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Interview with animation director Maxime Marion

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that animation is your way of telling stories?

I studied video and film making in the early 2000’s. But I always felt something was missing… I was always remembering how fascinated I was by the Wallace & Gromit shorts during my childhood. I wanted to do animation ! So I learned stop motion animation by myself, and ended up creating shorts, that I screened in festivals and on the internet. Those first projects were meaningful in my life. I loved the animation process so much, from screen writing to photography, animation and post-production. This is when things really started : my short films got some fame thanks to festivals and YouTube, and I slowly started doing animation for commercials.

  • What exactly is the job of an animation director?

Good question ! I’m working on my short films with a very small team, with a « do it yourself » state of mind. I have no clue what « animation director » means in the context of a big production. But in my own case, it’s about doing the right choices for every second of animation. I’m mimicking a lot of the moves of my characters before animating them.

  • How many people are involved in creating an animation like yours? And could you tell us a bit about their roles, the flow of the team?

On The Secret of Mr Nostoc for example, there were only 3 people as part of the main « creative team ». Patrice Seiler as graphic artist, creating all the sets and puppets. Amaury Sabau as composer. And myself, doing both photography, animation and post. Of course we had great help by other team members : Stany Bohnert helped Patrice building the sets, Tiphaine Fouquet made the costumes for the characters, and of course the voice actors : Cyril Mazzotti, Céline Lehmann and Jean-Marie Pexoto. This is definitely what you
could call a « small production » ! But I’ve worked this way on most of my projects. I love this family-like relationship that such a project brings.

  • What is the process in creating an animated character?

Patrice would be better suited than me to talk about this, but I’ll try to explain his process. Patrice always draws character drafts first. His characters are all made of waste and rubbish. This is a lovely and unique concept. Sometimes he looks for specific elements to incorporate into his characters. And sometimes, found elements give a new perspective in the making of a character.

  • 2D Animation vs. 3D animation what are your thoughts on this endless battle?

Stop motion, of course ! Nonetheless, I think there’s no real battle between 2D and 3D. There are many ways of making animation, you can even combine these techniques. That always depends on the story. You got to find the right technique to tell your story in the best way possible !

  • What does your animation workflow look like while animating? Tell us a little about the tools that you are using. What are your preferences? Methods? Plugins? Techniques?

For a long time I had no software. I started working with DragonFrame around 2013, and was hoping to save some time during my process. Actually, I never saved time : with the same amount of time, I was able to produce better animation thanks to the software. First, I’m placing the camera and all the key elements on screen. I’m adding all the visual elements, before starting to work on photography. Then I rehearse my animation till I consider myself ready for it. I’m usually taking 1 to 3 takes for the same shot, in order to have some freedom during editing. Then, it’s time to prepare the next shot, and to start the process all over again.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the animator’s role to worry about that?

The Secret of Mr Nostoc was a specific challenge. It is an adaptation of a children book made by Patrice. So we wanted to stay as true as possible to the original story and look. We guessed the audience would want the short film to « feel » like the book ; but we had to extrapolate how the characters would move, based on their personality.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

For me, film festivals are a central place where films meet their audience. Plus it’s a shared experience. I mean, otherwise, where would I screen my films ? They are meant to be watched. I’m always so happy when one of my shorts is screened in a festival, because this is the life of a film.

  • What is the most difficult part for you about being in the animation business, and how do you handle it?

Animation will test your patience. It is such an extreme way of producing content. This also raises some questions : am I ready to spend weeks in the dark to produce only a few seconds of content? who’s gonna pay me for that ? Who’s gonna accept to wait 18 months to discover my new project ? The way I’m tackling those doubts : the result. When the project is completed, those characters are not only moving on screen, they are LIVING on screen ! By the end of a project, you don’t remember the pain. Only the result will remain, and it will bring joy.