A Flash Waltz With Bashir

In an animated feature, the art director is technically God. He creates reality.
For around an hour and a half, the art director and his team of animators warps and bends reality to fit a given mood and setting.

In the movie Waltz With Bashir, art director David Polanski had the task of recreating the middle east in the early 80s from the perspective of six Israeli soldiers. The movie is an animated documentary about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

The movie is technically a documentary, but it distorts reality to fit the fearful mood of Israeli soldiers in a war torn country. For example, many of the soldiers recall a six-lane road in Lebanon they must traverse, but in reality it was only two lanes.

When illustrating the documentary, the animators decided make the highway larger than reality because it seemed huge to soldiers while crossing it under heavy fire, Polanski said.

"The most important thing is the story," Polanski said to Jim Keeshen's storytelling class on the AET campus last Monday.
Also presenting characters as the same person during the war and twenty years later during interviews was a challenge, Polanski said.

"People change in so many ways," he said. "There was a choice between the truth of the story and the actual story."
In Waltz with Bashir, the creative team presented characters physically simialar for the sake of storytelling and coherency, Polanski said.

Keeping a war documentary objective is difficult because battle is visually flashy.

"It's easy to get carried away with the aesthetics of war," Polanski said. "You can make some really cool drawings, explosions, blood splashes and everything."
The whole movie was drawn by two people and animated by eight others. This relatively small staff on a budget of $1.7 million, created the whole documentary using flash animation.

Flash is "cut out" animation designed for web use. South Park is most famous example of cut out animation, Polanski said.
In cut out animation, a figure is broken into parts that are manipulated to create movement. A character's face and hands are broken apart into around 20 to 40 sections because they have very intricate and subtle movements.

The animating team for Waltz With Bashir had almost no guidelines or restrictions while creating the documentary. The only other Israeli animated feature was released in 1962.

"Having no tradition, there was no one telling you what to do," Polanski said. "That's the good part."

Polanski created reality as he saw fit through only two photographs of war torn Lebanon, some contemporary advertisements, and a few personal photographs, he said.
Some of the movie was recreated a dreamy, surreal depiction of one Israeli soldier's amnesia during the war.

Since the documentary is animated, the audience doesn't have to suspend it's disbelief in the story while watching soldier's altered perceptions of reality, Polanski said.

"We were very fortunate to have [Polanski] speak," Keeshen said. "He showed the class how he came up with a story, animated it, with a very vivid direction."
The story tries to portray a simple reality, Polanski said. "The message is very simple and blunt," he said. "[Combat] is very awful; don't go to war."