Story behind “Daumier’s Law”
Brian Peterson Nov 26 1993
This article was written by Mark Lewisohn for Club Sandwich in the Summer of 1992. In order to save myself some typing I will excerpt and paraphrase a little bit. Any mistakes are mine.
Paul McCartney is about to surprise us all once again. Over the last 4 years he’s been putting together a short film animating the work of 19th Century artist Honore Daumier, and recording what the public will perceive as some very unMcCartney like music for it.
The film is Daumier’s Law. Brought to you by the team behind Rupert and The Frog Song. Paul, Linda, and director of animation Geoff Dunbar. For too long Honore Daumier has been an unsung hero, a clear but usually overlooked influence over artists such as Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso. Daumier’s Law will ensure that his work finally receives the attention it merits.
Linda was the first to be enthused by Daumier – back in her school days. “I went through all periods of different painters and along the way there were several that grabbed me including Daumier. He was very satirical about the different classes and fantastic at capturing people’s characters.”
In 1988 Paul found himself with the time, while preparing for the Tour, to record some experimental music. It wasn’t meant for the film, that come only after the music was completed. “I wanted to get into some minimalist music so I came to the studio and started trying to think of very simple pieces, based around the theme of injustice. .. I got intrigued by the idea of thinking ‘how few notes couls I use, then?’ You start off thinking of just one note and then you embellish it a bit, trying to keep in the back of your mind to be as minimal as possible. And in the end I think I abondoned the idea of minimalism and just got into this slightly experimental music.”
Soon the two projects came together. “I went through every drawing he ever did and really got involved,” Linda says, “I got every book on Daumier and read all about his life and thought that it would be incredible to do a visual thing for Paul’s music. Daumier worked for a newspaper as a satirical cartoonist and went to prison a few times for his Art. A lot of his work was about injustice and it’s a theme that is so right for our times.”
“I did about 20 minutes of music.” adds Paul, “then Linda and I were looking at some Daumier drawings, so we hooked up the idea of injustice with my musical pieces, came up with the idea for the film and called Geoff.”
“Paul and Linda called and asked if I would like to make a film on Daumier and I said yes,” recalls Geoff Dunbar, “Before Rupert came along I had made a film on Toulouse-Lautrec so the Daumier idea was very exciting.”
“Paul did six pieces of music and they each had a title – Right, Wrong, Justice, Punishment, Payment, and Release. Then we pored through the works of Daumier, got everything that was available, and structured the story from the material. And where we had to link it we invented ‘in the style of’. We hung the story on one character, a man from one drawing by Daumier.”
The injustice theme is skillfully put across during the 15 minute film, with our Mr. Average wrongfully accussed, wrongfully arrested, wrongfully convicted in a particularly powerful courtroom scene(Act 3: Justice), cruelly punished, forced to pay dues and then, at last, expelledby the tyrannical system, free to rediscover artistic beauty in his midst. “It’s all topical stuff ,” comments Dunbar, “It’s a heroic tale I suppose. He goes through the system and comes out in rags, he’s lost all his wordly possessions and his dignity but regains them at the end by finding beauty and music.”
The most visually stunning section occurs in Act 5 (Payment), when Daumier’s remarkable Gargantua, drawn in 1832, is brought to life. Depicting the great pear-head of Louis XIV [should read: Louis-Philippe] and his swallowing up of ordinary people and their riches, it was a drawing for which Daumier was fined and imprisoned by the French government.
The sheer enormity of work in making Daumier’s Law is best explained by some vital statistics: Production began in mid-1989 and the animation took two years to complete. With between 12 and 24 drawings per second the film runs up to 21,000 drawings. Before that they are all done in pencil too, so that make’s 42,000. THe celluloids also have to be shaded or painted before being photographed, plus all the prepatory photos and layouts of the scenes, another 35,000 drawings. “The sequence of the mandolin player (Act 6, Release) along took one artist three months,” comments Geoff, “plus there were scenes, only natural in a film project, that wouldn’t fit in, which were heaved out and confined to the bin.”
It’s a mark of the team’s achievement that no difference between the original work and theirsis discernable to the naked eye. “Doing a film like this has it’s bonuses,” remarks Dunbar, “and one learns so much more than if you just studied it. You’re actually in it, you’ve got to make it move, to create new scenes which will dovetail with the original.”