Bark: … and then often not picking up after Tulip when she “fouls the footway.” People had different standards in the 1950s, but I’m wondering if it was difficult for you to illustrate irresponsible dog-owner behaviors without commenting on them?
Paul: Poop-picking laws only began in the late 1970s here, and even later in Europe. But [Tulip] was out on the farm or the woods when she pooped without him picking it up. Not on the street. Back in the ’50s and ’60s in Europe responsible dog owners trained their dogs to poop on the street, next to the sidewalks, what was considered the gutter. Streets were swept early, every morning, even in Communist countries.
Bark: Christopher Plummer was close to 80 when he recorded the voice of Ackerley, even though Ackerley was in his fifties during his Tulip years.
Paul: I had a different type of personality in mind. Specifically, Jeremy Irons, because I had met him briefly in London, through a friend, many years ago. I spent the whole afternoon with him. He came with his dog and his wife; he’s a great dog lover. So I really wanted him, and when I read Ackerley I heard Jeremy’s voice, his delivery and personality — which is so different from Christopher Plummer’s. After we were told Jeremy Irons couldn’t do it, we decided on Christopher Plummer, which made things easier anyway because we didn’t have to go to London to record him. All the other British speaking parts then turned out to be available in New York — and very good ones, too. To tell you the truth, and you might find this hard to believe, I had no idea who Christopher Plummer was. I still haven’t seen The Sound of Music.
Bark: The way you portray dogs in your films is never sentimental, and yet there’s great affection and love. Where do you think that restraint comes from?
Paul: I love and am in awe of nature. So I understand nature, I understand that dogs don’t think like humans and are nothing like humans at all. And it’s what I respect in dogs. I think from a very early age I was in awe of the strangeness of the relationship between dogs and humans — that it can at all exist. It has been important to me throughout my career to portray nature accurately. From a very young age, I disliked Disney and loved The Little Prince because the fox explains to the boy [in The Little Prince] what he must do to tame him, the fox. If the fox would know this, wasn’t he already tame? But instinctively — I was seven or eight at the time — I understood that it shows Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s understanding of nature. He wasn’t violating any rules, whereas Disney violated all the rules of nature. That’s what I want our film to be: the opposite of 101 Dalmatians. So that people would not want to buy a dog after they saw Tulip. like too many people do who watch Disney movies.
Bark: This is your second animated dog movie, following the wonderful Still Life with Animated Dogs. Which dog behaviors and movements are the most difficult to draw and animate?
Paul: The subtle facial expressions — for instance when the ears drop down to signal submission; or fold back, signaling aggression; or somewhere in between those two, to signal fear. How do you get the precise shape and motion just right in a succession of 12 two-dimensional pen-and-ink drawings? And just think of what goes into the body and four legs of a lying-down dog when he suddenly stands up and turns 180° at the same time. Consider even the wagging of a tail, viewed in direct profile. Think of a Jack Russell’s stubby tail wagging left and right while watching it from the height of another dog, in profile. Many animators will avoid that view altogether, or end up drawing the tail pumping in and out of the dog’s rectum.
Sandra: The painting of their coats [is the most difficult]. I don’t use flat colors. Each frame is a small painting by itself and Tulip was made of six colors, painted with texture and blended together. The coat patterns and spots had to be kept, frame to frame, consistent with her body actions.