A couple rushes out of a glamorous party. On their way home, an argument leads to a brutal car accident. When George regains consciousness, Christina has disappeared. He will then experience a real descent into hell.
Director: Julien Regnard
Animation: Lison Sabiols, Eloise Rauzier, Lucie Marchais, and Lea Bouffier
Music: Ali Helnwein
Production: Autour de Minuit (France) and Squarefish (Belgium)
Technique: 2D digital, 3D digital
Running time: 12 minutes
The Night Watch (Original French title: Ronde de Nuit) is an animated short that mysteriously depicts madness and the relationship between love and hate. With a fast-paced story, it captivates the viewer up to the end. It was nominated for the Grand Competition at Animafest Zagreb 2022.
The film gives us an immersive experience, realized by its beautiful visual presentation with psychedelic music, highly captivating and immersive worldbuilding, effective camera work, and black-and-white 2D animation that evokes the nostalgia of classic horror films.
We interviewed Julien Regnard, the director, on the story behind the creation of the film.
Interview with Julien Regnard
Hideki Nagaishi (HN): Where did the initial idea of the film come from? And how did the short film project start?
Julien Regnard: I had written a story for a short film when I was in my 20’s; it was way too ambitious for me to make at that time, so I failed to realise it, but I liked the story and so I kept it in the back of my head. Years later, I was taking part at a screenwriting class at Cartoon Saloon studio and I needed an idea to work on, so I dug out this old story. I kept the basic structure and the main characters, but I replaced the theme of the film with things that were more relevant to me at that time. The initial story was about a man having to make a deal with Death after losing his wife in a car crash. Will he exchange his memories against his wife’s life? So, she would live but he won’t remember her. The new story was about that same couple but this time about jealousy, betrayal, and trust. Both are about love but a very different take on it.
It took me two years to write the story and find producers and money, and it was a difficult process because it was a difficult period of my life and the two were deeply interconnected.
HN: In addition to the previous question, how did you build the total vision of the film in your mind from the initial idea of the film, including the story outline, the visual direction, and the mood of the film?
Julien Regnard: I mainly work as a storyboard artist when I’m not directing so I did everything at the storyboard/animatic stage. For me, that’s where everything is decided, so I did about 70 versions of the animatic until it was working. Once the animatic is finished you just have to “make” the film but, all the decisions are already made, except maybe for the final look of the film and character design. There I had the precious help of Pascal Giraud, and together we figured out how to go from my original charcoal concept to a feasible animation production pipeline. We tried many different software and ended up making the 2D animation in Blender, the 3D background animation in Cinema 4D, the 2D backgrounds in Photoshop and a lot of charcoal textures on paper.
HN: There are impressive characters that appear one after another in this film. Could you please let us know how you created them?
Julien Regnard: It’s strange, but I wrote the first draft of the story really fast and in dark hours, and all the characters were there. It just poured out of my subconscious, after I realised, I was telling a very personal story hidden underneath all the cool stuff. And the hard work was to find out what that story was really about and re writing focusing on that. Sometimes you don’t want to know what’s in your subconscious.
HN: What did you take care in the most and what was particularly difficult when you developed the visual design of the characters and the backgrounds?
Julien Regnard: Character design I found especially difficult and I don’t think I’m really good at it, but I’m a bit of a control freak so I wanted to do it myself because I had the characters in my mind. What was difficult is that they have to be simple enough to be easy to animate but I wanted a realistic look. Characters and animation are so precise it’s insane; I prefer the backgrounds where you can be a bit more looser. It was a lot of work to give the animation a hand drawn charcoal look to fit with the backgrounds, because when it came out of Blender it just looked very flat and computer-made. Pascal created crazy complex scripts in Photoshop to treat the animation. We had 4 computers running day and night to do that, it was crazy.
HN: What do you think is the biggest strength of 2D animation as a visual storytelling medium for this film?
Julien Regnard: I’m not sure it is (laugh). I wanted to make the film in live action at some stage, but no producer would trust me with it. It was difficult to make: all the costumes, the car scene, the castle, all the extras, but mainly it’s not my job. Animation is what I do so I did it in animation. And I think it works well with that medium, it gave me the opportunity to push the atmosphere and the look of the film a lot, to control absolutely everything for the lights, the camera, the actors, etc. I think some scenes or costumes would have looked cheap in live action too, like the boar running in the corridor or the fight with the birdman at the end. Animation gives you that freedom to make anything look believable. Also, it’s a movie about the unconscious and I wanted it to have a nightmarish quality, and I think drawing can do that better than photographs.
HN: Could you let us know the story behind the creation of the music with Ali Helnwein?
Julien Regnard: I was desperately looking for a composer and Ali wrote me an email on the last day, and I had to make a choice between people I wasn’t really convinced with. I took it as a sign and went for it. Also, I really like his work! It was great to work with him and I’m happy about the result. I think I knew exactly what I wanted, so I didn’t give him a lot of freedom but he didn’t complain too much. In addition, all the party music was made by two of my friends Valentin Rocher and Nicolas Butez, and it was a lot of fun working with them too.