Eddie Mehong shared his experience working in Japan and France as a 2D animator and starting his own studio in Tokyo Japan. We are pleased to present his inspiring story of what it’s like to bridge the animation industry internationally. This interview was done by Drifa Benseghir for Animationweek.
Working as an owner of Yapiko Animation
Animationweek (AW): Could you introduce yourself?
Eddie Mehong (EM): Hello. I am Eddie Mehong, owner of Yapiko Animation (*1), Japan. It’s a branch of a company that I made with two friends in France. We created the branch in Japan two years ago. Now we are working on the front project, Japanese project, European project, American project and so on, and we gather talented artists from Europe and Japan, including Japanese animators and European artists, designers and creators.
*1: Yapiko Animation: http://yapiko.fr/?lang=en
Yapiko Animation’s showreel
AW: Thank you. Firstly, could I ask you about yourself? What is your role as the top of President of Yapiko Animation? Is there a specific role you have or do you do everything?
EM: No. If I do everything I can’t focus on the main concern that is the quality of animation that we want to provide. My role is to hire people on the front project. It’s kind of like a movie. When you make a movie, you try to hire some actors and I have to build my own team for each new project. Usually most of them are the same but sometimes I pick some different good animators on different projects. It depends on their availability and their skills if they fit with the project or not. Basically that’s my role, to gather the team and try to explain to my client the best conditions for working with those animators. It is not easy to work with freelance animators in Japan. You need to follow certain rules to get the best of them. So that’s my role.
Start of interest in working as an animator
EM: Yeah, a long time ago I had to choose. When you are kids, you have to choose a job. I had different opportunities and one of them was animation because I was not so good at school but I was drawing all the time. People told me, “Maybe you should focus on drawing instead of focusing on mathematics, or something you like.” My teacher told me, “Eddie, it’s nice,” because I did very beautiful drawings, maybe for them. The teacher also said, “It’s not good to draw during lessons… But what you do is nice. Maybe you should continue in this way instead of my way.” So I said, “Hmm, yeah. Maybe you’re right.” So I decided to focus on drawings.
Then, I took some information about what kind of opportunities are available in drawing. I saw that Disney animators could draw and have pretty good lifestyles and I was also very impressed by their drawings and what they can make with them, how they can bring characters to life. So I said, “Okay, maybe I should try that.” And I tried to focus all my efforts in this way and then I started to take a big interest in animation, so that’s how it started.
I started going to prep school. The school was focused on just communication and drawings so I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do at this moment, but a Disney background designer Christophe Vacher came to the school and explained that at Disney studios they have really good environment of work and can take their time to make the best animation possible. There was a conference and I was really amazed at this time so I said, “Oh, that’s incredible. I want to do that.” After the conference, I invited him to have a coffee so I could talk with him in more detail. He explained to me how to get a job with Disney studios; how to make a book, a demo reel and what to do to impress the recruiter. He also explained that going to an animation school like GOBELINS (*2) first would be better. So after that I started applying to GOBELINS, and then I entered a few years later.
*2: GOBELINS is a prestigious art school in Paris, GOBELINS l’école de l’image.
AW: That’s cool, so it’s through these people that you met, that you got slowly into animation. The first was drawing and then you were directed by people you met to go into the animation industry.
EM: Yes, there are people that influenced my passion for animation little by little, causing it to ignite.
Mehong’s first professional project
AW: Could you please share your journey as a professional animator and as the head of the studio? How did you get to work for animation? Starting your career after GOBELINS, how did you get your first job?
EM: During the last year of the school, you have a meeting with professionals and they can look at your work and give advice and notes about it. And this time, I met a producer and art director and one of them wanted me to work for them directly after school. But it was about character design and not animation, so I said “Hmm, I’m more interested in animation so maybe I will decline.” I accepted another job that was for a pilot film, just for two months. It was animation so it was more interesting to me. The title was Code Lyoko (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417311/). After two months I had no work so I contacted the project producer who had asked me to do character design. Then I entered Marathon Animation Studio as a character designer. I worked for them for six years. I did some design for Martin Mystery (*3) and I worked on Totally Spies! (*4). I did design for Team Galaxy (*5) and some other small animations, not very famous.
*3: The link of Martin Mystery on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Mystery
*4: The link of Totally Spies! on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Totally_Spies!
*5: The link of Team Galaxy on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Galaxy_(TV_series)
Learning from professionals
AW: How did you develop your expertise after you graduated GOBELINS? I guess your learning experience didn’t stop? You still had to learn?
EM: Even now.
AW: I suppose the way you learn is different between France and Japan. How did you learn in each country?
EM: The biggest improvement from my point of view is always with professionals. What is really helpful at GOBELINS is that they pair every student with professional people, so that I did three internships for a total of 2 months at Disney Studios. For me, it was a great improvement to work with them because I learned very, very fast about animation. Thanks to those great artists and animators I learned how to make movements and all the rules about breakdown, stretch, squash, timing and so on. It was really, really important for me to learn all that stuff with them. After that, when you go back to school, you just learn the basics and that’s very important but the great improvement is the time when you’re with real professional people and can talk with them. And it was the same when I came to Japan.
Japanese way to learn animation
EM: There are also animation schools in Japan. I went to some schools but people who went to schools in Japan said, “We don’t learn anything in school”. So I took the chance to learn about animation in a Japanese studio. In 2003, Christophe Ferreira and I were invited by a great animator called Yasuo Otsuka to work at Telecom studio (*6). Together we learned all the steps of Japanese animation with this awesome animator. He taught us everything from basics, like Douga (*7)(it’s an inbetween) and Genga (*8)(it’s a key pose). He taught us also how to make a storyboard, how to make Images Board.
*6: Telecom Animation Film Co.,Ltd. (in Japanese): http://www.telecom-anime.com/index.html
*7: Douga is a Japanese word which indicates inbetween of animation.
*8: Genga is a Japanese word which indicates key frame of animation.
AW: Is it Ekonte (*9) or Layout?
EM: Not Ekonte. Not layout, but I learned layout too, of course. It’s an image board. It’s to visualise a project. For example, if you make a new project, you have to make some images board (illustrations of important points of your story) to show to your producer and different people in the project what the project will look like at the end.
*9: Ekonte is a Japanese word which indicates story board.
AW: Is it different from the colour script?
EM: It’s not the colour script. It’s the step before the colour script. An image board is really important to make the investor see how the project can look at the end. Mr. Otsuka taught us how to make an image board in Japan and how to present a project and how to develop it. That was very interesting. After three months of formation, we started to work full time in Telecom studio as an inbetweener and it lasted for seven months.
An encounter with Japanese animation industry
AW: But how did you meet Otsuka Sensei? I remember that he came to France and he did a master class; was it then?
EM: Yes. It was exactly at that moment.
AW: It was that moment and then he met you and Christophe Ferreira, and he said, “Oh, those two guys are great. I need to bring them to Japan”?
EM: Not really. So Mr. Otsuka was invited by David Encinas who was the first French guy to work for Ghibli Studio in Japan. Mr. Otsuka taught in the master class and he chose 10 to 15 people who participated in his master class. We had some exercises in the class but he stayed only one week so it was pretty quick.
AW: This was in Paris, right?
EM: It was in Paris, at Forum des images. During the master class, Mr Otsuka said, “Maybe if some of you are interested, you can continue to work with me and I can invite some of you to my studio and I can continue the training more accurately in Japan.” At the end of the master class, he had a dinner with all the students and I remember that I asked him the questions, “So how about the invitation you told us?” And he said, “Oh, that’s true. Yeah, maybe for a little bit. I can take only two or three, maximum, so I should ask you who can be interested in coming to the studio and decide who come.” In fact, he could only take two. Christophe Ferreira, Thomas Romain, and I were the only three who were interested in that training.
EM: Thomas had other plans so Christophe and I came first and then Thomas came a year later, but he didn’t make our training because he had another project, Ōban Star-Racers.
The journey to establish an animation studio in Japan
AW: It’s a great start to come to Japan with Otsuka Sensei. What kind of animation projects have you been involved in? You said you were in Martin Mystery, Totally Spies!, and Team Galaxy in France, are there any projects you can share with us, which you were part of from the moment you arrived in Japan?
EM: My first project in Japan was Mujin Wakusei Survivor at Telecom Studio as an inbetweener. I stayed one year in Japan and then I came back to France and worked for Marathon studio for five years. Then I came back to Japan in 2007 and worked for Satelight (*10). I was invited this time by Thomas who was still in Japan. I started on a series called Shugo Chara!. Then the next one was Macross Frontier (Video 1), which was the project I really wanted to join because I liked Macross (*11) so much when I was a kid. So for me, it was a dream to work on it.
*10: A Japanese animation studio SATELIGHT Inc. (in Japanese): http://www.satelight.co.jp
*11: A TV animation series originally broadcasted in Japan from 1982 to 1983 and its full title is The Super Dimension Fortress Macross.
Video 1: Macross Frontiere promotion video
[From BigWest YouTube official channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/BigWest/featured)]
EM: I was a contractor, “Keiyaku Shain” in Japanese at that time. You have a contract for a month and it also allows you to work for another studio if you are in Japan. I was at Satelight for two years and worked for different series like Basquash! and some other titles that I forgot. I also worked for Casshern Sins but it was with Madhouse (*12). Anyway, I used to work for Satelight. After that, a guy from Ankama France (*13) came to Japan and asked some French people to help him to open the studio, so I opened Ankama Japan with him in 2009.
*12: A Japanese animation studio MADHOUSE Inc. (in Japanese): http://www.madhouse.co.jp
*13: Ankama (http://www.ankama.com/en) is a French company publish Video games, comic, animation, and so on.
AW: What made you decide to create your animation studio in Japan, the one that you have now, Yapiko Animation Studio?
EM: I already had a great experience of working in European animation because I did some animation direction in different countries for French companies. I was an assistant director, a sometimes director on a few series. And I had good experience in Japanese animation. So in 2009 when I created Ankama Japan with “Tot “(nickname of Ankama’s CEO), it was a great experience for me, I could use both of my experiences to make the company. I mixed ideas from both of them to make something new, maybe something never seen before. I could really interact with Japanese animators and producers and understand better how all the animation industry works in Japan through Ankama Japan.
Ankama Japan lasted 2 to 3 years. It closed after some problems; artistic problems between France and Japan. The French company had a hard time with Japanese people due to miscommunication. After the studio closed, I hired people from Ankama Japan and then created Yapiko Animation. Now, most of the people who are working for us are all the people whom I hired from Ankama Japan and some new people have joined us recently.
AW: It’s one of the most unique studios in the world.
EM: For now. Yes.
AW: I think it is important that everybody knows about you because you are the only one in the world that makes all this work together internationally, especially between France and Japan.
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