As the comedian and author Greg Behrendt said, “Anything In life worth having comes from patience and hard work.” That’s exactly what happened to writer-director Juan Antin, that after 14 years of working with Pachamama, he finally premiered the animation film.
Pachamama is the story of a 10-year-old boy, named Tepulpaï, who wants to become a shaman and is growing up in the Andean Mountains — the longest continental mountain range in the world — during the Incas and the Spanish explorers era. According to Variety, while in the Caribbean, Antin started to consider the film. “The idea came one day when I was at a festival in Cuba presenting my first film, Mercano the Martian, explains Antin to Variety. “I was staring at the sea and I had a vision. I imagined all those ships coming in from Europe and Spain 500 years ago. I said, ‘Wow, I can imagine how the indigenous people saw these men arrive and thought they were gods.’ I started to imagine the different points of view that each one has of the other and thought it would be a good idea for a film.”
The tale tells of Tepulpaï’s fascination with Mother Nature and his adventures with his pet armadillo and his wise friend Naïra. They embark on a quest to find their community’s stolen treasure while defending themselves from the newly arrived colonizers and the dominion of the Incas.
Antin revealed that the work of his anthropologist wife inspired him and he spent precious time with indigenous communities and shamans. “That’s when I really fell in love with this culture of Pachamama, how they worship the earth. They are in gratitude and in love with the earth and it’s so simple,” he says. “And I thought it’s two points of view of the same thing: Europeans coming from Spain, from Europe, from England, France also, and seeing the earth as a resource of richness and gold, and these people that just see it as something to worship.”
Antin shared in an interview to Cartoon Brew, how after he collected all the information he started to assemble the stop-motion film.”From our research trips we gathered a lot of material, including many photos from Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. I did plenty of graphic research,” he said. “The design process started once we were settled in the French studio, Folivari. This is a movie made primarily in France. I worked together with Maria Hellemeyer, who was the person in charge of the production design. Our character designs were mostly based on pottery, specifically on pre-Columbian Andean vases that we thought were shaped like round, funny faces. That was the inspiration for Tepulpaï and his community.”
With a complex CG/2D animated movie filled with history, it was very important to the director to create a story easy to follow up. “We also had to differentiate between the Incan world and the Pre-Incan world, so that the audience could more easily follow the story,” he revealed to the website. “Our solution was to make the Incas have square-shaped heads, because they represent an empire invested in architecture. For those characters, we used their own constructions as reference, more than their art. We wanted their heads to look like if they were temples, also to have fun with the more strict aspects of the empire. The film’s design was also partially based on Spanish Renaissance art for the conquistadors. Those characters look more realistic in terms of their features. The indigenous characters have a more synthetic rendering, like indigenous art, which was simpler in terms of shapes and details.”
A very characteristic feature of Pachamama is its vivid and striking colors. “The color was born out of something that happens in the Andes. I’m not sure if it’s because the atmosphere is very thin since we are 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level, but colors always look really vibrant. The sky is turquoise. You also see this reflected in the indigenous people’s clothing,” explains Antin. “Their attires are rich in color. When you are in Bolivia or in Peru, what you witness is an explosion of color everywhere. The color palette there is made of saturated hues that are also very harmoniously combined. That was our inspiration. We wanted to reproduce those colors. At first it was difficult to impose those colors on the team because in Europe there’s a tendency to always bring down the colors or tone them down. There were many times that people in the team thought the colors were too strong and tried to make them more subtle, but I had to fight to keep them saturated. In the end, we managed to impose that palette, and it’s one of the things that audiences notice the most about the film. Those colors are really the Latino touch. Color is part of our culture.”
The ecologically packed feature also gives a different perspective of how other communities see living creatures as equal. The director explained to Animation Magazine that “the indigenous cultures consider human beings, along with all animals and plants, to be part of the earth itself, all together like a huge living organism.” Adding that he didn’t want to make it very conceptual or too didactic. “I wanted the film to be more like a feeling, working on the emotional level more than on the intellectual. The story is very simple and that gives the opportunity to let go and get in a contemplative state, where rhythm, colors and music help to bring out positive feelings and emotions.”
The culturally rich film, premiered at the Animation Is Film Festival last October, and now is also part of the long list of movies streaming on the media-services provider, Netflix. “Since the moment I knew that Netflix was interested in the film, I was thrilled because I believe this film has to be seen and because I want this message to be carried worldwide,” Antin says. “Netflix took the film and is putting in a lot of work, dubbing it in 20 languages. It’s amazing for an independent film to have a release that size.”