"After a failed experiment, a scientist finds himself sharing his body with a hundred people."
Symbiosis is a highly creative short film by French animator Paul Raillard about a scientist who seeks to gain superpowers through an experiment. Created as his graduation project at Émile Cohl school, the film features a crowd of characters (with two distinct ones), a mad scientist theme and an unusual internal conflict.
Staging is very original, Symbiosis is the first film reviewed on this site whose staging takes place on a character’s skin (for a good number of shots). Other locations include a rural area, inside a building and outer space. The film employs a non-realistic mise-en-scène, this allows the director to portray characters with lots of freedom and creativity. A stylized aesthetic is used, with an exceptional amount of detail (clearly an ambitious project for a solo effort). Iconography follows that of mad scientist films, and includes machines, buttons, switches, lights, pipes, etc.
Conflict is built in an interesting way, as the main character absorbs the others and their identities surface within his own, preventing him from achieving his goals. This turns it into an unusual case of internal conflict.
Also worth noting is the way shot sizes are handled, the script required use of very tight shots edited with wider ones. Visual rhythm has been handled very proficiently, the director employed all kinds of camera moves (pans, tilts, dollies, cranes, camera shakes, zooms, etc.), combined with editing to build continuity and speed up rhythm. A good amount of effort has clearly been dedicated to polishing and fine tuning the coreography of camera moves and transitions.
What makes it work so well? Remarkable creativity, humor, plenty of surprises and playful non-realistic staging.
Director Paul Raillard kindly shared with us some words on the conception of the film:
The initial idea was to revisit the myth of Frankenstein. At first, I was aiming for a much darker story. It took me some time and a lot of re-writing before I thought that the creator could also be the creature. The situation was so silly I decided to try something more fun. And on an animator perspective, the idea of two characters fighting each other in the same body was really appealing.
The film is a kind of an ego death. Body integrity, boundary dissolving with the other, those are strong emotions. Something I thought was powerful enough to justify why my characters are running in all directions. But when I first started writing, I had no idea those were the subjects I wanted to talk about, it all came up gradually.
It took me a year to complete Symbiose and almost four months just to get the storyboard ready ! Of course I was helped by my teachers (Symbiose is my graduation movie) especially on how to organize yourself and how not getting overwhelmed by all the work.
I actually broke my thumb while working on the animation, I couldn’t draw for a month so I did the sound design while my finger was recovering !