Daniel Robichaud on P3K: Pinocchio 3000


Animator-turned director Daniel Robichaud tells Tulay Tetiker about the challenges of making the 3D-animated Pinocchio 3000 as a co-production of Canada, France and Spain.

November 05, 2004
By Tulay Tetiker

P3K: Pinocchio 3000 is a futuristic spin on Carlo Collodi’s classic tale, filmed in visually stunning 3D animation, in which Geppetto’s ultimate creation is a robot, rather than a wooden marionette.

The idea of bringing this classic children’s tale into the 31st century began in 1998, when Medialab, a French 3D animation company, approached CinéGroupe to co-develop a variety of projects, P3K: Pinocchio 3000 among them. Medialab executives were looking for a director and approached Daniel Robichaud with the task, after having seen his award-winning short Tightrope at Monte Carlo’s Imagina Festival. “When they asked me to direct the still-in-development-film in 1999, I was instantly charmed by the originality of the script, as well as the early character designs” explains Robichaud. “The first challenge was to adapt both the designs and the screenplay to the requirements of the CG medium. To help the producers finding a way to finance the movie they created a two-minute animated trailer. The ultimate challenge, though, came when the project got the green light: we had 12 months and a modest budget (based on industry standards) to deliver the film, while assembling an animation team and defining a technical pipeline for the studio.”

Robichaud started doing computer graphics in 1983 and worked for the Canadian national television (CBC) as a designer and art director. In the early `90s, he moved to Hollywood, enthusiastic about the fascinating new promises of the digital medium in high-end effects films. “I was hired by Digital Domain as an animation director, and went on to contribute to such movies as Apollo 13, Terminator 2: 3D, The Fifth Element and Titanic. I also had the opportunity to direct my own animated short film, Tightrope, which caught the eyes of the producers of Pinocchio 3000. Before the movie went in production, I supervised character animation on three more film projects, The Scorpion King, K-Pax and Willard.

Even though it took years to get made due to the challenges of international financing and co-production, (AnimaKids of France and Castelao Films of Spain were brought on board). “Creating a 3D film is an exercise in managing intricate details that are all dependent on each other,” explains Philippe Garel of AnimaKids. “If something goes wrong at the beginning of the process, it can cause major problems and costs. And add the co- production factor: trying to organize the work across two continents and in three languages and cultures. In fact, when the roles are clearly defined, the work flows much more smoothly.”

Adds Castelao Films’ Paco Rodriguez, “It is really a question of initially establishing a workflow that maximizes each partner’s talent, and [respecting] the needs of the project. And, of course, a good sense of humor helps.”

Before beginning the production, the partners retreated to Spain for a weeklong brainstorming session, to finalize all of the millions of details and to organize the workflow and finalize the script. Robichaud explains: “Even though time and resources were limited, the script called for complex effects and ambitious scenes with crowds and elaborate sets. On top of that, since Pinocchio 3000 was a co-production between Canada, France and Spain, the work had to be broken down and distributed among three different studios, on two continents. It was vital to define a straightforward and efficient process in creating our animations. We certainly learned how to do more with less.”

The 10-month production schedule was incredibly demanding, but Montreal is renowned for its creative talent. So, Christian Garcia, computer graphics supervisor, had to first assemble a team together, under Robichaud’s supervision. AnimaKids was responsible for the script, visual development of the secondary characters, and for the set design; Castelao for the modeling and texturing of the sets, and all of the post-production for the sound and laboratory and finally CinéGroupe was taking care of the modeling and texturing of the primary characters, voice recordings, and the animation of the film — animating, lighting, compositing, rendering and image post-production and overall quality control.

For Robichaud, the visually challenging part of the movie was to maintain a warm, feel-good quality that would appeal to a young audience, in spite of the futuristic setting of the story. “This was a film about a classic tale, and not a science-fiction movie,” he explains. “This principle gave birth to a unique vision of an improbable future world, and influenced not only the designs, but also the lighting, the effects and the colorful palette. Among the most visually rich sequences are the birth of Pinocchio, the Imagination Game and the flying car chase in the city.”