Interview with Alexis Wanneroy
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Date Added: 14th February 2012
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Hi Alexis! Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in animation?
As with most people from my generation, I grew up watching animated TV series and movies etc. After high school I studied Industrial Design, but kept drawing characters and wanted to do comic books. I went to the Gobelins open school day, where I was blown away by the animation work and quality of the school.
That's when I decided to do animation. Two years later I passed the Gobelins exam and was admitted. My first job was as a character animator on Valiant, an animated movie about pigeons during World War II done by Vanguard Animation. After that I chose to open my own studio in the south of France and we'd just got started when DreamWorks called me to say they wanted me to work for them in Los Angeles.
I arrived at DreamWorks in 2006, and since then I've worked as a character animator on Flushed Away, Bee Movie, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and, more recently, Rise of the Guardians, which is due to be released in 2012.
Tell us about your experience on Valiant and some of the lessons you learnt with regards to working on animated features?
On Valiant, the atmosphere was really cool because the studio was new, the artists were coming from all around the world and there was this great energy around ideas and creativity, which was really motivating. I thought I was going to be a junior animator and would just have regular shots, but it turned out that my work was appreciated and I was given some good shots to animate. I learned how big studios worked, with all the departments being dependent on one another, and how teamwork can make an animation feature film possible. It was an amazing first experience.
What prompted you to go back to France and start your own studio, and what were the main challenges it presented after working in London?
Weather! It felt like a missed opportunity that all the studios in France were concentrated in Paris.
As this kind of work can be done from a distance for your client, I wanted to try to develop a CG studio in the south of France. Since then a few companies
have tried to relocate to the south, but failed because the industry is so strong in Paris and most artists tend to want to stay in Paris. It is very hard in France to develop studios that can keep artists for years like DreamWorks. As an artist the biggest challenge in creating my company was all the paperwork! Happily my wife was there!
It must have been very exciting to be contacted by a company such as DreamWorks and offered a job. Was it a difficult decision to abandon your ambitions for Kiwi-Production?
It was a really hard decision to make. Especially after a year of hard work to get Kiwi started, but an opportunity like DreamWorks is not something that you can put aside without regret. I had to go work for DreamWorks because of all the opportunities it was going to offer. At first I thought I was going to stay a year to see the pipeline of a big American studio and the way they worked, but it is such an amazing place to work that I ended up staying [Laughs'>. Kiwi was such a fun experience.
What I miss from it is that I had the possibility to do some renders, FX, etc... Here at DreamWorks I just do animation, and I miss the diversity.
What do you feel are the most distinctive and stylistic differences between European and American animation?
I think the biggest difference is artistic freedom. I think European productions can be broader in terms of story or art direction. Animated movies in the US cost a lot of money so marketing and executives have to make sure that movies appeal to a very broad audience, so animated movies have to stay within a range of not being too stylized with regards to production design and story.
The biggest budget movies in Europe are most of the time financed by big American companies. Despicable Me or Valiant are the two perfect examples of films being done in Europe, but produced by American companies; you can feel it in the story, production design and characters. Smaller productions like Triplettes or the recent Illusionist are visually stunning and so different from the rest, thanks to a smaller budget.