We all know Wes Anderson. But Wes’s younger brother, — Eric Chase Anderson, is way underrated. He’s an illustrator, documentarian, and novelist. He also played the voice of Kristofferson in the Fantastic Mr. Fox.
In this excerpt from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Criterion Collection edition collectors pamphlet, Eric and Wes share their drawing origin stories and how Eric’s drawings influence Wes’s movies.
It begins with little drawings. Little drawings lead to the set and character details that show up on film:
WES ANDERSON: In a review of somebody else’s movie in the paper the other day, a critic referred to me as a miniaturist or something like that. I guess because I put in a lot of physical details, and I like cooking up extra ideas to add to the sets and costumes, and inventing an imaginary world. But what I’m more inspired by is something that happened to me or someone in my life who had a strong effect on me, or a novel, short story, play, or a movie where the characters moved me, or where I was swept up in it. I do like little drawings, however. We do have stuff in the movies that is tiny, you know? A Swiss Army Knife, a punctuality award pin, something written in the margin of a book.
CRITERION: What’s a little thing in The Life Aquatic?
WA: The Kentucky Zissou fly.
Here they describe how their father’s work notebooks act as inspiration and source material:
ERIC CHASE ANDERSON: Which is one of two pieces of artwork I did for The Life Aquatic. The second is when they get to the bottom of the ocean and Bill Murray takes out a notebook and looks at it.
WA: This notebook is not exactly a crucial element of the story, or a crucial element of anything at all, but it’s personal because to me it’s really inspired by our father’s work notebooks.
ECA: Oh, yeah, right. Exactly.
WA: The way he organizes his stuff is very much, like, this points to that, and the little note indicates this over here, with lots of arrows. His brain is kind of graphic.
ECA: The source material is deeply embedded in our minds.
The Anderson brother’s drawing origin story:
C: Who started drawing first?
WA: Well, I started drawing first, because I had a four-year jump. I’m older.
ECA: I didn’t start drawing until I was in my midtwenties.
ECA: Yeah. I wasn’t necessarily good at it. I had to draw once in college. I had to design a poster for a play I directed. It looks just like my drawings now, except it was a cutout of an ant—like an old Saul Bass cutout—and I labeled the legs of the ant with things from the movie: mystery, car crash, dead brother.
WA: I had three types of drawings that I would obsessively draw. One was trees. Giant trees that people lived in, with people doing motorcycle jumps on one branch, a swimming pool built on another branch, elevators in the trunk, and a helipad.
C: Tree cities?
WA: Tree cities, basically. Then I had imaginary mansions. Then I had giant drum sets that would fill five pages taped together, with a guy in the middle and about two thousand drums.
This is obvious, but drawings make excellent gifts:
ECA: I made a Christmas present for Wes that was a map of this famous country house where I house-sat in Virginia. I didn’t know much about paints. It was something I was doing without really thinking about it. I gave it to Wes, and a year went by. The next Christmas, I made a couple more maps: a house map of where we grew up, with different things that we had experienced as kids, like escape routes from the second floor, you know, a loose floorboard, or where a pencil sharpener was, a strange angle in the bathroom. Wes and I had been collaborating on a Christmas present for my sister, which was a map of a minivan. We talked about it, and we both came up with the text that each of the four kids would have in relation to the van, Then overnight, Christmas Eve, I drew it. It was a good Christmas present.
WA: It was the process of him segueing from the maps being something that represent a space to telling stories—although even the first one that you did had an element of that.
ECA: Wes had an idea that I should make a map for the people at St. John’s, where we shot Rushmore. I sent it to Wes, but I didn’t package it well. It arrived spindled via FedEx, with a hole punched through it. He said, “It’s really good, but I think there’s a couple of changes you can make, and you can do it one more time.” That was fine, because the next time I did it, many more of the ideas were in much better shape to be presentable. Wes liked it so much he said, “There’s no way I’m giving it to St. John’s.”
WA: I made a good dupe for them.
And the process of how Eric’s drawings will influence Wes’s movie’s directly:
C: So, turning to The Royal Tenenbaums—now the drawings precede the making of the film.
ECA: I made wall paper for Richie’s room. First, I made drawings at home really small. Then those went to a warehouse, I think in Queens, where they used blueprint machines to blow up each little tiny drawing. Then they used a stencil to punch through and leave a charcoal line. Then they finished the outlines with a Sharpie.
WA: What it’s supposed to be is, the walls were painted on by Richie Tenenbaum, and they’re his record of the family’s memories. So for Tenebaums, Eric made, one, a set of drawings of all the sets I asked him to do; two, Richie’s drawings on his walls; three, a series of portraits of his sister; and four, the DVD itself— which has, I think, the best cover.
ECA: I have a memory of sitting in a coffee shop in Houston. I was there with Wes, and he was figuring out how to tell the beginning of The Royal Tenenbaums through a tour of the house and how to introduce all this information. He was thinking out loud, and I was kind of following him. It might have been one of those Christmastimes when mapmaking was in the air. I remember him saying, “It’s a map, but it’s not a map on paper. It’s a map in movie style. We have eight minutes of movie map.”
C: How much of this material comes from your shared experiences?
WA: Well, there’s always some inspiration from real life or from my personal experience. Some characters are inspired by a couple of my friends rolled together, and some come from two lines of a play I saw, and some come out of nowhere. There are a few drawings on Richie’s walls, for instance—an image of an archaeological excavation with the mother—which refer to our own past. There’s one thing on Richie’s wall that I didn’t suggest—an image of a day a tiger escaped from the zoo near their house. Well, that’s not in the movie or referred to anywhere. That was something Eric made up. Only now, at this moment, I realize, we should have added that into the movie. That would have been good for that beginning-of-the-movie section where it refers to different things in the family’s history. You can hear Alec Baldwin say . . .
ECA: “One day, a Bengal tiger walked down Archer Avenue.” The kids would be inside the basement, looking out the window through the burglar bars.
WA: What would be the thing he would say after that? There would be a cut to the front page, a tiger in the snow — we would have to make up the newspaper — “The Morning Sun reported that it was killed after eating three dogs and a Siamese.”
ECA: But the drawings sometimes have little bits of echoes of stories that we liked as kids — even if they didn’t really happen to us — because we all traded books and things. Imaginary events can be shared experiences too.
WA: That’s good. That’s what books and movies are. Imaginary events can be shared experiences too.
I find Eric Chase Anderson is similar to the late Jason Polan, in that whenever you see his illustrations, it compels you to pick up a pencil and draw.
That’s the best type of artist.
One response to “Giant tree cities, Map Making, and Christmas presents. Eric Chase Anderson and Wes Anderson talk drawing.”
[…] both my previous films combined), about three months before we started shooting, I asked my brother Eric, a skilled illustrator, to help me create a set of drawings that would include much of the […]