The Inventor, the directorial feature debut of Oscar-nominated Ratatouille writer Jim Capobianco, will hit U.S. theaters on September 15.

The film is a stop-motion musical about the latter years of Leonardo da Vinci’s life, when he spent time as part of the French court after leaving Italy. In France, the inventor found greater freedom to experiment with his timeless inventions and spend time in the company of the audacious Princess Marguerite.

The Inventor was written and directed by Capobianco, who produced alongside Robert Rippberger. Celebrated stop-motion specialist Pierre-Luc Granjon (Four Seasons in the Life of Léon) co-directed and stop-motion vet Kim Keukeleire (Fantastic Mr. Fox, My Life as a Zucchini, Chicken Run) was animation director. Don Hahn, whose producer credits include The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, executive produced. The film is a three-country co-production between Curiosity Studio in Ireland, Foliascope in France, and Aerial Contrivance Studios and SIE Films in the U.S.

We caught up with Capobianco ahead of the film’s release to talk about the challenges of directing his first feature, why stop motion is the perfect medium for a film about Leonardo da Vinci, and the aesthetic choices he and his team made to add depth to the emotions portrayed by puppets.

Cartoon Brew: You’ve got an incredible resume, but this is your first feature as a director. What made this the right time and the right film to make your feature debut?

Jim Capobianco: I just wanted to make a longer-form film. Everything I’ve done up to this point has been helping other people make their films, and it’s been a great career. I’ve worked with some great people on some great movies, and I’ve been happy to help everybody. But I directed some shorter projects and enjoyed working with all the different artists, so moving into a longer format felt right. I also wanted to challenge myself. I made a Leonardo short film [in 2009], which made me want to explore the character even more. A feature gives you more room to play and more territory to cover, so when I decided to make a feature, I had a few ideas, but I decided on this one.

When did you start working on the film, and when did production start?

It had been developing for a long time behind the scenes. I would tinker with it at night and on weekends. I met Robert Rippberger, who became my co-producer, around 2012. He was producing and trying to do his own directing at the time. We hit it off, and he said he might be able to help find money for my project. He had this energy to him, so we teamed up and started looking for money. We started in L.A. and eventually started talking to people in Europe. We almost did the film in Ireland, and then we had a producer in Italy that we nearly worked with. But every time it felt like we had a plan put together, it turned into a dead end. The whole time, though, we were building relationships. Finding the right partners and financing took the most time. It took 12 years from “I’m going to make this film” to when we started actual production.

When did you decide you wanted to do this film using stop motion? And why?

As soon as I started thinking about doing a feature, I started asking myself how I wanted to do it. The original short was done using hand-drawn animation, but at the time, I was thinking, “Well, 2d animation is kind of going away.” This was when Disney sold off the desks and turned to computer animation. If you pitched a 2d animated movie at the time, executives would think you were crazy. It would have to be cg. The other thing happening around the same time was a resurgence in stop-motion animation. Wes Anderson did Fantastic Mr. Fox, Laika was showing up, and Aardman was still making great films. Henry Selick launched Cinderbiter. With all of this going on, I thought stop motion would be the way to go and that I could point to all these other films when I was pitching. Stylistically, when thinking about Leonardo da Vinci, I felt the film had to be made using a handcrafted animation style. Stop motion felt right because it was engineered with armatures and constructed and painted. I love combining techniques, so putting some hand-drawn scenes in also made sense. By doing that, we could do some zany animation things beyond the limitations of stop motion.

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