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Maël Gourmelen Interview
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
Well, like my English is pretty basic, I will need the readers to be kind. But I will try to make it. So I grew up in France, and ever loved to draw with my brother Brieg, we were very inspired like many people by watching TV series, along our childhood. But I think it really started in 1986 with the Disney feature « The Great Mouse Detective » I was very young but I think that everything began for me with this movie. Then I wanted to draw this kind of picture and characters. Since this time and through the years I never wanted to miss a Classic Disney feature. In 1991 when « The Beauty and the Beast » was released, I definitely understood what I would make with my life. All of this made me want to be one day an animator. It was often difficult for me to defend this choice because I had not an easy schooling, I was a very lunatic schoolboy but thanks to my family, I ever had their support. I first joined a communication school called « Ecole Brassart » located in Tours, two hours below Paris, were I had a visual communication program running on three years, about graphic design and advertising rules. Once done I finally joined the animation school « Gobelins l’école de l’image » in Paris, were I followed a three years training program about traditional and CG techniques. I graduated in June 2008 and I am now working in Paris.
How do you go about drawing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
Whatever I want to go with, it might be about concept drawings, paintings, character exploration or hand drawn animation, I try to be focused on the mood of the picture I want to make. For a while, I used to go with my own feelings about it, (I’m not saying that’s a wrong thing), but was maybe to much aimed on esthetic and technical aspect of my drawing. Then I’ve learned (and how much I’m still learning), like many people that it is important to explore in depth the emotion or message I want to bring in my picture. If it is about characters, I try to ask myself about their life and way of thinking. References are very important for me; I usually grab many many photos of environments, various kinds of characters or animals. Then I start to work and try to put my own vision and artistic orientation on it.
Next to that work about getting references, I like when I work for myself, on the development of various projects, to loose myself about characters aspects, I like to draw weird characters. One of my favorite Disney movie is still « Alice in wonderland », I love the non sense of this movie, the diversity of its characters and their stories. I’d like to write more about character’s life, who they are, and what they want. But curiously I prefer to think a lot about the characters I am looking to develop. I try to use my « workless » lifetime to think about them. It might be while having a shower, in the metro when I go to the studio, at the laundry or even when I am doing shopping or walking alone for example, then I write quickly on paper the main ideas and when I go back to my blank sheet, I usually know where I want to go.
Even if I prefer hand drawn animation, I am working both in animation and visual development, so I need (most of the time for myself) to bring each elements as far as possible in the process, with making traditional animation tests. I use to start by drawing a first pass of character rough attitudes and expressions. A sort of « early model sheet » which helps me to start the animation test, in which one I will progressively define some technical aspects of my figure, and learn me how will I can play with. (I definitely agree with that idea of having fun when animating is one of the best ways to success). Then animation tests allow me to generate a detailed model sheet. I guess I am just trying to study the classic methods used through the years in many studios.
I finally would say that, despite of all those parameters I need to control concerning my drawings, from the basic picture to the animation scene. The most important for me, will be to bring to an audience: right mood, emotions, and feelings.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
Like I am working as an animator on traditional animated features (at Néomis animation, Paris), I spend every day sitting at my table, and feel lucky to progress besides strong and adorable people who were (for most of them), Disney artists. Much of these people were also teaching at Gobelins for a while. I was really happy to rejoin this team once finished my schooling. I love my workmates.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
There’s only one year that I finished my schooling, so I don’t have a lot on my resume, I worked a bit on « Persepolis » three years ago as an assistant animator. In 2007 I knew the privilege, and the best experience of my life, by interning at Disney animation as a visual development intern. Each intern could work on stories of their choice, we also could give a little contribution on the development of a feature movie (I prefer for confidentiality to not mention which one). I finally worked on both character design and animation on L’illusionniste, the next feature of Sylvain Chomet. And the same for Ruby Tuesday directed by Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi.
What are you working on now? (if you can tell us)
I am working on the feature Ruby Tuesday (I cannot say anymore about this).
Next to this activity, I’m trying to develop a personal short movies, with a traditional fabrication. It is pretty hard to manage time for this, (I am working alone).
Who do you think are some of the top artists out there?
According to me, the world of occidental animation never knew better artists than the nine old men: Les Clark, Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, Eric Larson, Marc Davis, and Ward Kimball. Even if contemporary Huge artists like Glen Keane or James Baxter went really far today. The old generation of Disney artists established the rules that we’re still learning and trying to apply today. If I would be more subjective about that question, I will say that my reference is Eric Goldberg, for his conception of animation, his graphic way of designing motion and the vision he got to bring his characters to life. For me, he is the true successor of the master Ward Kimball. Of course about character design, I cannot forget to mention Nico Marlet who is I think one of the greatest inspiration for a lot of people.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
I came from a traditional artistic education, so I started by working a lot with watercolors, gouache, acrylic, dry pastels and others. I had some really stimulating classes with a painting teacher who I guess, made me love it forever. But here’s the deal today, I always need to go faster, so I’m more using digital Medias since few years. Essentialy in a way to finish my pictures. Nevertheless I really want to keep the feeling of drawing with a pencil. I feel more comfortable with vibration it can bring into sketches and its sensibility. I think that even if we are doing great things with technology today, for sure, nothing will replace the traditional tool and its render aspects. So when I am working for concept art for example, I will try to make my own digital brushes in Photoshop, and go step by step with different passes, just like a traditional process. If possible I try to not use the « undo » and correct the accidents I don’t want to hold in my picture, by retaking it with a new pass. With designing characters I use to be very precise, with a 0.3, but sometimes really love to be loose with bold pencils. Finally, most of the time, I try to make my colors in Photoshop with various kinds of render.
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
I think that exploring many directions and ideas is a really fun part of the game. Personally, I feel easier to play with shapes, lines and colors of a character or an environment. Basicaly, all the final approach of the work. But how much hard is the way to come to the vision I want to show, I mean the most difficult part for me, might be to put on paper the precise idea I came up with, and to decide, to choose the right direction.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
Watching people out there is a thing I love to do. To scan them, to ask myself about their life, to try to guess about their past and what they’re looking to do. I live in Paris and nothing more than its metro stations are a true chest for this (It is just an example). I also use to watch animals, on TV or internet, animals inspires me a lot, I love it ! After that, as I said earlier, I grew up with the Disney culture of animation, visual aspect and storytelling, so this stimulating vision is always making me want to draw or tell something. My girlfriend Daphné as well as my workmates, when I was at Gobelins or even now at the studio, are a very good source of inspiration too, we always share much ideas.
What are some of your favorite pieces of art work that you have seen?
There’s a lot of art pieces which made me impressed, in a good range of disciplines of course. But I would like to put on the first line, some animation drawings of the famous diner scene drawn by Frank Thomas for « The Lady and the Tramp », I’ve seen at the Disney Animation Research Library. I knew this scene for a long time, but these original drawings helped me to understand how much emotion we can put in just one drawing. Each frame has its own idea. I felt like, really disarmed in front of that.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
Animals, I ever loved them, and so to draw them, those innocent creatures cannot speak but they give me so much feelings. I also like the idea that they might have their own kind of communication, so love to transpose them in our society. I like to try to find an animal inside each person I am surrounded by. I don’t much like to draw beautiful characters, like I love to play with graphic shapes, I feel more fun with working about old or weird people.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
I can’t feel like being an artist but I know that next to my early passion for Disney, I discovered the paintings of Van Gogh when I was around 10 years old, my parents offered me a book, and I was like attracted by his textures and his painting touch. So I came to kind of play with some paint and brushes. I also had a lot of books about animals, so I quickly made the connection with Disney’s vision of animal kingdom, which I ever loved and been inspired by.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
The first important lesson I had, came from a sir named Bernard Deyriès, who is one of the authors of much famous TV series around the world. I had the privilege to be one of his students when I was in visual communication school. I learnt much about color, composition, graphic design and a little bit about storyboarding, besides him. When I was studying at Gobelins, my best souvenirs are still some animation classes I got with Kristof Serrand, he taught us a lot, he made me working hard about how to bring a character to thinking and feeling emotions with an in depth work about reaching the right poses and attitudes. The same with how much talented animators : Stéphane Sainte-Foi, Antoine Antin and Julien Bizat.
Interning at Disney was the best experience I ever lived. I really felt like grown up when I came back, by the knowledge of much people out there. I was mentored for visual development by Claire Keane with the really talented Lindsey Olivares. Claire taught me a lot about the importance of matching each element, Characters, environments, colors and compositions, in a way to catch either the right mood and the wished look of a final design.
The others interns were : Leo Matsuda and Minkyu Lee (for hand drawn animation department). Paul Abadilla, Mario Miranda and so Lindsey Olivares (for the visdev dept). Audrey Gayle (for texture painting dept). Nancy Tsang and Greg Peltz (for CG modeling dept). Brett Magnuson and Byoung Ho Kang (for CG animation dept). They were so nice with me, and so talented. I learnt many things just by working alongside these guys. I’ll never forget them. Next to Claire, I could also work with Jean-Christophe Poulain and Bill Schwab, who are visdev artists too. Finally, I received useful animation tips by some great animators like Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg, Andreas Deja, Ruben Aquino, and Randy Haycock. It is really incredible like these guys go really deep into their thoughts about animation, I’ve definitely never seen that before.
More recently, the good experience was working closely with Bolhem Bouchiba. I didn’t want to finish without writing a bit about him, because not only that he use to be one of the best contemporary animators, he is an exceptional artist. I think that he contributed to help me to find a way of drawing and thinking about characters, which I feel more comfortable with.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?
I use to check out « Animation News, Cartoon Brew, and Character Design », I can spend a lot of time on them. I love to grab some fresh information too on the official website of Disney Animation when I can.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
I do not know if I can feel enough « wise » to give some wisdom to anyone.
But I know that I try to reconsider myself everyday. Thanks to many great artists, it is not a hard thing for me to do, because I always can see more and more stunning work around there.
I also know that, whatever we love, I mean which culture of art. There’s always something to find in each artistic culture around the world, which can bring many good things and ideas to our work. I know that I’ll try to keep my eyes open for it.
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
Well, I guess there’s the most easy way to contact me :
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbooks, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
Actually, I never edited anything, or even got something for sale, I never even thought about it. But if people might be interested, I would be happy to sell some good quality prints for a reasonable price. Just send me a message.