The short animations of Frédéric Back
September 25, 2011 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Frédéric Back was born in 1924 in France, where he studied drawing and lithography. He was lured to Canada by Jack London's stories and Clarence Gagnon's paintings, as well as correspondence with a Canadian pen-pal. Back moved to Canada in 1948, married his pen-pal Ghylaine Paquin, and was hired by Radio Canada at the birth of their television network to create still images for display on and to promote moving pictures. The drawings lead to experiments with animations, which lead to a series of animated shorts, starting with the wordless short Abracadabra (9:23, YT) in 1970. You can read and see more about Frédéric Back on his extensive website, and see more animations inside.

The follow-up to Back's first short came in 1972, with the Inon ou la conquête du feu (Inon or the Conquest of Fire), which is based on the Algonquin legend about Inon, the God of Thunder, who kept fire from humans. A series of adventures follows with a happy ending. [No video found online beyond the three clips on Back's website]

That same year, Back created a second short based on Native American legends, La création des oiseaux (The Creation of Birds) (10:07, YT). The short won best animation at the 1973 Yorkton Film Festival, the longest running film festival in North America.

It would be 3 years until Back's next short, ¿Illusion? (11:31, Tudou), which is a largely wordless short about the miracles of nature versus "magicians of advertising, the promoters of progress and over-consumption."

In 1977, Frédéric Back made a short, Taratata (8:33, YT), in celebration of the parades that used to be held on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.

Tout Rien (All Nothing) (11:00, YT) is a short from 1978 about the greed of humankind. The short was nomination for an Oscar, Back's first nomination.

His next short, Crac! (15:20, YT), was a tribute to Quebec, his adoptive home. For the short, Back won an Oscar, allowing him to undertake more ambitious projects. Unfortunately, while working applying a coat of fixative to a Crac! drawing, the fumes got into his right eye. His eye did not recover, but Back continued to produce art. There is a story-book version of this short, illustrated by Back and written by his wife.

The next, more ambitious project was the 1987 animation, L'homme qui plantait des arbres (The man who planted trees) (30:03, YT, with English and Spanish captions; previously, twice). The film would be Back's first that relied on spoken roles to convey the story. The story resonated with Back as he had planted over 30,000 trees, as a member of the Society to Overcome Pollution, which formed in 1970.

Back's final film, Le fleuve aux grandes eaux (part 2, in French on Daily Motion) (The Mighty River, 24:02, on Google Video in English, with narration by Donald Sutherland) was about the St. Lawrence River. The film was won four awards for animation, and was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.

Frédéric Back is now 87, and is continuing to be recognized for his lifetime of artwork, from his environmental message to a celebration of his work in Japan (10:00, Japanese news clip, with interviews of Back who speaks in French), including a display at the Ghibli Museum (I think -- this part of the Ghibli Museum site is only in Japanese, and the Google auto-translation may not be terribly accurate or clear).

Bonus links:
* Lengthy interview with Back, year unknown.
* Aother lengthy interview, in 1996.
posted by filthy light thief (6 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Working through the links! Great post, as always. Thanks flt.
posted by Wyatt at 5:00 PM on September 25, 2011

His display isn't at the Ghibli Museum but at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art and some other major exhibitions. English description here. He also made a collaborative music video with the band MONKEY MAJIK.

The entire country was talking about it. I guess he is a really famous animator here in Japan.
posted by shii at 5:11 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the clarification and additional information, shii!
posted by filthy light thief at 5:38 PM on September 25, 2011

Also of note: Frédéric Back was not just an animator and illustrator, but also the creator of the huge stained glass mural in Montreal's Place des Arts metro station and a designer of interior spaces, to name some of his other artistic endeavors.

Also also: his website is really, REALLY extensive. The autobiography section is fantastic, and the children's activity kits are very keen.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:12 PM on September 25, 2011

Merci, voleur.
posted by mwhybark at 10:22 PM on September 25, 2011

Amazing post, I saw The Man who planted trees as a kid, to me it's an absolute classic.
posted by SageLeVoid at 4:49 AM on September 26, 2011

« Older Walt Disney's "The Black Hole"   |   How Doctor Who Became My Religion Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments