‘Mila’ is a CG animated short film, which has been developed using the most modern techniques of digital animation. It’s been produced by the largest remote animation crew to date – 250 artists from over 25 countries – all of whom have volunteered their time and talent to help make ‘Mila’ happen.
The brainchild of Cinzia Angelini, who has worked as an animator and story artist in feature films for over twenty years, ‘Mila’ carries a heavy theme, focusing on the under-reported collateral damage of War – civilian children. Angelini, who is the writer and director of ‘Mila’, has based the film on a survivor’s firsthand experiences as a child during the the terrible bombings of World War Two. The survivor in question – her own mother, Giovanna.
Cinzia, who has worked on films including ‘Spider-Man 2’, ‘Prince Of Egypt’, ‘Eldorado’, ‘Bolt’, and ‘Minions’, among others, started working on ‘Mila’ by herself, back in 2007, but rallied the support of many more amazing artists when she shared the moving and inspiring story behind the film. “Official” production began in 2010, with a small group of friends, who have now grown to become The Mila Family, whose passion, talent and time has been poured into the challenge of creating this beautiful film.
We spoke to Cinzia Angelini and asked her about herself, and ‘Mila’.
EP: Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background?
CA: I went to an animation school in Milano, Italy. I was studying graphic design during the day and animation at night. After the first few months I felt in love with animation and I knew that animation was what I wanted to pursue in life. I first worked at several Italian studios as a storyboard artist and traditional animator for TV and then spent three years working in Munich and London for studios such as Amblimation and Warner Brothers. In 1997, I moved to the States working for DreamWorks as a 2D animator and then eventually learned 3d animation. Now I work as a freelance storyboard artist for companies like Illumination Entertainment.
EP: ‘Mila’ is a film about a girl caught up in the atrocities of WW2, based on the stories of your mother and grandmother – are Mila and other characters in the film a direct representation of them? Are there specific things that happened to them that you’ve used in the film? How has growing up with a mother who had experienced those events impact you as a person, and as an artist?
CA: The Characters or Mila are inspired by them, I don’t see the character of Mila as my mom but as a kid that represents all kids caught in the middle of war. At the same time it’s a character that was born from feelings that my mom shared with me as I was growing up so I’d say there is lot of personal reference with what happens. For an example Mila and the woman that saves her from the bombings are running with a bicycle over a bridge onto the other part of town where my family house was. As soon as they pass the bridge its bombed. This actually happened to my grandmother. She didn’t have my mom but her sister in her arms and was running not with the bicycle but as soon as they passed the iron bridge went down. The entire film is full of personal references like this one that I think make is more special and powerful.
Being exposed to events like that from someone that actually lived that versus reading it on a book or watching a film puts everything in perspective and makes you appreciate more what you have and makes you respect those people so much more. The intensity of surviving a world war, or two, like my grandmother did, brings a whole different dimension and meaning to the sense of life and what it means. I think that even if, thankfully, I did not experienced war in my life, the fact that it impacted so much people I deeply love makes me be more aware of what is going on in our world nowadays. When I see little kids escaping, or drown or hurt, scared or crying my mind goes back to my mom’s in those moments and it hurts to see that happen again and again.
EP: 250 artists from 25 different countries! It sounds like a mammoth effort! Where did you find all the artists and how have you managed to co-ordinate it all?
CA: It is a mammoth effort but also very rewarding. At first I started with a group of friends and colleagues who were interesting in seeing what we could do with the story and more people became interested. As time went on, we reached out to schools to look for students and junior artists to handle the asset creation and then we’ve been able through social media, word of mouth and services like Zerply.com to find some amazing talent all across the world who are just super excited to be working on such a passion filled project that is hoping to make a difference. Coordinating all of this has been a big effort, especially for our producer, Andrea Emmes, who works hard everyday with her team to help make sure that we are as organized as we can be, stay up on communications and remind us all what we have to do. It’s a big job and with hundreds of people around the globe, which can be a bit intimidating but also really exciting and fulfilling!
EP: ‘Mila’ has been in the works for several years now (see q 3 re the mammoth effort). When can we expect it to be released?
CA: Great question and a little hard to answer. Since we are 100% volunteer based, we rely on the schedules of our volunteers which fluctuates. We are in solid place right now, working hard everyday, about halfway through animation and really ramping up with lighting and CFX/FX. We’d love to be finished by 2017. If we’re able to reach our goal for our Indiegogo campaign, that will allow us to move faster as we’ll be able to get the software, hardware and other daily production needs taken care of.
EP: We were very moved by the trailers – children are often those we think of last in times of war. From what we’ve seen Mila still seems to maintain a positive attitude, even in the midst of all the destruction. What message do you hope viewers will take away from the film?
CA: Mila is thematically, a heavy topic and not always easy to see, but in trying to portray the harsh truth of the situation of the bombings that occurred in Trento, Italy during WW2, we are also trying to show the audience how Mila, a five-year-old little girl perseveres through the heartache, loss, destruction and is able to dig deep within herself and find hope and joy and the ability to “start again”. I really hope that people walk away from the film feeling like yes, hard things happened, or will happen but we can make a choice to make a difference. To make a change that can help not only ourselves but others. We really hope to start conversations between young and old about the hardships of war and how the lasting effects of these tragic times can do to a child, who then grows up as an adult still haunted by the memories.
EP: Can you describe the techniques you’ve used in making the film?
CA: Mila is a high quality CG animated short film. Even if we are a volunteer based project we are creating a quality that is no less than the quality of the big studios. The core group is formed by very seasoned artists that want to dedicate their time only to see the best images up on the big screen.
After the script was ready we storyboarded it a few times until we locked the story and created the story reel that serves as a blue print to the entire production. This process is extremely important as it basically is the foundation of the story. If the story is not there no matter how great the visuals are the film won’t be memorable. After than Art Direction, Character Design, Production Design work together to create the images that will inform the next departments like Modeling, Rigging, Look Development, Matte Painting. Once models are finalized they are rigged and prepared to be animated. At the same time Layout is using the story reel as a reference to create shots. The work that pre production did is not only used by these departments but also by Lighting that will follow the painting by the art department group to create the right mood, lighting and atmosphere. During this second phase, once shots are created Character Effects are creating the simulations for hair and cloths once animation is approved and the Effects Artists are working on the effects that need to be created to bring all together and deliver the different layers that will be combined with what lighting generates into compositing. It’s a hard process because when working in CG you don’t really see the final result until the very end. There is lot of imagination that needs to fill the gaps for the longest time. If everyone worked together and all goes as directed the final results is worth the wait!
EP: We’ve mentioned that ‘Mila’ is a mammoth effort. How can our readers help you with the project?
CA: There are many ways to help. First you could help spread the word about the film, our efforts and about our fundraising campaign so we can finish the film and start the process of getting it out there so we can have those important conversations. Second, is if every reader gave just $5 to our campaign, we would be well on our way to getting fully funded. We have a lot of great perks in our campaign, but we also have a $5 Perk called, ‘All Things Digital’ that includes some cool stuff, but I think one of the best parts of that perk is the digital version of our ‘Art of Mila’ book. Here is the link: https://goo.gl/geZ67M We also have a referral contest going on for everyone who has already contributed, whether it’s $1 or $10,000. You can get a unique link when you log into Indiegogo and go to our page. Click on the link and then send that out to everyone you know. When people use that link to contribute, you will get “credit” which will then put you in the running for some amazing prizes, like our Mila Maquette.
To find out more about ‘Mila’, please visit their official website where you can also sign up for their mailing list. You can also follow them on Twitter, Instagram, subscribe to their Youtube and like them on Facebook. The makers of ‘Mila’ are aiming to raise $60,000 (US) but even the smallest donation can help. You can find more details about it here.