Two Balloons – Charming from Start to Finish – Review + Interview
Mark C. Smith heart-warming animation Two Balloons is a stunning short stop-motion film that is a delight to watch, the nine-minute short is in competition at ten Oscar-qualifying film festivals and it certainly deserves the recognition.
Two adventurous lemurs navigate their dirigibles halfway around the world to a place where happenstance and fate threaten to disrupt their reunion.
I found myself being pulled in to the beautiful animation and story, Two Balloons is stop-motion animation at it’s finest, add to that the emotion that the short film produces, the film is one that although it only runs for nine minutes, I ended up watching several times to take in the delights. Mark has certainly written a heart-warming story.
The look of Two Balloons can only be described as delightful and charming, as is the story of these two lemurs find what they are looking for, dare I say that the ending even brought a tear to my eyes, in a lovely way.
Overall Two Balloons is a well shot and produced, short film, not only does it look good, the soundtrack also builds to the charm of the lemurs and their journey in their dirigibles, the music throughout the film is perfectly suited to the scenes and the emotions of the production. I would go far as saying that Two Balloons is a film that shows that the old school methods of producing a movie are still here and this is movie shows how it should be done.
Two-time Emmy winning animator Teresa Drilling has been the lead animator on Academy-nominated and winning films such as Anomalisa, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Coraline and Chicken Run. Supervising Sound Editor, Eric A. Norris is also a two-time Emmy winner, he created the sound for Superman (Man of Steel), The Book of Eli and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Foley Artist Andy Malcom is also an Emmy winner and has worked on over 600 films and television series including Blade Runner, The Life Aquatic with Zissou and The Greatest Showman. Producer and visual effects artist Adam C. Sager’s extensive filmography includes the animation Coraline, TNT’s fantasy-adventure television series The Librarians, fantasy horror Grimm and the sketch-comedy series Portlandia.
Karen Chats with Mark C. Smith about Two Balloons
I caught up with Director Marc C. Smith for a chat about Two Balloons.
Karen: Was there a moment when you recognized that being a director/producer was going to be a big part of your life?
Mark: It was a slow moment, like seasons changing in time lapse. Photography introduced me to film. I remember being in Haines, Alaska working on a book project that grew in scope and there was a need for a cinematographer. I volunteered and started filming with a Panasonic HVX 200. Over the course of the project, I was drawn to the possibility of moving images. I began to see stills as memories and motion pictures as a way to tell a story.
Karen: What directors/producers/actors have been inspiring and influential to you and why?
Mark: The aesthetic of Wan Kar-wai’s films has influenced me, particularly the movies with Christopher Doyle behind the camera. For me, the collaboration between Kar-wai and Doyle has a Lennon / McCartney kind of magic.
With regards to stop motion, I fell for the medium before I knew what it was. As a kid, Harryhausen’s work in Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad fascinated me. Tippett’s work on the original Star Wars and Rankin-Bass Christmas specials had the same effect. The analogue quality of the films made an indelible impression on me. A tactile emotion emanated from the screen. Stop motion felt immediate, genuine and mysterious. The hands that created the work were invisible yet you could sense the fingerprints, a human element, a combination of flaws and perfection that made fiction feel real.
Karen: Have you had the chance to meet any of them that have been influential to you?
Mark: Not yet.
Karen: What did you enjoy the most about bringing “Two Balloons” to life?
Mark: The production design. It is my favourite part of the filmmaking process. I like how sets can inform a character’s personality and influence the narrative.
Karen: ”Two Balloons” is a wonderful looking animated movie, was it hard to visualize scenes in their final state during the stop-motion process?
Mark: Yes, because the exteriors were a puzzle. During production, we pre-visualized the sum of our elements for every shot. What I mean by elements is shots within a shot.
There is a wide shot prior to Bernard and Elba being swept up into a storm. What we see on the screen is Elba on her airship, Bernard’s ship and Bernard on a rafting line that connects both vessels. In the background, we see clouds made of wool, lightning strikes that we filmed practically with a Tesla Coil. There is a 10-foot funnel cloud rotating on a model mover and hand-painted matte paintings. All of the elements were shot individually on green screen. In post, our VFX supervisor had to combine the elements and make them live together in a harmonious way. The shot I am describing is just one of 89.
Karen: Why did you decide to film the short in Stop-Motion?
Mark: Two Balloons is my first animated film. I’ve always been drawn to stop motion but I’ve also regarded it as difficult and somewhat intimidating.
Two Balloons was going to be a live-action film with actors, not lemurs, but when the aircraft hangar we needed to accommodate the dirigibles became unavailable we suddenly had a scale problem. I turned to stop motion as a solution and also as an opportunity to experience a medium I’ve always been passionate about.
Karen: Besides this movie, what has been your most favourite movie that you have worked on so far?
Mark: I spent a lot of years photographing and filming ski and climbing expeditions in North America, South America and Europe. Since then I have been involved in narrative projects but I have fond memories of the mountains- the adventure, the camaraderie, the freedom.
Karen: What’s next?
Mark: Adam and I are going to switch places on the next project. Adam has a film he has been developing titled Cannon in Dreams. It’s a great story and I’m looking forward to being a part of the film.
Many thanks to Mark and for taking time out to chat with me. Good luck to Two Balloons in the upcoming Oscar-qualifying film festivals; Cleveland International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and RiverRun International Film Festival.