Annecy 2019: The BreadWinner’s Nora Twomey On Creating Authentic Art

by Tito W. James

At this years Annecy Animation Festival we were treated to an in-depth conversation with Nora Twomey (The Breadwinner) and how she broke into the animation industry. Coming from humble beginnings in Ireland and losing her father at an early age; Twomey turned to drawing to express feelings that she could not articulate verbally. Communicating emotion through visuals became a staple of her approach from her earliest student films to the moving story of The Breadwinner.

Twomey’s approach to creating stories about those different from herself Twomey tries to find the commonalities. She asks “How can I relate to this person? What if I was their wife or mother?” Using this method she was able to identify and authentically portray characters ranging from an 11-year-old Afghani girl to a member of the Taliban.

In Towmey’s view, character comes first. Whether you communicate the character through a compelling design or a script; their identity is still the primary focus. Twomey also bases character traits off of people she knows to add authenticity.

During her talk Twomey advocated for putting your pain and truth into your art. She believes that understanding “the hero’s journey” is a good start but storytellers can’t be too structural otherwise it will come across as mechanical.

When describing her management style Twomey emphasized the importance of maintaining team morale. She is not afraid to look foolish especially during the rough storyboarding phase, where she acts out every part. Twomey also brought her kids to work as a reminder that we’re all human and have lives outside of work. Maternity and femininity can be normalized and it’s up to female animators to change the atmosphere of their work environment.

In closing Twomey spoke about the future. Even with a strong commercial push to make CGI films Twomey and Cartoon Saloon choose to work in 2D because they want to make something beautiful that will hold up well over time. While she is immensely proud of The Breadwinner, Twomey wants her future films to reach a wider audience. It was never her intention to make stories for an arthouse elite. So, for Cartoon Saloon’s next film, My Father’s Dragon, they will be partnering with Netflix for distribution.

It’s good to see that streaming platforms are allowing hand drawn animation to reach an audience and I eagerly await Nora Twomey’s next film.

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