Stepping into Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia), Marcell Jankovics’ Hungarian animation masterwork, looks like strolling by a fantastical dimension the place colours and shapes circulate freely to convey a legend to life. It’s a spellbinding expertise that places viewers in an altered way of thinking. It’s been a extremely regarded work amongst critics and students since its 1981 premiere, nevertheless it’s been unavailable within the United States till this 12 months, when Arbelos Films’ 4K restoration introduced it to arthouse theaters and streaming rental.
Adapted from a folktale widespread amongst Eastern Europe’s nomadic peoples, White Mare is a mesmerizing feat of psychedelic artistry, epic in ideological and sensible scope. Jankovics’ 81-minute saga begins as a white mare goddess provides beginning to a few sons who’re destined to save lots of the universe from the three multi-headed dragons ruling the Underworld. Youngest brother Treeshaker, whose facial options and glow mimic the solar, leads the hunt, which calls for braveness, camaraderie, and a righteous resolve to revive cosmic order — and probably discover romance.
Since the story takes all its main cues from historic knowledge, Son of the White Mare follows an archetypal hero’s-journey narrative. Treeshaker is basically a knight in shining armor, rescuing princesses and defeating evil. But even for viewers who know precisely the place it’s going, the colourful, shape-shifting imagery is dazzling. To match his inventive ambitions and interpretation of the core messages, Jankovics blended many variations on the identical fable.
“I know of 55 different versions of this fairytale, of which I used about five or six,” the artist instructed Polygon through electronic mail from Budapest. He breaks down the variations of the story into two predominant teams, based mostly on their variety of protagonists.
Over the centuries, many extra particulars have survived from the model of the story with 4 heroes. But Jankovics opted to give attention to the variations with three predominant figures as his baseline. He believed audiences wouldn’t tolerate watching the identical actions repeat 4 occasions. Three celestial warriors, three evil beasts, and three battles have been sufficient, he says, to drive the concepts dwelling.
Mythology is the driving engine of all of Jankovics’ options so far (The Tragedy of Man, Song of the Miraculous Hind, and Hungary’s first-ever animated characteristic, Johnny Corncob), in addition to his Oscar-nominated quick “Sisyphus” and his tv initiatives. In these tried, examined, and timeless tales of extraordinary creatures and the battle between mortals and the divine, he has discovered the purest type of storytelling.
“They are eternally valid,” Jankovics says. “They do not pick at the surface, but instead, they touch the soul, they penetrate the human subconscious and connect us to the cosmos.”
For this motive, he initially envisioned the movie as a narrative for younger viewers, particularly pre-school kids, who are usually extra receptive to fairy tales. Jankovics believes these creating minds have to be acquainted with essentially the most important issues in life, so the teachings on bravery, forgiveness, and fraternity in Son of the White Mare have been geared toward them.
Upon its preliminary European launch in 1981, the movie discovered some success with its goal demographic, however as drug use turned extra widespread, youngsters and younger adults started to have fun the film as a psychedelic murals. Although the director understands the correlation between his creation and the way it’s perceived by viewers in an altered way of thinking, he thinks of it as a curious byproduct that doesn’t derive from his precise intent. “The effects of dreaming and substance use are similar. Still, I maintain that the film is about the dream world of fairy tales,” he says.
Son of the White Mare compelled Jankovics and his staff to sort out the technological difficulties of attaining sharp geometrical designs, astonishing shifting landscapes, and equally fluid characters, in a world the place animation was nonetheless being executed on cels by hand. One key problem for him was the connection between the visible layers in animation.
“I was always bothered by the stylistic differences between the backgrounds and the figures in traditional animation, the main reason for which is that the figures painted on the cel are framed by contours, and in the backgrounds, if there is contour at all, it is absorbed into the paper as though it didn’t exist,” he says. He feels the state of affairs is analogous with the colours — backgrounds have been usually painted on paper, which dulls the colours, as a result of the fabric absorbs the paint, versus how the paint stands out on the plastic cels used for characters and parts in movement.
In order to harmonize these parts in Son of the White Mare, he used an uncommon inking and portray methodology: artists needed to shade every body rigorously utilizing a paint sprayer, with the caveat that if the gear unintentionally spat on the cel, it needed to be thrown out. Hands-on to a fault, Jankovics himself was accountable for the movie’s illustrated storyboard, its whole structure, the background sketches, and the determine designs. He additionally animated round 43,00zero frames on his personal.
Jankovics considers content material and type to be intrinsically associated, so he used primordial symbolism to outline how the characters have been designed. The face of his protagonist, Treeshaker, has a round form that represents perfection and wholeness (the solar). He shines the brightest, to indicate off his valiant character and his pure abilities as a frontrunner. Irontemperer, his stern and assured brother, sports activities triangular designs signifying the steadiness and concord of a three-way alliance. Meanwhile, the drop type that characterizes Stonecrumbler, the least severe of the three siblings, illustrates an everlasting cycle, and the yin-yang.
Conversely, the angular outlines within the antagonists denote aggression. The monsters Treeshaker finally fights aren’t dragons in a standard sense — they’re creatures that evoke fashionable weaponry, resembling machine weapons and navy tanks.
The shade palette is equally symbolic. Each section of the day has its personal hue: the evening is darkish blue, daybreak is turquoise, morning is inexperienced, midday is yellow, afternoon is orange, sundown is purple, and from there, purple provides means again to the evening. Even the round or monitoring actions of the digital camera are used to strengthen Jankovics’ metaphorical use of shapes.
Son of the White Mare was produced at Pannónia Filmstúdió, Hungary’s largest animation studio, the place Jankovics had a long-standing involvement. As a state-run enterprise, reasonably than a non-public enterprise with extra profit-driven monetary pursuits, the studio gave him free rein over his work, and that freedom reveals in White Mare. It’s visibly the results of a risk-taking visionary being given the freedom and assets to materialize one thing lavish and time-consuming to his satisfaction. That’s a luxurious few animators have.
Jankovics began working at Pannónia in 1960, when he was nonetheless an adolescent, and shortly climbed the ranks from assistant to animator. By the time he directed his first characteristic in 1973, he was a veteran who had developed his personal stylistic sensitivities organically, in an surroundings that fostered his method to animated storytelling. Pannónia’s mandate was to create pastoral, historic, and people tales about Hungary. Jankovics match proper in.
Back within the 1990s, Jankovics bought a small style of a unique work philosophy, when director Roger Allers (The Lion King) invited him to return seek the advice of on Kingdom of the Sun, which later — after a turbulent transition — turned The Emperor’s New Groove. Jankovics was already well-known for his intricate designs based mostly on historic folklore, so he was employed to translate a Quechua-Inca creation fable into an illustrated screenplay that served because the movie’s prologue, again when the movie had a solemn tone.
Though the work was in the end futile and dissimilar to how he had operated for many years at that time, he remembers the expertise fondly. “As The Emperor’s New Groove, it turned a very completely different movie, and nothing got here of my designs, though they paid handsomely,” the director says. “Roger spoke well of me in the profession, I’m featured in the credits as part of the pre-production staff, and I had the chance to spend two weeks at Walt Disney Studios, where I met some great people.”
At 78, Jankovics prefers the immediacy and connection of filmmaking with tangible supplies, but he sees the worth in digital animation because it’s utilized in present productions, particularly compositing. “It is no longer slavish execution, but it presents an opportunity for creative contribution,” he says. He appreciates how pc animation eliminates the illusion-destroying errors inherent to the normal method: the picture is obvious, with no scratches, mud, fingerprints, glare on the cells, or shadows attributable to layering.
Still, Jankovics warns that these advances ought to improve a mission’s stylistic voice, not outline it. Techniques aren’t meant to tell an artist’s artistic freedom, however some creators voluntarily give up their singular visions to ephemeral vogue. Thinking of at this time’s digitized trade, he’s additionally involved that no tangible authentic hint of the inventive work is left behind for posterity when all the pieces solely exists on-line. And although he’s realized to simply accept the thought of utilizing digital help for his subsequent movie mission, Jankovics stays a purist at coronary heart.
“I personally didn’t be taught to attract on the display screen for the straightforward motive that then I’d have needed to cope with all of the corrections manually. I’m too outdated for that. Because of this, what I can acknowledge to be mine from my present mission, Toldi, is on paper, “ he says. “I inform my crew (solely half jokingly) that if a giant hacker deletes all the pieces that’s within the cloud at this time, solely my very own sketches from my movie will stay. That’s fairly miserable, isn’t it?”
In regards to the 40-year delay between Son of the White Mare’s completion and its correct American launch, Jankovics says he doesn’t know why it didn’t attain the States sooner. But he wasn’t too dissatisfied, as a result of even with no business run in America, the movie was chosen among the many 50 Best Animated Films of All Time on the 1984 Olympiad of Animation in Los Angeles. It’s additionally constantly appeared in critics’ polls focused on the best animated features on this planet.
As legendary as the story it depicts, Son of the White Mare has fascinated students and fellow artists because it first emerged, then turned inaccessible. Now, in 2020, in a pristine format, it will get to experience once more with a stronger gallop, reaching farther than ever earlier than. Jankovics says the animation trade has lastly caught up with this beautiful movie: “Some say that it was ahead of its time, and its time has now come.”
Son of the White Mare is offered to lease on Vimeo.