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SKETCHO MINUTE with an oscar nominated animator and director Julien Bocabeille and his insight into the animation industry for our Sketchozine.com Vol.8: ANIMATION STORIES Collectible book on Page 38 to 41. Scan the QR Codes to be directed to hidden websites. ORDER our sketchozines now and support the promotion of artists. Watch Oktapodi Here.
Oktapodi animated short is about a pair of love struck octopuses who through a series of comical events are separated and find each other. It is a 2007 French computer-animated short film that originated as a Graduate Student Project from Gobelins L'Ecole de L'Image. It was directed by Julien Bocabeille, François-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier, and Emud Mokhberi. Music was composed by Kenny Wood. Oktapodi was well received, winning a number of awards, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film (Animated) for the 81st Academy Awards.
MM: Hey everyone, Marcin Migdal (MM) & Arnaldo Quininti (AQ) here from Sketchozine and MadArtist Publishing. Today we have the pleasure of talking with one of the most awesome and most talented animators around for our upcoming Sketchozine “Animation Stories” Interactive Art Book, the great Julien Bocabeille (JB), He is the director of the 2009 Academy Award nominated short film Oktapodi, He has worked on such films as Kung Fu Panda 2, Megamind, How to train Your Dragon, Madagascar 2 and the upcoming Puss in Boots movie and is just a super nice guy, welcome Julien.
JB: Thanks guys for inviting me, I’m very excited!!
AQ: Unfortunately we won’t get a chance to talk with the rest of the team that worked on the film; François-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier and Emud Mokhberi. Each person is an incredibly talented animator/director in their own right and without them Oktapodi wouldn’t have been what it is…so a big shout out to them!.
MM: So tell us Julien, what does take for a boy from a little town of Draguignan in France to make it all the way to the glamour of Hollywood and be nominated for an Academy Award?
JB: Lots of luck I guess!! But I also worked a lot to be where I am now, I remember the sleepless nights spent animating in 2D to find out how things work! Drawing, studying movement, I did it for almost 5 years before entering dreamworks! The nomination was a very very good surprise and totally unexpected too!
AQ: What was your first thought you had when you found about the nomination? and what did you do?
JB: Well, Thierry and I were in Bangalore in India, Emud was in LA and FX, Quentin and Olivier were in Paris. We all had a different time zone the day the nominations were announced. Emud woke up a 4 am and called Thierry when they broadcasted it live. Emud screamed, Thierry screamed too and in a second we knew the impossible just happened! It was so overwhelming!
MM: Right now you’re working at Dreamworks, have things changed much for you or the rest of the Oktapodi team after the nomination around the office, do you have more creative freedom and or more eerrr…respect as an animator?
JB: ha ha, well we were known by everybody in the company at that moment! It didn’t change much to be honest. People at DreamWorks were very nice and respectful from the beginning, it just added a little “hey I know you, I saw your short!” kind of relationship. For the others I think the animation industry in France acknowledged who they were and what they’ve done faster I guess. It’s an amazing business card after all!!
AQ: We’ve seen many Animators join our site Sketchoholic.com from Gobelins L’ecole de l’image, which is where you went. Can you tell us about your experience at the school, what about the school makes it pump out so many awesome shorts?
JB: I remember the school being a very pleasant and fun place to study. I used to dislike school very much. The whole theory learning process didn’t really suit me. But in Gobelins, they bring together people from so many different background, culture that it becomes a wonderful place to emulate your imagination and for you to give the best of yourself. Learning became a pleasure. The shorts are based on that, everybody do the best they can, in a team. You learn a lot artistically but also on a human stand point.
MM: I graduated from Sheridan’s Post Grad 3D Animation program and I know that we had certain limitations set on our grad films. Did you also have any limitations at Gobelins to ensure the production moves along?
JB: Of course we did. The main limitation was the duration. No more than 2 minutes. Also since we were doing CGI and were pretty new at it, we were asked not to do water, feathers, fur or any kind of high level stuff like that. But as long as the story was great I guess you could get away with anything… It wasn’t easy also to deal with the schedule the school would do for us. They would for example book a rigging teacher at a certain time of the year but we were either late or not ready for him so we had to deal with that as well.
AQ: So, where did the whole idea of Oktapodi come from? You didn’t have a bad experience at a seafood restaurant, did you?
JB: ha ha ha, no not at all! Actually I like Octopus salad! It was after a sketch by Peter de Seve. We saw that drawing of an octopus and asked ourselves “wait, we’ve never seen CG octopi? It could be fun, wouldn’t it??”...And voila, we had our main characters!
MM: I read somewhere that you love Octopus Maki…doesn’t that go against what the film stands for ?:)
JB: The film is setup in Greece, it’s not the same thing!!! :)
AQ: Back on the film Marcin…Julien did your group have many long, long nights while making the film?
JB: Absolutely!! The last 5 months of production were very intense! Working week ends and some nights! The school gave us a deadline we absolutely needed to follow and we knew the movie was very ambitious so we did what was necessary I guess, not sleeping !!
MM: Oktapodi has everything, drama, slapstick, action and a love story. How long did the idea and storyboarding process take compared to animation, a lot of our members would like to know if you can describe the process from concept to execution.
JB: Finding the story and making it into a “motion picture” is the process that took the longest. It took us approximately 3 months out the 7 to find out what we wanted exactly! The story went to many places, it was supposed to take place in China first in rice fields, then we settled for Greece i.e. We were brainstorming every 2 days about the new edit, new ideas, new sounds, comedy beats etc etc… It was constantly changing, evolving and mutating into the final product you see now. Meanwhile some of us were working on designs, backgrounds, color keys, rendering systems, realflow simulation etc etc…The moment we decided that we had something good and we shouldn’t change a thing more was when Chris Wedge came to visit the school. We showed him our animatic and he loved it. That was the green light!!
MM: Which software was used in the making of the film? Did everyone on the team get along or was there ever struggle for ideas or power?
JB: We mostly used Maya. We also used AfterEffects for the compositing, Premiere for the editing, Photoshop of course and Flash for the special effects. And lots of pencils and papers!. Everybody got along pretty quickly I have to say. We knew what each one of us was capable of, and stuck to it. I’m totally inefficient in rigging so I let Emud or Thierry do it for example… but of course the brainstorming session were here so that everyone could be heard and share ideas.
MM: Were there any other ideas for the film or characters that didn’t make it in due to time restrictions?
JB: The rice fields in china for example! Too much water, too much complexity (people, grass, huge landscapes). Octopi are capable of everything, it’s crazy, we had to forget about some ideas we had like crawling, going through small pipes, doing some crazy ninja stuff etc etc…
AQ: Do you have any funny stories to share that happened during the production of Oktapodi? When we interviewed Mac ‘n’ Cheese Team (www.bit.ly/nycAtR), they said they went through so many peanut butter sandwiches, that they stacked the jars and ended up with a giant tower after 5 months of work…
JB: Sure, many stories happened! For one, the school closes at night, some of us had to stay to work, but the corridors were garded by motionn sensors so we couldn’t go to the toilets, or exit the room until the early morning! Fun night…
AQ: Ha Ha Ha, yes that sounds like a fun night:). In retrospect, is there anything you don’t like or would change about the film now?
JB: I think the film is great as a whole, I wouldn’t change anything! Except maybe some of my animations that I find weak now… But for the time we had to do it, I’m very happy with it!
AQ: Our members would like us to talk a little about the industry itself, In your experience, do large film and video game studios hire on experience & portfolio, or dzo they ever hire based on portfolio or reel alone?
JB: I was hired right out of school. They just focused on my reel and portfolio. For example DreamWorks peeps look at reels and portfolio before looking at your resume. The stronger you are creatively, the better. Some people in this industry might have worked on every great movie for the last 20 years if their reel is less interesting than a guy freshly out of school they’ll go for the young one!
MM: Wow that’s some really great insight Julien, I’ve never heard that one before...and since we’re on reels, what’s the most vital element of an image and of film?
JB: Great story, great visuals (composition, photography) and great contrasting characters!! But I’m not being original here, everybody knows that !
MM: How important is self-promotion versus just working on your skillsets & portfolio?
JB: Both cannot be separated from each other. Self promotion is very important I think. The nicer you are the better, they’ll be interested in meeting you or knowing more about you. Never deny a good and friendly relationship with a studio. If on top of that your reel is awesome then there’s no questions asked!!
MM: There you have it folks, be kind and nice, even if it hurts!!!. What are two of your best tips that can make anyone a better animator or artist?
JB: I encourage everyone to develop his or her observation skills. It’s the base from everything! Knowing how things work is always better than assuming how it may be working. And draw!!! Draw with a pencil! Discover what can graphically make a pose, the scene, a movement appear stronger on the screen. A great teacher of mine used to say “drawing is understanding”, I go with that phrase as much as I can!
AQ: In your opinion, do companies just expect online reels now, or does perseverance and direct contact still impress recruiters and studios when trying to apply for a position?
JB: Both are indicated I think! They expect you to know what you want and be clear about it. Send a reel with your resume and your contact, including a link to a website online where they could find more about you and your updated reel, portfolio etc.
MM: What are your opinions on the type of education a person needs to get into the animation industry. Is it necessary to have a degree in college or university versus taking online courses from schools like AnimationMentor or Gnomon? (or shhh…our own online digital creative school in the near future)
JB: I think the best evidence of your creativity is your reel and portfolio. That will show them who you are and that you’re worth it. They don’t really care about where you’re from or which school you’ve done before! They know the main ones of course but we’ve seen some of the greatest animators being self-taught! So nothing is “necessary”, except motivation and a kick-ass reel!
AQ: What should an animator include in their demo reel and what should they never include?
JB: They should include what they think is their best work. And don’t be shy to get rid of the weak things you’re sentimentally attached to. Be objective about it! Don’t make cycles loop more than 3 times, even small ones. These guys are used to see that kind of content, they know right away when it’s good or not. Do not loop an acting shot. If needed they’ll go backward, they have remote controls!
AQ: What is the best and worst thing about being an animator?
JB: ha ha ha, tough one! I love my job, I’d say everything is awesome about it! Giving life to a character on the screen is the best thing ever. The worst would probably be production-wise (extra hours, deadlines etc).
AQ: Did you always want to be an animator or did you ever want to be an astronaut, a race car driver, or a professional soccer player...like I did, hahaha.
JB: I always wanted to do something artistic. Until high school I wanted to be an architect or a designer. But my first visit to the Gobelins school just stunned me. Animation was exactly what I was meant to do!
AQ: So you’re kind of famous now, do you have groupies or fans, what’s it feel like to be asked for an autograph?
JB: Well, animators are like ninjas. Nobody recognize them in the street. Or if they do they’re dead already, just kidding! I don’t think I have fans…I’ve never been asked for an autograph :) And never killed anyone either!
MM: You know Julien, I remember my friend Arpan, who’s film “Best Idea Ever” which is also featured in our “Animation Stories” Book..showed me your film on YouTube maybe a year and a half ago…and now here we are talking to you…It’s unreal to see that an animator with the amount of success you’ve achieved in such a short amount of time can be so humble and an AWESOME person to talk to.
JB: Thanks man! The pleasure is all mine!
AQ: The next couple of questions will be more about you...So What’s your greatest fear?
JB: I’m very much afraid of accidents. I hate unplanned things that can happen fast, stupidly and can hurt very much.
MM: Do you have any other interests outside of animation or art?
JB: I like reading a lot and spending some afternoons sipping coffees and sketching outside under the sun!...gotta love California
MM: Do you have any favorite films, shorts or animators?
JB: I love “Shawshank Redemption”, could watch “Back to the future” and “A Goofie Movie” 5 times in a row, and I’m a very very big fan of James Baxter, Sergio Pablos and Kristof Serrand.
MM: If you could meet one person dead or alive, who would it be?
JB: Tough one, I’d say Alexander the Great just for a chat with him...
MM: If you could have any skill or talent, what would it be?
JB: Cooking like a pro and/or flying…
AQ: It seems that most artists or creative people in general would like to fly in some way or another, I wonder if it’s because we’re all curious what’s up there in the unknown....
MM: Yes Arnaldo...very poetic :)...So Julien what 3 websites do you visit most?
JB: The Chive (www.thechive.com), IMDB (www.imdb.com), and blogs of artists I like.
MM: If you could do ANYTHING, what would you do with a billion dollars?
JB: Retire!! And have unlimited fun with friends and family.
AQ: Any final words of wisdom or encouragement you would like to share with all the Mad Artists and Sketchoholics out there?
JB: Keep giving the best of yourselves, you guys rock!!
MM: Well, It has been more than awesome talking you Julien, on behalf of all our members on Sketchoholic.com, MadArtist Publishing, it’s been a real pleasure getting to know you. I’m positive our readers and up-and-coming animators will see this interview inspiring and educational. Arnaldo and I thank you ever so much for taking the time to answer all our questions.
JB: Thank you guys, I loved talking with you!
AQ: Yes Julien, we did as well! we’ll provide all necessary credits and information about the film within the layout of this interview once it is published, but if our members wish to learn more about you, your upcoming projects or the rest of the team of oktapodi, where would they go, outside of your Sketchoholic account?.
JB: My blog (boksplace.blogspot.com), Oktapodi’s website (www.oktapodi.com) and Dreamworks’ website (www.dreamworksanimation.com).
AQ: Also, we'll be scheduling contests by all of the interviewees eventually, would you mind coming up with a topic for a drawing contest on Sketchoholic and providing an original (quick) drawing as the prize for the topic you create and then choose a winner and mail the original to the person?
JB: Sure! I’d love that very much! :D
MM: Everyone out there, keep dreaming the dream and work hard, the only obstacle in achieving your goals and explicit happiness is you!. This has been Marcin Migdal and Arnaldo P. Quintini with Julien Bocabeille of the Oscar Nominated short film “Oktapodi”. Remember everyone to please support our creative movement and like our Facebook.com/Sketchoholic page, our www.Sketchozine.com books. For more great short films and reels visit www.Youtube.com/MadArtistPublishing.com.