”The Tower,” the debut of Norway’s Mats Grorud, is a part stop-motion, part 2D animation film centered on the Palestinian diaspora since the creation of Israel in 1948, seen from the eyes of Wardi, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl living with her family in the refugee camp where she was born.
Grorud worked as an animation teacher in the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp, established by The League of Red Cross Societies to host Palestinian refugees from northern Israel. Based on his experience and research there, he created the story of “The Tower.”
We spoke with Grorud about the production process: “We shot this film in France, in Valence at the Foliascope Studios,” he told us. “I was working closely with a very experienced team…We were working on quite a tight budget, about 200 000 Euros for the entire feature. Fully animated. So we needed to be smart about every decision in terms of reaching the best possible artistic output with the resources we had at hand.”
The bulk of the filming consisted of the puppet parts (65% of the film), and sounded like quite the production process. “We had around 8 sets running–always some being prepared whilst the others were being animated on,” he told us. “I was really happy to involve the animators and give them freedom in their execution of the scenes. The film has a lot of dialogue so there was a genuine need for them to add character and life to the puppets.
“We also cut corners in terms of for example the armature in the puppets. I am a big fan of not making any more than needed, and in the case of this film there wasn’t really a big need for expensive ball-socket armatures. So we saved time and money making regular aluminum wire armature, and it worked brilliantly! Thus making around 20 puppets in a very fast and good manner.”
Watching the piece, one is struck by the fact it deals with some pretty emotional content, but the puppets did have fairly stiff faces, and how well that actually does work. Grorud explained that, “We initially tested 3D printed mouths and other parts of the face…However in the end, we found that artistically we were more happy with the result we got from faces where really it’s just the positioning of the brows as well as the body language and the voice that expresses the emotions of the puppet.”
When we asked about challenges, Grorud reported very few. “I had a Swiss army knife in Assistant Director Pierre-Luc,” he said, “who is a dream to work with. My strength coming into the film being the knowledge of the subject matter for the film, how the different puppets and characters should feel and so on, everything was done on time and with the right level I wanted of artistry. This might seem as if I am just painting a beautiful picture of the working process, but believe it or not, this is the truth!”