The second year of the school
HN: How does the second year look like?
AT: During the second year, the main project is their graduation film. At this stage, we consider they have enough basic knowledge to engage in a bigger project. We don’t set a theme, they can choose their story, however, there is a set length – four minutes, including credits. That’s the main project of the year but they do have others.
They start working on this project early in the year. They have to produce a very detailed dossier. Then, they manage the whole production of the film. They spend a lot of time on the script, the storyboards.
In the second year, we make sure they don’t focus solely on their graduation film. We know there are tough times when they get exhausted, so we organize short breaks to get them to focus on something else. For example, we get them to make the trailer for Cartoon Movie. It’s a week-long workshop, for which we invite a director and everyone collaborates. Yes, we made the crocodile film which was used for Cartoon Movie 2016.
This year, it was Claude Barras, the director of My life as a Courgette, a feature-length animation, which is due to be released shortly. We order the music from a composer ahead of time, as a week isn’t long to make a trailer. So, actually, they animated the crocodiles to music.
In second year, they also do two other things. These are very short films, to play around with very short formats. They participate in something many other schools in France compete in – Les Espoirs de l’Animation – a talent competition. The whole idea is to simulate a commission for a children’s TV channel, such as Gulli, Tiji or Canal J, which are French children’s TV channels. So this is offered to 6 French schools. It lasts a month. They have to make a one-minute film on a theme given by Canal J, within a month. Lagardère organizes that. It’s called Les Espoirs de l’Animation.
HN: Is it only offered to these five or six schools?
AT: They’ve offered to several French schools. But then, according to the curriculum, it’s not always feasible, so there are generally seven or eight of them. This year, there were only five schools, I think. They will show them at Annecy, at the festival. The films our students are making this year will be presented in Annecy. They can choose Tiji if they really want to target very young children, or Gulli or Canal J.
Professional teaching staff
HN: How do you select the lecturers who come to La Poudrière?
Laurent Pouvaret (LP): We look for professionals who have a wide vision of animation. People who don’t confine themselves to just one thing and who can help out all of our students. That’s the first thing.
The other thing is that we seek out people who don’t offer ready-made recipes. We like people who listen to students. People who are keen for an exchange.
Over the years, we’ve expanded the circle of animation professionals we trust. We work with them a lot. And each year, we try to add people who fit these criteria.
AT: They are people who are working. We get them to come in for a day or two, because it’s interesting for them and they find it enriching, but their main activity isn’t at all teaching. That’s what we’re really interested in.
HN: Do you mainly invite people from Europe?
LP: From France, mostly, and then from all over Europe. And sometimes even Canada.
AT: When it’s a week-long workshop, we tend to invite people from further afield, like Koji Yamamura, Theodore Ushev, or Russian filmmakers. But that’s for a week maximum due to budget reason.
Diversity is key
HN: The program is great. How do you select students? Graduates seem to have different backgrounds and artistic styles.
AT: When we recruit students, we select people who already have a strong technical background – at least we try – it’s always a gamble since we’re a school, but we focus on getting people who really want to direct. People who understand that it’s a very specific job, in which you need to be able to take charge of a full project. It’s not just about being a good animator. We focus on taking on board people who have very unique specific and personal graphic styles.
HN: could you give any advice to young talents you would like to apply to your school in the future? What kind of skills should they develop for their application to be strong?
AT: I think you would need to really want to make films. I know it sounds obvious, but you need to want to tell stories, to reach out to an audience and to be the bearer of an imaginary world. You need to be carried by a strong will.
There is a director I really like, he talks of “artistic necessity”. You know, it’s really hard. No one is waiting for you to make a film and succeed. To make a film, you need to have an idea, to carry it, to convince lots of people that it will come to fruition. So, you really need to be driven.
You need to have a world in mind, and then it’s lots of work. It’s technique – and yet, one shouldn’t think that, because they are a good animator, they will succeed. There is far more to it than that.
In the applications we receive, we see lots of candidates who dream of cinema, but I think you can’t just say “oh, I’d love to do this job!” It needs to come from a very strong internal drive. Otherwise, it’s just too hard.
Because you see, one of the traps with animation, is that the production times are so long – after all, isn’t it crazy to think that you could film something in live-action, but you instead decided to recreate it shot by shot! Production takes up a huge place and requires so many skills! So, you can easily get lost in the making of a film, in technical details, in wanting to make a beautiful picture, or a beautiful animation. But then, it’s easy to lose sense of the big picture.
That’s why we try to remind our students of the following message: “forget about technique”. The animation isn’t always perfect – that really doesn’t matter. But, you need to think of the film. And that’s why we often organize outings to the cinema. We also go to the theatre. The idea is to see the big picture, otherwise you get lost in the process. It’s really important to get out of that. And that, I think, is a common concern in animation.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Charlotte Wells for her invaluable support for the interview and editorial of this article.