July 8, 2013

Great Surrealist Imagery: Fantastic Planet and Salvador Dali

Fantastic Planet is a 1973 animated science fiction film set on another planet where alien beings the size of giants keep humans as tiny pets. With a running time of only 72 minutes, it is a beautifully illustrated movie that I could watch again and again for both its excellent story and captivating surrealist imagery. Salvador Dali was an incredibly influential surrealist painter. His most famous work, The Persistence of Memory c. 1931 (pictured below), features the familiar melting clocks that have gained an iconic life of their own.

Watching Fantastic Planet, every scene has some kind of strange and interesting surrealist-style imagery going on. I knew I wanted to take some time to compare this movie with Dali's work, but it wasn't until I began putting these images side by side that I noticed how clearly influential Dali's paintings must have been on Fantastic Planet's illustrators. As Dali himself said, "Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing."

*Note for consistency and clarity purposes in each set of two images the top picture is the painting by Dali (with its title above in big you-can't-miss-it letters.) The second image is a screen shot from the film Fantastic Planet.

Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937
This is an excellent example of two very similar shapes and styles with two different purposes. Salvador Dali is famous for his double images, and this painting is no exception as the swans and craggily trees create a reflection of elephants in the water below. Fantastic Planet has no need for such visual illusions but does borrow the craggily style for their tree-like brambles.

Spider of the Evening, 1940
Look at these shapes! They're stretching and curving and twisting within both works. Check out the way the figure melting over the branch in Dali's painting makes an arc very similar to the object, also on the right, in the below image. Dali often warps and melts recognizable figures and objects within his paintings. Fantastic Planet borrows this organic feel (and those dark shadows) to create alien cosmetics.

The First Days of Spring, 1929
In both images, a path (or possibly stairs in the Dali painting) recedes to a point lying on a flat horizon line far away, giving vastness and depth to the landscape. This use of one-point perspective and a clear horizon line crops up quite a bit throughout both works.

Spectre of the Afternoon, 1930
Shading and elongated shadows give these strange and otherworldly objects presence, depth, and a believable reality within the landscape. I also want to point out that cilindrical object on the left side of Dali's painting. The shape in the middle is very organic and rounded, with what resembles multicolored tentacles coming out of both ends. Now look at the Fantastic Planet screen shot below, the plants lining the walkways follow a similar structure.

The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946
Clear horizon lines again! This time though, Fantastic Planet's horizon undulates with hills while most of Dali's landscapes remain distinctly flat. The Dali painting features creatures with impossibly long and thin legs to support a body high above the ground. Fantastic Planet uses this idea to create a more believable organism. Also, notice the two tiny figures on the ground amongst the legs of both images.

Enigma of My Desire: My Mother My Mother My Mother, 1929
Horizon line and elongated shadows again. There seems to be a pattern here. The shape taking up the majority of the frame in Dali's painting and that tree thing in the back in the below image - both feature organic shapes and dark shadows (again!) for depth. It is not unusual for Dali's paintings to have some kind of sexual undertones, to which the landscapes and foliage of Fantastic Planet lacks.

Three Sphinxes of Bikini, 1947
In this set, the first image features a horizon line that is significantly lower than the one in the second, which creates a view looking straight on to the landscape rather than down. Both of these images feature distinctly muted colors, common throughout both the movie and Dali's works. But I think the most obvious similarity is those three tree-like forms, with the exact same positioning, receding into the background.

The Font, 1930 (detail shot at right)
Both of the works in this post feature a lot of organic, rounded shapes with very little sharp edges or corners. The cubes then provide an excellent contrast and draw your eye right to them.

The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938
Once again, dramatically dark shadows, particularly in the Dali painting, exist among a mostly barren landscape. The positioning here is I think the most similar. That rocky bulge to the right is replaced by two trees below and instead of more cliffs, the movie image simply slopes the land upwards into a hill. There's even a black dot flying in the sky where that cloud sits on the left.

The Persistence of Fair Weather, 1932-34 (detail shot at right)
Another example of one point perspective. Here used to depict a wall receding into the distance. Both walls use texture to avoid a completely flat shape. One has cracks and the other has a mottled coloring revealing an uneven surface.

Labyrinth II, 1941
These tree are similar in their elongated, pointed, oval-like shape. Though the movie image is calmer than the Dali painting, in which many different forms move the eyes across the space.

Geological Justice, 1936
Tiny figures give a mostly barren landscape a sense of scale. Remember in Fantastic Planet humans reside in a world built for beings much larger than we are, shots like this wordlessly emphasize and reiterate this idea.

Geopolitical Child Watching the Birth of a New Man, 1943
Here a common subject, breaking out of an egg, reveals the biggest differences between the Dali paintings and the Fantastic Planet images we have looked at. Fantastic Planet uses consistent surrealist stylization to created a wholly different but believable world. Salvador Dali uses a range of illusions and oddities that lend themselves to interpretation and further meaning to create images that could only exist on his picture-plane.

The paintings in this post are only a small snippet of Salvador Dali's vast body of work and the gorgeous illustrations of Fantastic Planet. And I would never have been able to create this post with all its beautiful Dali paintings without the help of the following excellent online resources: