This article is available in: French
Last week during the Annecy Festival 2023, a rountable got behind the scenes of Star Wars Visions season 2. This animated series, streaming on Disney+, is an athology of short films. Each of them is created by a different studio, each one using its own animation style.
We were especially eager to learn more about The Spy Dancer, an episode created by Studio La Cachette. This studio is behind a series project called Mehdi – Avis de passage, an episode of Love, Death & Robots, Primal by Genndy Tartakovsky, as well as 2D sequences of the animated feature Mune.
The Dancing Spy the lead dancer from a famous cabaret with Imperial renown. She uses her unique skill set to spy for the Rebellion, but the presence of a mysterious officer threatens to derail her mission.
A script inspired by French history
Julien Chheng explained that Gabrielle D’Andrimont and him were inspired by the early days of WWII. At that time, Paris was occupied by the German army, and there were cabarets in Paris where dancers would perform for nazis.
Lucasfilm got the pitch and a concept art, and they greenlit the project. The team then started doing more research, in order to find the perfect environement for this episode. They focused on the neighbourhood of Montmartre and tried to capture its mood. They therefore placed the cabaret at the top of a hill, just like Montmartre.
Since all the action takes place in the cabaret, this location was especially important. The team was inspired by locations such as the Grand Palais in Paris : high ceilings, lots of glass/windows, and a metallic structure. They were also inspired by Hector Guimard, a famous architect and designer of the Art Nouveau style. He is known, among other things, for creating the entrances of the first stations of the Paris Metro. This is why the cabaret and many props feature lots of curves and metal.
Julien Chheng also explained that the cabaret is almost a character. They came up with the idea of a nest, located at the center of the huge room. There, rebels can hide and spy on the troopers beneath them.
A mesmerizing dance
As for the dancing, it had to be entertaining and fascinating, mermerizing for the troopers, since this is when trackers are hidden on them. Julien Chheng showed us the work done by Arnaud Tribout, Kévin Roualland to achieve the look visible in the final short film. He also showed us the backgrounds created by Delphine Natal and her team for the “red show”, when the main character finds out that the officer who took her son away might be in the room. The dancing room is then reminiscent of a volcano, and the dress of a dancer are almost like flames.
What about the character design and the dancer herself, you might ask? Julien Chheng explained us that he was inspired by real dancers such as Loïe Fuller, famous for her long dresses. She was featured in a 1896 movie of the Serpentine Dance she created (and was clearly an inspiration for the dance moves seen in the episode) by the Lumière brothers. A dance which is clearly an inspiration for the choreography of The Spy Dancer. You can watch her dance over on Wikipedia. Julien Chheng explained he was also inspired by various performers such as Joséphine Baker, Sarah Bernhardt.
Design-wise, the team had to find the right shapes, as the dress had to become almost abstract during the dance. As Julien Chheng explained, he really likes when the shapes are abstract, and when motion is how you understand that a human body is hidden between the drapes.
The character design is more realistic than what the studio is used to, but their signature style is still there: simple linestrokes, not too much detail. Once again, animation is the key and fills the gaps.
Ships and writing
Julien Chheng also showed us concept arts for the ships & vehicules seen in The Spy Dancer. Ken Le Bras was tasked with creating these concepts, as he is a Star Wars expert. He drew inspiration from old and limited edition Star Wars toys from the 80s.
We were also shown concepts by Arthur Blavier, who created lots of props for the show.
Julien Chheng told us how that the script was written with the ending in mind right from the start. He also highlighted that even though some might find this ending a bit cheesy, he believes that “sometimes, ideas have to be at the edge of cheesyness or sillyness to be working”, and that he “likes to think that love can be a powerful weapon”.
Music by Olivier Derivière
During the Q&A, Julien Chheng also shared a few details about the music creation process. The team worked with Olivier Derivière, a French videogame composer.
When editing the animatic, Julien Chheng used lots of temp tracks, including older tracks by Derivière. But when he sent the animatic to Olivier Derivière, the composer would just turn the sound down, and he wouldntt listen to the temp tracks. “It’s ok”, added Julien Chheng, explaining that he let Olivier Derivière “do his thing”, and that everything went well.
Don’t miss this Star Wars Visions episode!
As a conclusion, Julien Chheng insisted on how grateful he was. Being able to work on such a franchise 10 years after Studio La Cachette was created is an opportunity he really appreciated. This is also, of course, an acknowledgment of the hard work by the whole team. It should be noted, by the way, that Julien Chheng names lots of artists who worked on this episode: he clearly wanted to highlight the whole team.
The Spy Dancer is streaming on Disney+. We strongly recommend you watch the two seasons, since they are a good opportunity to dive into the work of various animation studios worldwide, with unique animation styles.