce musical tones by friction – by rubbing your fingers with water… it rings. And I thought it was the perfect thing since the subject of the film is sensual and even erotic. But I needed something more than just these constant, sustained rubbing sounds. It was the very early phases of sampling, but I had a new machine where I could sample a sound and be able to play it on the keyboard. So I sampled various sounds of glasses: some that were rubbed but some that were hit because I needed some percussive sounds. And we used mainly that kind of sound, but the original idea was Marcy’s.

MP: So, that was thirty years ago and we've been together ever since.

AM: What brought you from directing to producing, Marcy? What brought that change and which kind of projects did you try to pursue?

MP: When I moved to Canada, before I was officially recognized as a citizen, I met many people from the NFB through teaching. And there was a project under the helm of producer David Perel with many sequences. He asked me if I would direct some of them, and I kind of became an associate producer.

NR: I have a different story from David about that. He said that at first, when you were working as an animator, soon he discovered that all the other animators were coming you for counsel. Eventually, she was directing everybody, and he noticed she would be a good producer.

MP: So, anyway, he eventually asked me if I would be interested to apply for the job of producer when Eunice Macaulay retired.

NR: I remember that when Marcy accepted the position, she was promised that she could also direct or animate at the same time. But soon, there was so much work that she didn't have time to do any of that - but now she's back to it!

MP: [laughs] Now in my retirement.

AM: That’s great! And it was one of our questions – if you had any personal projects going on, now that you’re retired. You’re going back to directing, then?

MP: Yeah. I’m going back to animating.

NR: We've worked together on many of the projects that Marcy produced over the years and it all started because we worked together on this first project – well, my little music part.

AM: Normand, you’ve worked with so many great directors, in so many projects… that we would like to know which ones were the most challenging for you as a composer.

NR: Challenging ones! That's an interesting question because the challenging films are not at all what people might think. Some films present a problem that is hard to solve but it's not obvious at all. For example, some films may include a narrator that takes over the whole film, and therefore, music can’t find its way through that, because it can’t find its own place. Generally, it used to be some sort of technical problem like that. Paul Driessen came in with some quite challenging films because he tried to experiment with, for instance, a split screen so two different things are going on at the same time, or multiple screens showing all these little actions simultaneously. So, crafting the soundtrack turns into a challenge: you need to direct the audience’s eye to a place or another. You can’t have general music and sound, because people won’t know what to follow and it will be confusing for everybody. Paul did many films like that, where I had to find a solution, and I really enjoyed that process. In fact, more abstract films are easier in a way, because you can do almost anything, they allow you to be expressive, and you have more flexibility. But when you tackle a more narrative film, with lots of cuts, or dialogues, or narration… finding your way connecting all the dots together can be a hard puzzle to solve.

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