Love At War
Interview and article by Christina Roman
There are currently 15 seconds of the animated film Love At War. And those 15 seconds involved 155 hand-drawn watercolors and over 350 hours of work. But that is the job she signed up for, Noella sees it, as an animator.
“That’s why animation is very hard and it’s not for everybody: because you need to be incredibly, blindly enamored with it. You need to love the process. And for me, what makes it worthwhile when I work on something, as much as it’s a pain in the ass and I hate it sometimes, [is] when I see the final result, when you see your characters come to life - that’s the best feeling in the world.”
Noella Borie David is a New York-based animator whose projects are often inspired by a dizzying mix of sources, but always have a seed of something at their core that feels intensely intimate. Luckily, she has no qualms about pulling back the curtain on the process. In the case of a series of watercolors (“..inspired by –What, what triggered it? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember…”) she describes walking into a gallery show of fine art of photorealistic erotic watercolors and being blown away. Of course, she quickly befriended the artist, Reuben Negron, and his series combined with the suggestion of a current boyfriend to pursue a similar series in a cartoony style gave birth to Loves A Bitch. In that series of drawings, she captures the experience of love through her own hopelessly romantic perspective – each image directly representative of a man in her life and still recognizable to anyone who has dated. You know these men too.
Perhaps that is what helps give each project the bit of magic she is chasing. “You see these things or these characters that came from nothing and suddenly they come alive, they come alive in front of you. I think that’s what makes the magic and that what makes it worth it for you as an animator.” Because, while her characters clearly do not come from nothing, they also have an uncanny ability to embody something universal.
That balance is at the heart of her most ambitious project to date – Love At War.
Love at War, like everything else, grew from Noella’s diverse background, and the art she consumes. She grew up in France, near the Swiss border, in a house full of books and movies. And like all children, she was enamored with Disney movies – perhaps her first exposure to the animation. “My mom always tells me that when I was 18 months old she was surprised I would watch Dumbo from beginning to end. I was just stuck on it.”
She later chased her passion to Japan when she was only 18. “I left for Tokyo because I was obsessed with Japanese animation when I was a teenager, and like most teenagers, you get in that phase… It speaks to you more as a teenager, so I went out there.”
Finally, she ended up in New York with fluency in four languages and as a self-described world citizen. And it suits her.
“I’m European, so I’m going to tell a story that’s influenced not just from here but it’s going to be influenced by France, by Italy, by Japan, by China, by all these stories that I accumulated on the way. So my stories are definitely not traditionally American in the sense… it’s not exactly A, B, C plot points, it’s not necessarily what you would expect the character to do. “
And the story that inspired Love At War is directly rooted in Noella’s European identity. It came from Noella’s grandmother; at the end of World War 2, as the Americans were marching into a liberated Paris she joined the celebrating crowds and a young American soldier, not more than a boy himself, surprised her with sleight of hand and her first kiss. That scene stuck. “I told to a friend and her reaction was ‘oh you have to do something about this because it’s such a beautiful story.’”
But it didn’t stick until she combined it with the story of La Foule by Édith Piaf; a girl and boy pushed together by chance and the surging of the crowd. She had her script, but the style was eluding her– it could not be too realistic because then it would quickly turn too dark. Inspiration struck again when she was re-introduced to The Thief and The Cobbler, the original masterpiece, not Disney’s reedited version, she is quick to point out, by a friend’s documentary.
“I thought, ‘oh wait a minute that’s the aesthetic I want.’ That’s the aesthetic I want for Love At War. I want that type of animation. I want to make that kind of masterpiece. Not spending thirty years on it, but… so I started drawing more in that style. If you see the early drawing of Love at War you can totally see the cobbler in there.”
And as Noella fine-tuned her concept, the multicultural influences became more and more apparent. She wanted something that was universal, while being truly unique to her style. “I’m changing everything. You recognize Paris. You recognize Americans and you recognize these symbolic things, but everything is becoming a fantasy… something I always loved about old cartoons is they always had such dark references to real things, to adult life, but as a kid you couldn’t tell.” And so, the Nazi soldiers became wolves.
The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when she saw, of all things, a commercial for a mall. Though, to be fair, it is one of those beautiful stories that makes you tear up a bit and is beautifully animated with a mix of real-life scenery and hand-drawn characters.
“It was beautiful… I thought that was so cool and I wanted to try that technique and that’s what triggered it originally. And that’s usually how I get all my stuff done. You see something, you see a movie, or a commercial, that’s done in a certain way, and you really dig it and you just want to do the same thing. You know?”
With the final piece in place, she set out to make the 15 seconds that would serve as a teaser for the film as she sought investors. The 15 seconds that took hundreds of hours to complete. Each frame was hand drawn and watercolored and carefully cut out so they could be placed into the carefully constructed world and filmed in stop-motion. You can see how it is a labor of love.
Perhaps it is an effect of her worldwide upbringing to envision something at once so intimate in content, unique in execution, and global in appeal. “It’s a love story. It’s a very basic love story… but at the same time there is something very unique about it in the way I tell the story and in the way I present the characters.”
And it’s a love she wants to share. She envisions Love At War without much dialog, a fantasia “so [that] everybody can watch. You don’t have to worry about understanding, you can just show everything through the picture.”
And after the hours of dedication she has poured into creating that picture for a fraction of a minute, she is not planning on stopping. It is just the beginning. It will one day, if her tenacity is indication, be a feature film, and one she hopes will find an audience as broad as her inspiration. “I want the world to be aware of the work I am doing.”