An animated fantasy feature film

AQUARICA – Concept art by François Schuiten & Benoît Sokal © 2015 – All rights reserved


Aquarica was born out of a collaboration between Martin Villeneuve, writer, director, producer and TED2013 speaker, and European comic book masters François Schuiten & Benoît Sokal. Villeneuve started working on the script in 2012, after making his striking feature film debut with the effects-laden vision of the future, Mars et Avril, upon which he collaborated with Schuiten. Aquarica will be an animated fantasy feature film – Villeneuve will direct, while Schuiten & Sokal will act as production designers. The film will be produced by ITEM 7 in Canada, in co-production with Europe and/or Asia, and the project will first be adapted into a comic book by Sokal himself! The 134 pages album will be published by Rue de Sèvres in Fall 2016.

Being able to work with Schuiten & Sokal, two of his childhood heroes, is both a great move forward in his career and an incredible encouragement of his artistic approach. With Aquarica, Martin wants to explore new writing avenues and expand his visual language in a completely fictional world. Since childhood, he has cultivated a great sensitivity to the world of comic books and an intense desire to correctly translate this singular language into cinema, making him uniquely suited as a director to carry out this film.

AQUARICA – Concept art by François Schuiten & Benoît Sokal © 2015 – All rights reserved


The story takes place in 1932. One day, the inhabitants of Roodhaven – a once flourishing whaling port – discover a strange boat washing up on shore. It is assembled out of various bits and pieces of whaling ships that have long-since disappeared. Aboard this vessel, they find a young woman, Aquarica, who presents herself as the great-granddaughter of Jeremy Connolly, the captain of the schooner “Aquarica”, lost at sea over a hundred years before. She speaks of her people, who live on a mysterious island out in the middle of the ocean; an island that has, almost imperceptibly, started to slowly move northward, as if it have become alive, responding to a strange and irresistible call. What if the famous legend of the giant whales were true? Sailors the world over have heard about these mythic sea-beasts known as “mastodonwhales”, but no one has ever seen one. These gigantic whales are said to float in a state of near-lethargy at the heart of warm sea currents, their backs covered with mineral soil. A luxurious vegetation springs from these camouflaged garden-backs, even giving rise to an indigenous wildlife and an isolated tribe of humans. But once every hundred years, the mastodonwhales set out upon a voyage, back toward the frozen waters of their birth, in order to reproduce. For the love of Aquarica, a young scientist, John Greyford, will try to save the people of the island and above all preserve the mastodonwhale from the crazed and murderous whaling fleet of Captain Will Baltimore, fierce commander of the fastest whaling ship in history, the “Slayer”.

AQUARICA – Concept art by François Schuiten & Benoît Sokal © 2015 – All rights reserved


Aquarica metaphorically tackles the theme of climate change, through the prism of a beautiful love story and a quest full of unexpected twists and reveals. The story takes place in a parallel world in order to better expose and dramatize the paradoxes we face today: nature created us, nurtured us and we are part of it, yet we are altering its delicate equilibrium. In the world of this film, the boundaries between science and myth are blurred, stimulating the viewers’ imagination, questioning our relationship with nature, and pushing the limits of what we think is visually possible. Full of strange, otherworldly technologies, this fantastical, ultra-modern animated movie will deliver us into a thought-provoking and visually stunning narrative universe that will dazzle the imagination.

Although Aquarica raises important questions and deals with matters of import in today’s society, it is first and foremost a deeply entertaining story, intended to appeal to a wide audience. It is indeed easy to grasp the stakes of this adventure and to identify with its endearing and deeply human characters. Furthermore, the outstanding artwork from Schuiten & Sokal and the astonishing inventiveness behind Martin Villeneuve’s first feature film, betoken a very exciting creative fusion.

Due to his extremely tight budget, Martin invested seven years of his life and his crew worked for a fraction of their normal salary to bring Mars et Avril to the screen. It is a true miracle that he cannot possibly repeat a second time. However, Aquarica will surely benefit from all the lessons learned from this first feature – the tricks and techniques developed to reduce the budget while maximizing the end result. As with Mars et Avril, each shot of Aquarica will be carefully planned through an animatic of the whole film, leaving nothing to chance and putting creative and financial resources to full and efficient use.

AQUARICA – Concept art by François Schuiten & Benoît Sokal © 2015 – All rights reserved


François Schuiten was born in Brussels, Belgium on April 26th, 1956. At the age of 16, he published his first comic, consisting of 5 black and white pages in the French magazine Pilote. During his studies at the Saint-Luc Institute, he met Claude Renard, with whom he created two books: Aux médianes de Cymbiola and Le Rail. Schuiten’s brother Luc also worked with him several times for the series Terres Creuses. His love of architecture became apparent in the series Les Cités Obscures (published in English by Atomic Vision as The Obscure Cities), an evocation of fantastic, partly imaginary cities that he created with his friend Benoît Peeters since 1982. Also, Schuiten designed numerous posters, illustrations and Belgian stamps, worked as a scenographer for metro stations and World’s Fair pavilions, and as a production designer for a few movies: GwendolineToto le HérosTaxandriaThe Golden CompassMr. Nobody and Mars et Avril.

BENOÎT SOKAL – Biography

Benoît Sokal (born on June 28th, 1954 in Brussels) is a Belgian comic book artist and video game developer, best known for his series Inspector Canardo. He studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc in Brussels, where he met François Schuiten. He began drawing for À Suivre in 1978. He created the Inspector Canardo series, featuring a depressed anthropomorphic duck detective with a penchant for cigarettes, alcohol and femmes fatales, before working on other titles. Later he joined the software developer Microïds and designed the adventure games Amerzone, Syberia and Syberia II. He then founded his own game company, White Birds Productions, where he created the adventure game Paradise published through Ubisoft.


TED2013 speaker Martin Villeneuve (born on March 13th, 1978) is a Montreal-based screenwriter, director and producer. He studied film at Concordia University and graphic design at Université du Québec à Montréal. In 2002, he received an award from the advertising agency Sid Lee for the quality of his portfolio. In the years that followed, he worked as an artistic director with this agency and especially for Cirque du Soleil. In this capacity, he helped create award-winning advertising campaigns for shows like Zumanity and Corteo. As an author, Martin Villeneuve has written and created the comic book La voix du tonnerre, as well as the two acclaimed graphic novels Mars et Avril.

In 2012, he completed his first feature film as writer-director-producer, Mars et Avril (world premiere in Karlovy Vary, 20 international festivals, 3 awards, 9 Canadian nominations including one for Best Adaptation, and a TED Talk). In 2014, he directed the short film Imelda, which won 3 awards including one for Best Actor at the 12th Prends ça court ! Gala. He is now working with comic book masters Benoît Sokal and François Schuiten on an animated fantasy feature film for ITEM 7, Aquarica, on a comedy feature based on his short film Imelda to be produced by GO Films, on a sci-fi movie with Pressman Film in Los Angeles, The Other World, as well as on From Beyond, based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story, for Darius Films & Shoreline Entertainment.

Photo of filmmaker Martin Villeneuve, April 2015
Martin Villeneuve