Anatomy of a Scene: Disney+ Delivers Groundbreaking Africanfuturist Animation with Lucan's 'Moremi' Episode

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Lucan's latest venture takes the form of the captivating 'Moremi' episode featured on Disney+'s Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire. This groundbreaking anthology series showcases the imaginative prowess of ten diverse African creators, each offering their unique take on an advanced Africanfuturist universe. 'Moremi' has garnered significant recognition, earning nominations in various categories at the prestigious 51st Annie Awards, including Best FX - TV/Media, Best Character Animation - TV/Media, and Best Direction - TV/Media.

Notably, the episode distinguishes itself through its innovative fusion of 2D and 3D animation techniques. Art director Wian van Bergen aptly characterizes the visual aesthetic as a "vibrant tapestry," skillfully crafted from the rich inspirations of contemporary and historical Nigerian artists, architects, and landscapes.

PH: Can you walk us through your creative process in bringing the opening sequence of Moremi to life? What were your main inspirations and goals for this particular scene?

Wian van Bergen: It all begins with the story – what message are we aiming to deliver to the audience? In the film's opening sequence, we introduce Luo, our protagonist, and offer fleeting glimpses of the enigmatic spirit world he inhabits. Our goal was to evoke a sense of eternity, foreboding, and oppression. To weave this narrative, we employed tools and techniques borrowed from film cinematography, taking inspiration from the greats like Greig Fraser and Bradford Young.

PH: How did you approach the visual aesthetics and cinematography of the film? Were there any specific visual references or styles that influenced your decision-making?

Wian van Bergen: I really delved deep into the fundamental techniques of master traditional painters to capture a similarly tangible beauty. Early on, I put together a comprehensive style bible outlining the look and feel we aimed for. This included references of traditional paintings, and identifying key design elements we wanted to integrate. We focused on aspects like lost and found edges, shifts in color temperature, the art of mark making, creating atmosphere, defining clear shapes, and grouping values effectively.

Lighting played a crucial role throughout the film. Each composition was designed to guide the viewer’s gaze and enhance pivotal moments in the story. Our goal was to ensure that the cinematography felt firmly rooted in reality. To achieve this, we adhered to a specific set of camera lenses and leveraged lens aberrations, depth of field, and subtle grain to embed the visuals with a cinematic quality. I drew immense inspiration from Alberto Mielgo, whose use of cinematography techniques effortlessly bridges the gap between painterly scenes and emotional connection with the audience.

PH: Tell us about the location and set design for this film. How did the environment contribute to the overall tone and mood you were aiming to convey?

Wian van Bergen: The visual style of the environments is a vibrant tapestry woven from the threads of contemporary and historical Nigerian artists, architects, natural landscapes, and cultural references. The film delves into two contrasting worlds: the realm of the living and the domain of the spirits. Here, ancient Ife and Benin cultures come alive, shaping the visual language of each world. Nigerian motifs weave throughout the film, not merely as decorations but as meaningful patterns. A distinctive feature is the incorporation of Yoruba printmaking patterns, particularly in the background, to enhance the narrative. Ultimately, Moremi’s visual style is far more than just eye candy. It’s a symphony of artistic choices working in perfect harmony to tell a powerful story.

PH: Did you encounter any unexpected challenges during the production of the film? How did you adapt and overcome these obstacles?

Wian van Bergen: A challenge we faced in making the film was seamlessly blending our 3D characters with the 2D painted backgrounds. Our aim was for the characters to appear as though they were crafted by the same hand that painted the backgrounds. Typically, 3D renders come off as too flawless, lacking the charming imperfections of hand-painted art that we were after. To overcome this, we developed a custom compositing workflow. This involved breaking down each component of the render – such as color, individual lighting, shadows, and reflections – and manipulating them individually before reassembling them and merging them with the background. This approach granted us the ability to work with the precision of a painter, tweaking every element and texture to our liking. We even went so far as to introduce subtle printmaking patterns in the areas where light transitions into shadow. It might be a small touch, but it injects a painterly richness into the overall aesthetic. 

PH: How did you collaborate with other key members of the production team, such as the lighting department or the compositing department, to achieve your vision for the art of the film?

Wian van Bergen: After my role as Art Director, I transitioned to supervising lighting and compositing. Being involved from the early stages allowed me to effectively convey our ideas and aesthetic to the lighting and compositing team. The distinctive look we achieved with the characters was made possible by establishing a workflow early on that departed from the traditional approach to lighting 3D characters. Instead, we leaned heavily on compositing to handle much of the workload. Our approach to lighting and compositing resembled that of painting, constructing the subject layer by layer to seamlessly blend with the 2D backgrounds.

PH: Can you discuss any special effects or visual effects used in the film? How did these elements enhance the storytelling?

Wian van Bergen: Our story blends elements of sci-fi and magical realism, and we were determined to make the special effects stand out in the film. Each FX element was first conceptualized in 2D, following our principle of integrating printmaking patterns and graphic shape design. We then utilized software like Houdini to infuse them with life and movement. Finally, all these elements were brought together in the compositing stage to give them that magical appearance.

I’m incredibly proud of what the Lucan Studio team has accomplished with the FX, as it posed one of the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of perfecting a shot. Moremi has been nominated for Best FX at the 2024 Annies. Here’s hoping for the best!

PH: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers or production professionals looking to create impactful and memorable films like Moremi?

Wian van Bergen: My advice is to choose projects that allow you to collaborate with individuals who inspire you or are at the pinnacle of their field. Admittedly, these opportunities can be scarce, and financial or geographic constraints may pose challenges. However, in my experience, nothing fosters personal and professional growth quite like being immersed in a dynamic environment alongside talented, driven individuals who encourage you to surpass your perceived limits. I have a long list of people I aspire to collaborate with before my career reaches its conclusion.

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