Interview with the filmmaker behind the animated short ‘Papa’

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‘Papa’ is an award-winning short animated film wherein an eccentric inventor realises he’s not a good father to his daughter. His solution? Build the perfect dad for his child.

Created by NYC-based director and artist Natalie Labarre, the film shows us the heartwarming relationship between a parent and his kid – without even having to use any dialogue.

We recently interviewed Labarre and got to know more about her craft.

Tell us how you first got into filmmaking. Was there a filmmaker that inspired you to make film?

“I think I was 12 when I found this behind the scenes clip on a Pixar movie DVD (probably Toy Story). The artists spoke so passionately about creating a world out of nothing and enjoying giving their characters life and personality in order to tell a meaningful story. As a kid who drew and told stories all the time I thought, ‘Man, that’s so powerful and ridiculously cool.’ I watched that thing over and over and over… and I cried every time!

“Any clip of Hayao Miyazaki talking about his process would also got me going. My mom would find me balling in the living room and roll her eyes. I was a little emotional. I think at that age my brain didn’t know how to react to that feeling of really really wanting to do something like that. During that time, I started experimenting with stop-motion, flip-books and eventually traditional animation.”

Where did the idea for ‘Papa’ come from?

“It started with a doodle I drew of my dad and me side by side. It made me laugh every time I looked at it. Then I became interested in trying to depict our super close and complicated bond in a way that was accessible to everybody, whether you’re a parent or a kid. There’s no dialogue for the same reason: I wanted the characters to be understood internationally.”

Tell us about the process involved in making the short film. How long did it take? Any challenges?

“Producing a traditionally animated short alone is the closest I’ve gotten to understanding what giving birth must be like. ‘Papa’ is over six minutes long – about 12 drawings per second. I was on my own, working on it part-time, so it took about a year.

“It was also a challenge for me to transition from traditional paper-flipping animation to digital 2D. I learned a lot while producing the film and would love to make another using new ideas and techniques I’ve picked up along the way!”

Did you expect such a great reaction to your work?

“No way. For the record, the first reaction I got was from my real-life papa: ‘This is terrible – you made me look ridiculous!’ Luckily since then I got to attend screenings full of kids and that’s always really fun, especially when there’s a Q&A afterwards.

“One kid asked if I had a mom and whether or not she was mad that she wasn’t in the movie (she does want her own movie, actually).

“I think my favourite reaction, in general, is how eagerly kids want to separate fact from fiction: is the girl you? Is that your real dad? Did it hurt when he threw you on the ground? What flavour was the ice-cream?”

Tell us what you’ve been working on since ‘Papa’? What can we expect to see from you in the future?

“Since ‘Papa’ I’ve been freelancing in New York as a 2D animator and designer for advertising. This past year I’ve mostly been working with the handsome and crazy-talented people at Hornet Inc in SoHo.

“As far as more personal projects go, there are some things in the works that I can’t talk about just yet but I do plan on making a children’s book version of ‘Papa’ and another story with the same ‘little me’ character as the protagonist (super diva over here).”

You can find out more about Natalie Labarre and her work over here.