Gaelle Denis

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At the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase in Cannes this year, the audience at the Grand Auditorium of the Palais des Festivals got to chase its night of merrymaking with six minutes of pure visual intoxication as one particular tale unfolded on the screen. This was City Paradise, which told the surreal story of a female Japanese expatriate and her adjustment to London life. The misty hued short displays a painterly collage of quixotic characters and cityscapes, imagined with a mind-boggling interplay of live action and computer animation. Like the film itself, the director Gaelle Denis, of Passion Pictures, a 30-year-old London-based French native, pulls from a broad range of influences when it comes to her storytelling.

"I'm always inspired by design and photography and fashion," says the graduate of London's Royal College of Art. "I'm influenced by painting, but as well I'm influenced by theater and the stage, the way elements are put together to create a nice frame between the foreground, the background, the middle ground, as well as the dynamic of the actors. I think sometimes in City Paradise you can see that by how the actors and elements are appearing on the screen." It's hard to believe that this was Denis' first experience in combining various media, not to mention her first go at directing live action, but she's most at home when she's trying something new. "For me, the most important thing about directing is telling stories and discovering new techniques. It's about always learning and reinventing." In fact, prior to City Paradise, she earned the 2003 BAFTA best animated short award for her short Fish Never Sleep, which was actually her first venture in 2D computer animation. The film was inspired by a four-month scholarship stint in Japan, and although it too boasts Denis' powerful sense of art direction, unlike City Paradise, Denis stuck with a single medium, using a dazzling restricted palette of red, white and black. "In a way, I think it was the best way to lead the story," she says. "I used to do painting, mixing a lot of colors together. Then when I went to Japan I just rediscovered lines, shapes, contrast. The shadows of the objects are very different from what you see in Europe. I just wanted to restart from the beginning and tell a story where the technique would not be too disturbing. Having just three colors helped me to structure what I wanted to say, so in a way it was kind of a basic exercise."

Currently, Denis is working on a short and a feature, both of which incorporate live action, and is also pitching on an art direction job for a major feature film. She's already dipped her metaphorical brush into the commercials world, having worked on animation/live action-combo spots for Pier One with fellow Passion director Tim Hope as well as for Honda, in a team effort with RSA's ACNE. While the spots are glorious displays of Denis' handiwork, they don't compare to her solo flights, on which she has yet to embark in advertising. "Especially when you mix live action with animation, you always need to be involved in the live action yourself because you have to think of the direction of the lights, the position of the camera and the scaling," she notes. "Even before starting the animation, it's important to control every stage to make sure that you will give your best at every step. It's not because I only want to be on my own, but I think it's easier when one person is connecting the others."

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