It took 12 years, but Jim Capobianco has finally taken his idea of creating an animated story that would focus on the later years in the life of Leonardo da Vinci to a finished feature film. His “The Inventor” opens Sept. 15 and can be seen locally at the Regal Edwards Bakersfield.
The writer/director is facing the opening with some very mixed emotions. Part of him is happy that the hard and laborious work of making the animated movie is done. There is also a part of him that feels like once the movie opens he will be saying a farewell to a long-time friend.
“It’s definitely a relief that it exists because there were many moments during that time that I thought this would never be made,” Capobianco says. “Now that it is done and it has come out so wonderfully, I realize that it kind of needed 12 years.
“But, there is a little feeling of what do I do now.” The project that took so long to produce is the stop-motion tale of da Vinci featuring the voices of Stephen Fry, Daisy Ridley, Marion Cotillard, Gauthier Battoue and Matt Berry. The story follows the curious and headstrong inventor/artist as he leaves Italy to join the French court where he can freely experiment, invent flying contraptions and incredible machines and study the human body. He is joined in his adventure by Princess Marguerite.
Shooting the film in stop-motion was a major reason the film was so time consuming. The process calls for small puppets to be moved one frame at a time. Capobianco complicated the process by incorporating other forms of animation in the project to create a film that flows from style to style from start to finish. There was a very definite reason where Capobianco would use the various animation styles.
“It was definitely a story-telling aspect,” Capobianco says. “The stop-motion is basically used for the real world in this story. And then the drawings go into his imagination, his thinking process. It was even a way to bring other characters into his world.
“It came out of the real Leonardo da Vinci because we know him from his sketches. So, to use that in the drawn animation also seemed necessary to me.”
Capobianco’s understanding of animation comes from a long career in that genre. The Cal Arts graduate was hired at Disney in their story department where he worked on such projects as “The Lion King,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Fantasia 2000.”
He moved to Pixar where he worked as a story artist on “A Bug’s Life” and contributed story material to “Toy Story 2.” Other projects there included “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”
In 2001, Jim helped craft the screenplay for “Ratatouille” that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Jim also wrote and directed the Annie Award winning “Your Friend the Rat.”
The concept for “The Inventor” came from the idea by the writer/director that da Vinci probably had bad days as well as good. Capobianco began to see him not merely as a sage or scatterbrain but as a real person struck with ideas beyond the technical, intellectual and the societal capabilities of his time.
Having spent so much time working on projects that used computers to do the animation didn’t make Capobianco second guess himself in terms of deciding to use stop-motion as his primary medium.
“I look at the three major forms of animation – drawn, computer and stop-motion – as all having their own difficulties in different areas,” Capobianco says. “Stop-motion has its difficulties, but it never felt like it was more difficult than any other form.
“And I also saw the vision of this film as being in this toy-like world. For me it is the closest form to live action because you have these very little sets.”
One of the challenges that going with stop-motion presented to Capobianco and the stop-motion team was how to deal with da Vinci’s massive beard. There needed to be a way to show the mouth movements despite the hair.
The solution was to have da Vinci’s mouth appear on the outside of the beard when he spoke and then be gone as soon as he was quiet. To ease into those moments, the animators show a slight rustling of the beard before the mouth appears.
Dealing with the slow animation process and complications that came from mouths was part of why Capobianco kept pushing to get the film made. There also might have been a little bit of a kindred spirit to the process as Capobianco believes if da Vinci were alive today, he would probably be involved with animation in some form.
“He studied motion. He studied how the body works. He did tons of drawings on that. It is very much like an animator thinks as well,” Capobianco says.