Sebastiana is a beautiful tale about a young girl and her emotions. After her parents discover that she possesses a special gift, Sebastiana soon becomes the talk of the town. But as the town folks’ fortunes change, they become suspicious of her, and blame her for a string of bad luck and rising tensions. Based on Ela tem olhos de céu by Brazilian author Socorro Acioli, Sebastiana explores themes of prejudice and acceptance, in a way that may resonate with anyone who had an experience of not fitting in.
Cláudio Martins, the films’ creator, knew Sebastiana had to capture the spirit of Brazil’s interior. This is achieved in part by the film’s colour palette, inspired by the clay-like earth of his hometown, Ceará, where, Cláudio says, “the floor is the colour of tile.” With a style that references stop-motion, the short film is a burst of expression that contains no dialogue. The narrative is told instead through mood and emotion — given an uplifting boost by a rich soundtrack scored by Thiago Gobet.
We interviewed Cláudio to hear about Sebastiana and how he created the award winning work. He reveals the processes behind the film’s unique art direction, the tools that made it possible, and the team members who played vital roles on the project. Discover the trailer for Sebastiana below, and read on for insights from its creator!
Claudio, your short film Sebastiana, based on “Ela tem olhos de céu” by Socorro Acioli, was really beautiful. For those who haven’t seen it, how would you describe the story in a short synopsis?
Sebastiana was born with a special gift. Born in a small and poor village in the interior of Brazil, where drought predominates, her gift brings happiness and plenty to many. But when she grows up, her gift ends up causing great pressure for all the residents, bringing many problems for everyone, including herself. It’s a story about acceptance, prejudice and differences. It’s very emotional for me.
Congratulations on the multiple awards the film picked up! Can you tell us about the critical response to the movie?
I really didn’t expect that much. Certainly one of the goals was to put it on festivals. But suddenly we started being selected at various festivals, and even winning awards. Some festival managers sent comments and praise and even suggested other festivals. This is very rewarding coming from people of high standing who work in the film industry. But the greatest satisfaction is knowing that there are people in the interior of Brazil, or Romania, watching Sebastiana.
Who were your collaborators on Sebastiana?
Our crew were so special. Many people believed and followed me when I told them about the project. This was my third short and most guys didn’t know me and still believed in my story and how I wanted the movie. These guys: Rosinaldo Lages, who worked at Disney, trusted me and was willing to animate my project, I couldn’t believe it. Thiago Gobet, who is a conductor and musician, bought the idea of making a film with only the soundtrack. Carlitos Pinheiro, who designed the art direction, created the look and feel of Sebastiana, and Pedro Turano who made the exceptional sets. People like Thales Ayla, who co-wrote the script with me, and Eduardo Peixoto, who was a producer, helped a lot. Fantastic team. I would work another 10 shorts with all of them. But without the blessing of Socorro Acioli, author of the book, it would not have happened. Without the strength that my wife, Raquel Garcia, gave me none of this would have come out of my head and my paper.
The animation style is very unique, could you tell us a little about the style and how it’s done?
As this was a very authorial short, and I had read the book about ten times. I was inspired and set my goal for the short to have a crayon, pastel look, and the animation would have to match that. Let it be something poetic. Something that was more organic, that referred to a stop-motion of pastels and colored chalks.
What is the inspiration behind this style?
I watched many stop-motion movies by Ray Harryhausen (Sinbad etc.) as a child in addition to the traditional 2D animated cartoons. However, the animation style and the organic art of the painting always attracted me to something different. The textures, the latex, it was all inspiring to me as a kid. The hand-painted and animated textures of Disney’s golden age backgrounds were also spectacular. Mary Blair was an amazing and singular artist. All of this sent me back and came to light at Sebastiana.
How did you decide on the colour palette for Sebastiana?
I wanted the palette to be warm, to represent the region’s heat and drought. I’m from Ceará, and in our backlands I’ve already had the chance to visit. The sun is torrential and the houses are colorful. The floor is the color of tile, often orange. The work by artisans made in leather from this region is amazing and inspiring. They are beautiful colors that I would like to have in my movie. And Carlitos Pinheiro understood and had the great idea of making this wonderful art direction.
Were there any key features of Toon Boom Harmony that went into making Sebastiana?
Toon Boom Harmony was an excellent tool. There would be no other. Features like deformers, compositing, all the effects we made inside Harmony, the fact that I can animate and then convert to animate in 2s, the speed of rendering and exporting were essential factors for us to use Harmony as the main tool in the short.
What drew you to the source material, Socorro Acioli’s Ela tem olhos de céu?
I had read Socorro’s book a few years ago. When I lived in Los Angeles I was looking for a children’s story and my intuition and my wife encouraged me a lot to take this book and make it a short film. I immediately called Socorro and asked for her permission. She accepted! And I couldn’t believe it. I asked her to confirm three times to see if it was a dream or reality. She was a godmother, an angel, for the short.
Do you have plans to do any more animated adaptations of Brazilian fiction?
Maybe in the future. Brazilian folklore is immense. We have countless authors with amazing stories. But at the moment I’m focused on some stories I wrote. I published a short story in 2020 that I am now producing an animated short version of, called PASSARUGA. It’s about a curious mutant animal that was in a fossil egg and was born in a desert and lonely world. Without food and alone, he will face loneliness and hunger in the only tree left in the world. In this short I intend to mix stop-motion with tradigital animation in Toon Boom. And soon maybe a feature film based on a Native American legend called KEYA, which I want to do it all in 2D cutout.
Do you think there’s a message or teaching in Sebastiana?
The message I thought with Sebastiana is that people should see what is different and accept it, the way they are. No charges, no labels. Unprejudiced. Just because you’re different doesn’t mean that you have to be isolated, or isolate yourself. It’s subliminal, but it’s a message that I hope the film gets through. A film, in my view, is a transformative and reflective agent and, of course, it will entertain those who watch it, but it really has a meaning because it came into the world.