If you had to describe the new animated picture «Ratatouille» in one sentence, it would be: An American rat in Paris. This is the story of a young rat that dreams of becoming a chef in the French capital. Just a few days before the movie opened at Greek theatres, Kathimerini met up with one of the brains behind this sensitive and restless little rodent and his friends, supervising animator Mark A. Walsh. This true-blue Californian – easy and laid-back, smiling and enthusiastic about his work – likes to say he’s Californian rather than American. «You could say California is another country,» he says, on the defensive about his country’s foreign policy. But the conversation turns to «Ratatouille» and takes on a more light-hearted tone. As supervising animator, Walsh was one of the people responsible for overseeing and coordinating the army of animators that breathed life and soul into Remy, the rat, and the other characters in the movie. «We had teams working on different parts of the movie. My role was to ensure continuity from one scene to the next,» he explains. «I had to parcel out responsibilities, say who would design which scene, make sure that the director would get exactly what he wanted and the ultimate goal was that it would all look like it had been done by one person at the end of the day.» Walsh explains how «Ratatouille» took four full years to complete. The result is impressive not just for the high quality of its esthetic, but also for how alive the characters appear on screen. «You begin with a barrage of discussions with screenwriters and the director in order to sketch the characters: who is this character, what does he like, what does he want, what are his fears and obsessions? You always have a starting point. For example, the strong or bad characters are normally shown in triangular or square shapes; they are pointy, their shoulders stick out. The softer, quieter characters are rounder, fluffier. Mickey Mouse, for example, is made up of circles. This is why you have to know the characters you are designing from the very start. You may be able to show two characters shaking hands quite well on a technical level, but what is going on underneath? Maybe they hate each other and they’re pretending they don’t. Maybe it’s love at first sight. These hidden desires and emotions have to come across in the drawing. We always have to ask these kinds of questions.» The Pixar team (who have already given us such gems as «Finding Nemo,» «The Incredibles» and «Cars») has achieved truly impressive results in terms of realism, in the expressions and gestures of each individual character. «This was most certainly the hardest thing of all,» says Walsh, «especially given that drawing cartoons is an extremely tiring process. One grimace, one look, one movement of the eyebrow, the cheeks, anything, takes work. Synchronizing the lips and the words is not enough; the feeling comes out behind the synchronization. Body language is the key here. We animate not just the body movements, but the thoughts and feeling that are inside the body. Isn’t that what we do in daily life? Try to read what someone is thinking or feeling?» The other serious consideration for the creators of «Ratatouille» was to ensure that their characters were not one-dimensional. «Colette, for example, is a tomboy, but she’s still very much a woman,» notes Walsh. «She is not your usual fairytale princess. So, just as in life, you must have characters with contradictions and this is a huge challenge for animators. People are not one-dimensional and the same goes for cartoon characters.» «Ratatouille» is doing very well in America right now, «But not as well as in Europe, where it rocks!» says Walsh. «Our previous movie, ‘Cars,’ had a more American subject, but here, with Paris as the backdrop and a fancy restaurant as the set – well, what could be more European?» For all his enthusiasm about Europe’s warm reception, he seems a little bit put off when we tell him that there’s a dubbed version showing in Greece. As much as we explain that the Greek public certainly doesn’t enjoy missing the wonderful voices of Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole or Janeane Garofalo (though dubbed versions of Pixar movies in Greece are extremely well done) and that subtitles do not detract at all from the beauty of the image, he remains sceptical. His thoughts however are not turned to the subtitles as he responds: «Of course, you’re in Greece. You must hear Greek.» Country boy’s culinary dream Remy, a young country rat, dreams of becoming a chef in Paris. When he arrives in the big city he discovers that his idol has died, so he must strike an alliance with the garbage boy of a top-class restaurant to sneak his way in and learn the culinary arts from star chef Auguste Gusteau. His family, in the meantime, are concerned how the young rodent will fare in a world where they are so despised. «Ratatouille» features the voices of Patton Oswalt as Remy, Ian Holm as Skinner, Lou Romano as Linguini, Brian Dennehy as Django, Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego, Brad Garrett as Gusteau and Janeane Garofalo as Colette.