Toon of the month: You Look Like Me

Palimpsests of passing humanity by Canadian veteran Pierre Hébert.

Chris Robinson

Web exclusive

During his long career making animated films for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Pierre Hébert was known for his abstract experimental work (Op Hop – Hop Op, 1966; Around Perception, 1969), along with social/politically charged films such as La Plante humaine (1996) and Memories of War (1983).

Hébert retired from the NFB in 1999 but carried on as an independent animator, continuing to explore and expand his interest in experimentation through live animation performances, cross-discipline collaborations, live action/animation hybrids (e.g. Thunder River, 2011) and time-lapse video installations. His latest film, You Look Like Me (2014), is an inspired collaborative effort that fuses all of Hébert’s long-standing themes while bridging both narrative and abstract techniques.

The roots of You Look Like Me are also quite multi-layered. A Quebec children’s TV writer, Paule Marier, wrote the original text. In 2014 her partner, Quebec musician René Lussier (with whom Hébert had collaborated in the 1980s), turned the text into a song. Then another Quebec musician, Jim Corcoran, recorded the text in English for a radio show he hosted.

Corcoran then sent the English version back to Lussier and suggest he create new music over the rerecorded text. Lussier obliged. After listening to the soundtrack, the duo felt that images would enhance the work.

Hello Pierre Hébert.

He received the work as a completed soundtrack and was instantly attracted to the balance of text, narration and music, along with the social and and political themes that paralleled strands of his own films.

Hébert, though, didn’t start from scratch. [That was a pun!] The images, like the text and music, came out of a long process. He’d been animating heads and faces in a series of live performances called Tropismes. For You Look Like Me he took video captures of different Tropismes performances and superimposed them on top of new drawings. According to Hébert, it took “either took three months or three years. It came from a long process but the final work was quick.”

You Look Like Me captures the struggle to recollect a fleeting encounter and reconstruct it as tangible memory. Through a memory of the eyes, the narrator puts together a picture of not one image but an entire world, of not one boy (incredibly, the final image was not the inspiration for the original text) but humanity. The result is a staggering and affecting work that touches on loss, exile, identity and memory.

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