This article is available in: French
Francis Canitrot is a French artist who worked for various studios such as Digital Banana, Autour de Minuit, La Cachette, and La Station Animation, gaining experience in 2D animation, 3D animation, and stop-motion on projects such as I lost My Body, A Town Called Panic, Primal, and more.
His new project, the animated short film Peeping Mom (“Le Sexe de ma Mère” in French), is a rather unconventional film, blending stop-motion, dark humor and 3D animation. Following its selection at the Cannes Film Festival, the film will be screened at various festivals. More on this at the end of the article.
Francis Canitrot kindly shared more details with us. Here is the interview, after the pitch and trailer!
Eli lives with Marie, his strong-willed mother. Nostalgic for an unbridled youth, “the sex” is an obsession with the old lady.
Intrusive, she would like her son to have the same sexual fulfillment as her.
One night, Mary dies…
3DVF: How did Peeping Mom come into being? Why did you want to tell the story of Eli and his mother?
Francis Canitrot: Originally, the film’s idea was slightly different. I had seen Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women and thought it would be interesting to work with a character like Bertrand but from a point of view that would not objectify women as much, and would not glorify men as much. Since I didn’t aim to make a feature film, I needed to be less extensive than in Truffaut’s film and find the most suitable man-woman relationship. What could be more natural than exploring the relationship with the first woman one knows in their life: their own mother?
I quickly realized it would be interesting if this mother were horrible, and the hero stayed with her, enduring a terrible situation that only blood ties could sustain. Initially, the mother would die, and the son would keep her corpse, making it more of a story about an impossible mourning. I kept this idea for a long time, but eventually, with Jimmy Bemon, we decided to set aside that aspect of the story to delve more deeply into the themes of aging. The mother then became even tougher, but with the added notion of nostalgia for a lost youth.
3DVF: During a presentation of the short film last June, you and Jimmy Bemon (who co-wrote the screenplay) mentioned the project’s challenging genesis. We assume the theme didn’t make it easy to secure funding. Can you tell us more about it? How did you manage to move forward, and how did the different companies associated with the film, such as French studios La Station Animation, Personne n’est Parfait, o2o Studio, get involved?
I’m not entirely sure why the film was difficult to finance. I imagine that most short film projects from a director who hasn’t proven themselves are challenging to fund. Putting things into context, we began seeking funding for the film at the beginning of the #MeToo movement. I suppose, and I understand, that a film where the character navigates the line of voyeurism and the sexual fantasies of a male character might have been seen as problematic. After all, apart from me, no one really knew what I was going to do when shooting those scenes, which were only written at the time. Additionally, we also went through the COVID-19 period, which significantly slowed down the organization of financing commissions. However, as I received fairly positive feedback, even in the case of rejection, it convinced me to persevere.
In the end, with the support of the Brittany region and the South region, as well as some support from CNC, we were able to put the project together. The 3D assets (characters and props) were modeled, textured, and rigged in Paris. The set pieces (miniatures) were constructed and filmed, without characters, at Studio Personne n’est Parfait! in Rennes. The animation was divided between La Station Animation in the South region and O2o in the Brittany region. Some of the special effects were done by each studio. Everything was assembled in Île-de-France at La Station Animation Paris. Rendering, compositing, and all post-production work were done in Paris, including sound (at Badje Auditoriums), sound effects (at Studio ViNiLiX), and music in Julien Decoret’s recording studio. It was quite a challenge!
3DVF: From an artistic point of view, Peeping Mom stands due to its stop-motion look and feel. Why did you choose this visual style?
Beyond the choice of stop-motion, it was primarily the decision to use animation as the medium to tell this story that came to the forefront. After all, why not make this film in live-action? Choosing animation to explore the mother-son relationship allowed me to create some distance from the characters, which interested me because it allowed me to push the boundaries of the scenes without veering into something too explicit. Stop-motion naturally followed because, in this case, I felt that the textured, scratched aspect generated a somewhat unsettling emotion that aligned with the film’s theme.
3DVF: How did you achieve this vision? What elements are real or not in Peeping Mom, and why, how did you use photogrammetry ?
Originally, I wanted to create the entire project in stop-motion, but at that time, I was alone without a producer, still in my shared apartment in Paris. It wasn’t the ideal place to make a film. I thought that these might be the best conditions I would have. So, I began creating a first version of a set on a dollhouse scale (1/12 scale), half the size of stop-motion scale. I had devised a system to quickly disassemble and store everything in a closet before my roommates returned home in the evening. However, at this scale, it was impossible to animate stop-motion puppets finely because they were too small.
The solution was clear: I needed to create these characters in 3D and integrate them into the filmed miniatures. So, I created a first character design in 3D and integrated it into the sets, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the result; it lacked the handmade feel. So, I decided to sculpt the characters, paint them, and when the opportunity arose, we did a proper photogrammetry scan of these sculptures. We processed the scans to be able to animate the characters. In summary, the sets are miniatures filmed with characters that were initially sculpted, scanned, and then integrated in 3D. This technique remained when the project became more professional with the involvement of La Station Animation as the producer because, in my case, it was more flexible and less expensive than pure stop-motion.
3DVF: The team managed to maintain the stop-motion look throughout the entire project, even when it comes to FX. What were the most challenging aspects, both from an artistic and technical point of view, to stay true to this vision throughout the production?
Artistically, I had a fairly clear vision of what I wanted. Since I had had time to think through every detail of each set and could sculpt the characters myself, everything was in place before production began. It was a real comfort. Furthermore, the work done at Studio Personne N’est Parfait! (in Rennes) on the sets, from construction to shooting, was simply impeccable. The only artistic and technical constraint we encountered at this stage was that our set scale was smaller than the usual stop-motion scale. This required some ingenuity in camera placement and lighting management during shooting.
We faced more technical challenges after the shooting, to blend the plates and the CG elements, but nothing that couldn’t be done. The advantage of having a stop-motion look is that, since the scale is reduced, the FX simulations don’t need to be as fine as they would for real-life scale special effects. Overall, in this film, we technically did the same things as in a Marvel blockbuster with live-action shooting and lots of CG, but on a smaller and more modest scale.
3DVF: Given the subject matter of Peeping Mom, there were likely many discussions during the writing process about how to handle the relationship between Eli and his mother and what would be shown or not. What was your thought process in this regard? To what extent did external constraints (especially festival and TV broadcasting) influence your decisions?
The advantage of making a short film almost outside of any commercial circuit is that you are more or less free to do what you want, so we quickly set aside questions of audience and creating something safe. However, we had many questions and doubts about the balance of the scenes: sometimes we were afraid of being too mild, sometimes too explicit. Often, it turned out that we mainly needed to push our own moral boundaries because the scenes, as originally written, were just right. Writing a film is not a smooth journey; that’s what makes it exciting!
3DVF: How did you approach the main character from an animation perspective? What were the artistic and technical challenges?
The challenge in animating a character like Eli is to be accurate and subtle. Eli is a character who endures, and when a character who endures a situation is at the center of the narrative, you must work hard to ensure the audience doesn’t endure the character. You need to give him enough presence to be likable, to evoke empathy, and to avoid boredom. Especially since he is contrasted by a colorful mother.
I was fortunate to work with very talented animators! But beyond their skills, I was very attentive to their individual sensibilities. I wanted the animators to feel comfortable with the scenes they were animating. So, I made sure to assign scenes based not only on their skill level but also on their personalities. The rest was up to them!
3DVF: The sets and lighting clearly received a lot of attention as well. Can you share a few words about this?
The sets were designed with the idea that the film’s action would take place in a present-day residential neighborhood in France, which we imagined to be working-class, built in the 1960s. However, during shooting, with Simon Fillot, the director of photography, we drew inspiration from the lighting used in Hollywood films such as Chinatown and Rear Window. I like that contrast; it creates a certain poetic quality. We’re not quite sure where we are.
I also wanted the sets to contain elements representative of the characters. In Eli’s mother’s house, Marie is an extravagant character, the kind of person who traveled the world to satisfy her passion (sex) and brought back souvenirs. A form of sexual neocolonialism. In contrast, Eli has withdrawn so much that the walls are bare plasterboard. All the sets in the film adhere to this principle.
3DVF: Let’s discuss the sound as well: what can you tell us about directing the actors and the music composed by Julien Decoret?
I was extremely lucky to work with Badje Auditoriums. Anthony Dugousset and Emmanuel Rebaudengo provided me with the best possible conditions for the film’s sound. Thanks to them, I was able to meet Martial Le Minoux, who, finding the project interesting, offered me a whole cast of voices for each character. It was truly fantastic, and the actors were very authentic. For example, during the dialogue scene in front of the house between Eli and Nathalie (the neighbor), Bruno Magne and Jessie Lambotte, who know each other very well, were recording together for the first time since COVID. They used this situation: the emotion of reuniting to act became the emotion of the film scene.
Regarding the film’s music, I envisioned working with a composer more as a true collaboration than simply commissioning music. For me, as long as I meet a composer who speaks to me and with whom I connect musically and personally, I am ready to trust them completely. In this regard, thanks to Emmanuel Rebaudengo once again, I met Julien Decoret in his studio. I arrived late after an exhausting day; I thought I would go home, take a painkiller, and go to bed. But we had managed to schedule this meeting at a time when both our schedules were very busy. It didn’t start well! But within five minutes, we were already talking about music, creation, and cinema. It lasted three or four hours, I can’t remember exactly, and it marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship and, most likely, future collaborations! He’s amazing; we speak the same language, he and I.
3DVF: We noticed that the film is dedicated to Sei Riondet and Jeanne Chagnon…
Sei and Jane were first and foremost friends who supported me a lot during the development of my film. To my great sadness, they are not here to see the finished film. I also dedicate this short to them because they were both passionate about animation and cinema, and they gave and sacrificed a lot for this passion.
Jane was one of the pillars of Autour de Minuit, a tough cookie with a golden heart who knew how to move heaven and earth to ensure films were released with a smile.
Sei was an amazing storyboard artist, a director still in the shadows, whom unscrupulous and criminal people reduced to nothing.
Editor’s Note: Remember that the AVFT (European Association Against Violence Against Women at Work) and the 3114 (national suicide prevention phone number in France) can help if you need assistance or support for yourself or someone you know. If you’re reading us from outside France, similar services are available.
3DVF: One last question. This is your first film. How did you experience this journey, and what do you take away from it as an artist? Do you plan to continue in filmmaking?
Under the financial conditions of a short film, it was an exhausting experience, extremely difficult to balance with family life. However, as you said, it was primarily a fantastic “adventure” that allowed me to meet many passionate people. People who, for some, didn’t count their hours because, in their eyes, the project was worth it. Watching the film gradually take shape, moving from a concept to concrete sets, animated shots, and a final image, is exhilarating. Artistically, it’s also a relief to have cleared this story from my mind. To see that it hasn’t suffered too many bumps along the way or, on the contrary, that it has evolved positively through the contributions of others, both in the writing with Jimmy Bemon and in all the little details that the team proposed at every stage. It leaves room for the next stories that I’m already eager to try to tell.
For more information
Peeping Mom / Le Sexe de ma Mère will be screened at various festivals in the weeks to come:
- Animest (Romania) – October 6-15 2023
- Primanima (Hungary) – October 11-14
- CinéOpen (France) – October 17-November 1
- Bucheon International Animation Festival (BIAF – South Korea) – October 20-24
- Festival du Film Court en Armagnac (France) – October 21-22