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Were George Mallory and his companion Andrew Irvine the first men to scale Everest on June 8th, 1924? Only the little Kodak camera they used to photograph themselves can verify the truth. In Kathmandu, 70 years later, a young Japanese reporter named Fukamachi recognizes the camera in the hands of the mysterious Habu Jōji, an outcast climber believed missing for years. Fukamachi enters a world of obsessive mountaineers hungry for impossible conquests, on a journey that leads him, step by step, towards the summit of the gods. A thrilling adventure set against breath-taking Himalayan landscapes, inspired by real events and adapted from Jirō Taniguchi’s bestselling manga.

Film credits
Director: Patrick Imbert
Authors: Patrick Imbert / Magali Pouzol / Jean-Charles Ostorero (Adaptation from The Summit of the Gods by Jirō Taniguchi and Baku Yumemakura)
Producers: Jean-Charles Osotorero / Didier Brunner / Damien Brunner / Stéphan Roelants / Thibaut Ruby
Music: Amine Bouhafa
Production companies: Folivari (France) / Mélusine Productions (Luxembourg)
Technique: 2D digital
Running time: 90 minutes

The Summit of the Gods is a film that reaffirms the potential of animation for adults that is being explored with enthusiasm by the European animation industry. The film tells a universal story of the noble but melancholic journey of a highly experienced mountaineer with his life-long quest to scale dangerous mountains that reach to the heavens.

For the film’s visuals, the characters with well-balanced design between realism and stylization were animated with finesse to achieve a level of acting and emotional expression suitable for the film’s mature story. The background art enables the audience to feel the atmosphere and see the character in each mountain, setting the stage for the treacherous yet rewarding challenges of the mountaineers in the film, and why they do it.

The film has started its global journey around the prestigious international film festivals, winning the César Awards 2022 for Best Animated Film and nominated in the Annie Awards 2022 so far.

We are happy to share with you the precious story behind the film, from the words of the director Patrick Imbert and the producers, Didier Brunner, Damien Brunner and Thibaut Ruby.

Interview with Patrick Imbert, Didier Brunner, Damien Brunner and Thibaut Ruby

About the Film Project

Hideki Nagaishi (HN): How did the film project start?

Didier Brunner: The project started when Jean-Charles Ostorero, a mountain fanatic, had bought the rights to Jiro Taniguchi’s manga series for an animation adaptation. He was looking for an experienced co-producer, both executive and delegate, to produce an animated feature film based on that manga.

We met at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, and the project’s ambition I heard from him immediately seduced me; it was very much in line with our desired editorial line of work. Despite the crazy challenge of adapting a literary and graphic work consisting of five tomes, 200 pages each, into a 90 minute animation, we decided to go on this adventure with Jean-Charles without a second thought.

Today, neither me nor the team at Folivari regrets that decision. It was a challenge that strengthened our desire to make Folivari a tool of excellence to create technically and artistically audacious animated feature films.

HN: What do you think were the keys in realizing this animated feature film project, which needed many business partners, including public and private investors, co-production partners and distributors?

Didier Brunner: To make such a project economically viable in France, it needed a realistic budget (no more than 10 million euros). It also had to be a reasonable economic model without capping the director’s artistic ambitions. To that end, our first demand was to keep most of the fabrication within Fost, our own animation studio.

Unable to finance more than 70% of the film in France, we had to find a trustworthy foreign co-producer that is used to the complex process of “spectacular animation despite a ‘modest’ budget”. Mélusine Productions, a company I’ve worked with for over 25 years now, fitted that requirement. Together, we co-produced Ernest & Célestine, Wolfwalkers, and many other productions. This ideal partner, led by Stéphan Roelants, provided 20% of the financing through Luxembourg’s Film Fund and about the same percentage of the fabrication at Studio 352, their animation studio in Luxembourg.

In France, the key partners are the CNC, Auvergne Rhônes-Alpes region, Île de France region, broadcasters (France 3 Cinéma and Canal+), the distributor Wild Bunch, financial agencies (Soficas) and tax credit. Public founding represents 50% of the French financing (CNC, the two regions and tax credit).

HN: How was the team set up to make the film project feasible?

Thibaut Ruby: The animation industry in France is rapidly expanding, but it’s still a relatively small world. This time, we were looking for members of a niche group within the already small community: specialists of 2D and ‘realism’ animation, a historically sparse animation style in Europe. Also, even though the main team members were relatively easy to identify with the director, we then had to deal with availability issues and it became even harder to form the team. Indeed, the animation style of The Summit of the Gods required people with a very high level of drawing as well as solid animation skills and that was the case with Fost studio in Paris and Studio 352 in Luxembourg. From the very beginning of the project, with the director Patrick, we decided posing would be a major determinant to really set the character models and help us be more serene in our work later on. The production process confirmed that, and even demonstrated that posing is an even more important (and long) process than we initially thought. Especially given the fact we didn’t have the opportunity to make a storyboard as precise as we wanted to.

HN: What kind of difficulties or challenges during the film project were the greatest for you, and how did you overcome them?

Damien Brunner: The Summit of the Gods was a multi-faceted production. The journey has been fascinating on all subjects, such as drawing, lightning, backgrounds, sound, framing, rhythm, colours, and mountaineering technical lingo.

However, this film will always be unique in our career, because right in the middle of the production came COVID-19. There was little risk of an animated character contracting the virus, but the team faced an unknown. Generally speaking, we managed to keep our drive and our objectives, but this challenge wasn’t a ride along a quiet river.

When the world shifted into the sanitary crisis, we predicted the impossibility of keeping the team within the studio. A feeling of foreboding, just a few days before the mandatory lockdown, made us scramble and launch a commando-style operation to ensure animators would be delivered computers, screens, graphic tablets and Cintiqs. We then had to manage technical assistance to set up the remote workflow. Despite a small decline in productivity, production stayed on course, thanks to the team flexibility, the whole production department and the director, who admirably kept the boat afloat during the storm. This film will remain a unique endeavour, both in form and in substance. Unique, because it’s a privilege to produce a film like this one; uncommon, as we did all the animation during a pandemic; and exceptional, because the film is a success.

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