The Incredible Animation of Frédéric Back

With each frame hand-drawn in pencil and smudged into the next, Oscar-winning animator Frédéric Back tells the story of Elzéard Bouffier, a lone shepherd in the Alps near Provence who boldly decides to single-handedly reforest the desolate valley where he lives, one acorn at a time. Not only is the story defiantly romantic, I'm in love with the way Back's patient devotion to each drawing mimics the methodical tree-planting of his main character. Along with being unabashedly earnest and quietly inspiring, it's some of the most stunning and startlingly original animation that I've seen.

I really recommend watching all three parts in one sitting, and especially recommend finding or buying a proper copy of it so you can see it in higher definition, because the detail and motion of it is unreal.

The Man Who Planted Trees is based on the short story by Jean Giono. Christopher Plummer narrates, (Phillippe Noiret does the honors in the original French version).


  1. Wow unrelated but this instantly snapped me back to a childhood memory. Anyone else remember that PBS show where the guy would read a book and this lady would do chalk sketches of scenes from it as he was reading?

    It always pissed me off because he would never read the whole story and would tell you to go the library to get the books but I could never find the books.

  2. A remarkable artistic achievement. Notice, for an example, the articulation and grace in the hands as they move. I am most impressed.

  3. I remember coming across this while looking up john lasseter a couple years ago. beautiful short, those moving camera shots of the town are insane

    1. Found it the guy did the show for 30 years under various names:

      “Cover to Cover” (1965 to 1973 in black and white, and 1974-1975 in color)
      “The Book Bird” (1979) (for Children’s Television International/PBS)
      “Storybound” (1980) (for CTI/PBS)
      “Read It with John Robbins” (1982) (Positive Image Productions)
      “More Books from Cover to Cover” (1987) (PBS)*
      “Books from Cover to Cover (1988) (PBS)*
      “Read On: Cover to Cover” (1994) (PBS)*
      “Cover to Cover” (1996) (PBS)*

      * These have been available from PBS Video in Arlington, VA, in the past but I don’t see them now (

      He also was involved with reader Paul Lally and female artist Rae Owing in:
      “Gather ‘Round” (1978) (CTI).
      “Teletales” (1984) (ATI)

      He may have also been involved with a show about math (

  4. How utterly strange and wonderful.

    Just a few days ago I was inspired by an unexpected character who came to me in a time of fatigue and unease. She, too, is a tree tender, although of a very different sort. I only wish someday I can tell her story in a way as beautiful and moving as this film tells its own.

    ~D. Walker

  5. Rider / Katey: Had an name like Robins or Robbins? One of his programs was “thereby hangs a tale” but there are too many hits on google to deal with.

    * * *
    I recall seeing this film in a theater, in an animation festival I believe.

  6. Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional character, invented by Jean Giono. The story is beautiful and possible but it is still just a story.

    Here’s a real life example of what is possible:

    Permaculture experiment in Jordan


    You really can fix all the world’s problems in a garden.

  7. My art teacher lent me a video of a documentary on a man who did animations in charcoal like this (hell, it’s probably the same guy). I can’t remember the details of the animation, i just remember it was dark and industrialist (i think it was set in Russia), but he drew the next frame in charcoal on top of the previous one after smudging it out, but it left an afterimage of the previous frame behind. It was quite a nice effect.

  8. I was lucky enough to catch this over twenty years ago — and it’s stayed with me ever since.

    Fantastic to see that it’s now out there on the intertubes for everyone to enjoy. Well done, humanity!

  9. My hero for over twenty years. He’s such a beautiful man. I’ve been so honored to meet him twice – once at the Academy of Arts and Sciences tribute and once at SIGGRAPH. At SIGGRAPH I was the first to arrive at the theater to claim a front row seat since he was being interviewed by John Lasseter. It was everything I’d hoped. At the end of his interview he gave out wonderful posters he made for the Kyoto earth summit. It hangs framed in my office.

    His film Crac! is the reason I love animation and what made me become a filmmaker. He has one good eye and still sees more beauty than anyone I’ve ever met. A living example of how to quietly and modestly exceed greatness through caring and compassion. He is as beautiful as his films and my favorite living artist.

  10. I consider this one of the finest achievements in animation and story telling. When I first saw it I was spell bound, not just by the artwork but also by the beauty of the story. I read that the animator says people ask him all the time if the story is true. I wish that there could be more stories like this that quietly motivate toward good without condensation, mockery or being preachy.

  11. Oh, merci mille fois for posting this. I live less than an hour from Manosque, where Jean Giono lived and worked. This story was my introduction to his work, and I loved it so much that I started looking to find more. His writing (in French) is so beautiful. Lyrical beyond belief. His first novel, Colline (Hill of Destiny in English), is the one I like best. (So far.)

    I will definitely find a full-length copy of this animation to add to our collection.

  12. Feel free to download the NFB ( National Film Board of Canada ) iPhone app to get access to a metric tonne of great films of this type. My favourite of late is Madame Tutli Putli – phenomenal stop motion.

  13. WHOA. I remember seeing this at a Spike & Mike’s, waaaay back in the day. A completely mesmerizing experience.

  14. I needed to see this today. After viewing, I clicked over to Amazon and ordered a DVD of it.

  15. Oh, yes. I remember luckily snagging a copy of this classic off of PBS one time – I had a blank tape handy and shoved it into the vcr with superhuman speed…

    But now I see there’s a boxed set with others of his work, so I’ll have to pick that up soon.

  16. Back when I grew up with ghettovision, the french channel had the best reception, so I got to see some of Frédéric Back’s shorts between other nfb sorts and the hockey games.
    Crac! was by far my favorite out of the lot, but this one is the most fascinating for the visuals. Thanks for the link!

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