The Long-Overdue Michel Gagne Interview

version 2.0 (w/bonus material previously unrealeased!!!)

 

Now living in Southern California, Michel Gagne's talent has led him to international fame as one of the most uniquely gifted artist / designers the world has laid eyes on. Originally from Quebec, Canada, he studied animation at Sheridan College School of Visual Arts in Ontario, Canada. 

His resume reads like an endless stream of high profile projects (his most recent contributions can be seen in 'Osmosis Jones,' 'The Iron Giant,' and 'The PowerpuffGirls Movie.' The knowledge of his craft has also led to speak at numerous lectures and symposiums that have been held in Anney, France, UCLA, and the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio.  If by chance, you're unfamiliar with his work, I recommend visiting his official website before commencing with the rest of this piece.

One of his first projects, the now classic, 'Prelude to Eden,' is still regarded as one of the most impressive pieces of animation ever made, and is still heralded as a breakthrough piece in animation design/production.

I was lucky enough to meet Michel at the San Diego Comic Con this year and even luckier to be able to catch up with him a couple weeks after the Convention to discuss his amazing career and  some of the things that make him tick.

-This is extremely exciting!  I've been a huge Mark for your work for like a bazillion years.  At what point in your life did you decide that art was going to be your profession? 

MG:  I really believe that I was born to be an artist. For all I know, I was probably drawing in the womb. You know, as far as I can remember, I was always doing creative stuff. I drew, sculpted and built weird contraptions. I remember my parents would always get pissed off at me because I wouldnít play with my brother. Iíd rather sit at the table with papers and pencils and draw all day. I was pretty introverted as a child and I didnít mind being by myself. Iíd read comics and watch sci-fi shows on TV and lived in this total fantasy world. I knew that I wasnít gonna grow up to be a lawyer like my dad. That looked so boring.

 

A big turning point was when I saw the original Star Wars back in 76. I was 11 years old. I knew then, I was gonna work in movies somehow. Then, I saw Lady and the Tramp when I was 16 and thatís when I decided to become an animator. Animation seemed to combine my love for movie making, fantasy and drawing.

-So then has art always been a big part of your life?
 

MG:  Yeah, always. Itís what keeps me going.

-But your work is so originally brilliant.  Do you ever find it tough to remain so incredibly creative?  Is there ever a down time for Michel Gagne?
 

MG:  Sure, I have periods of dryness. I usually freak out when nothing comes out for more then a few days though. I have this weird internal guilt that comes up if IĎm not constantly creating. Iím very hard on myself. I always feel like Iíve got only so many years on this planet and I have to make the most of it. So I push myself pretty hard. 

-So what fuels your creative process then? 

MG:  Everything and nothing. My wife, my dogs, a good CDÖ I donít know for sure. Iím a complete retard at a lot of things but when it comes to art, it just comes out.

-I'm gonna hop in the time-warp machine back to 1995.  Was 'Prelude to Eden' something that you'd planned for years?  Or was it just something that gelled together on its own?
 

MG:  I didnít plan Prelude to Eden, it just sort of happened. I started the film in 1991 after coming back to America from a 4-year stint in Ireland. I was pretty depressed at the time and I was looking for an outlet to give some kind of meaning to my life. Some people join churches and organizations, me, I just immersed myself into this project for 4 Ĺ years.

-Was that your first attempt at animation?
 

MG:  No, I had done a couple of short films while attending Sheridan College and got in the animation industry as a pro in 1985. At the time I started Prelude, Iíd been working for Bluth for about 4 Ĺ years and although being there was a tremendous learning experience, I wasnít that thrilled with the kind of animation I was doing. The Bluth style is fine, but what I really wanted to do was the Gagnť style, or at least find out what the Gagnť style was. Prelude to Eden was the film that helped me find my own sense of timing, motion and design. It was total artistic masturbation. I was trying to ďwowĒ myself.

-I feel it's still an amazing piece of work.  How many hours went into the actual design/storyboard process? 

MG:  Iíve no clue. Like I said, the whole process took 4 Ĺ years. I started the animation before I even had a story or any boards done. Then, after animating the first 10 seconds, I boarded the film. Then, half way through, I discarded the boards and started improvising again. The whole process was totally organic. I just went with my gut and followed my instinct. You could never make a feature that way, thatíd be insane. The film took a lot longer because, to me, it was more about the process. I didnít care how long it took. I just wanted it to be my un-compromised work of art.

*Originally to be posted as a two-part serial, here for the first time is the 'bonus material' fully integrated into the end of the piece (just like a DVD!).

-And then you did all the animation yourself? 

MG:  I did most of the animation, although I canít claim the full credit. Back in 91 or 92, some of my animator friends saw the pencil test of what Iíd done, and they offered to contribute some animation for it. Those guys volunteered their time and Iím very grateful for it. I think their input has definitely contributed to make the animation of Prelude to Eden more powerful. I re-timed, cleaned up and reworked, all the scenes into my style to make everything fit into a cohesive whole. 

-So do you ever go back and re-watch 'Prelude,' and is there anything in there that you'd like to rework in the film? 

MG:  By the time I wrapped up Prelude, I was sick of it. I wanted it out of my life. I immediately moved on to other things and never looked back. When I look at it now, I enjoy it for what it is. It represents a point in my artistic growth and Iím very proud of it. I never think about it in terms of ďI should have done this or thatĒ. Itís done, and it is what it is. I wouldnít want to make Prelude to Eden again. Iíve grown as an artist and I donít have the same sensibilities anymore.  

-How much involvement does the computer play in your artwork these days?

MG:  I still draw everything on paper and I use the computer to color or enhance the art. For example, Iím currently doing a Batman project for DC Comics. I do the penciling and inking on Bristol boards, then I scan the artwork in the computer and do all the coloring and special effect in Photoshop. Once thatís done, I prep the pages for the printer in Quark X Press. When I did animation work at Warner Brothers, I animated everything on paper then used the Animo software to composite my effects into the scenes. I started using the computer for my art back in 1994 when I was putting Prelude to Eden together, and since then, itís very often been a part of my work.

-Is it standard practice in today's animation to use computers to a degree?

MG:  Yeah, pretty much. The last feature project that I worked on that didnít use computers was The Swan Princess, which came out in 1994. Since then, all the studios have upgraded with technology to stay competitive. Heck, if you donít know the computer these days itís pretty hard to get a job in the industry.

-So do you see computers as a blessing or a curse?

MG:  Itís like asking if a pencil is a curse or a blessing. The computer is just a tool.  In the hands of a master it will help create wonders. But it wonít make up for the lack of talent. If someone doesnít have a clue, it wonít make that person a great artist. Thatís why thereís a lot of nicely rendered crap out there.


-And what about the Internet? Do you see it as unlimited potential or a highway to hell?

MG:  I think the internet is great. Iím not sure what shape it will take in the future, but I definitely see the potential. It helps me a lot to get the word out about my stuff.


-Earlier you mentioned that music can influence your creative process.  What's in your CD player these days?

MG:  Right now Iíve got Warriors of the World by Manowar in my stereo. Itís been there for about two months and I play it pretty much on a daily basis. That CD kicks major ass. I also like bands like Therion, Alan Parson, Supertramp, ACDC, Beatles etcÖ and once in a while, Iíll throw in a classical, opera or jazz CD.  

When I worked for the big Hollywood studios, I always had the music on. It was the only way I could focus on my job. Iíd put the headphones on and just get in the zone. I used the music as a wall to shield myself from the environment and the distractions. That was kinda weird since I was in some kind of supervisor position for many years. Now that I work full time at home, itís a much more serene environment. I donít feel like I have to constantly bombard myself with noise. I listen to music maybe a couple of hours a day and that does the trick.  

-Do comic books fuel your creative process at all?

MG:  Oh yeah. I read comics almost every night before going to bed. Itís part of my unwinding regiment. My wife reads novels and I read comics. As a matter of fact, Iím gonna read Dragon Ball Z volume 7 tonight before hitting slumberland. 

-How did the 'Zed' project come about?

MG:  I initially thought of Zed as an animated show. The idea came to me when I was working on Osmosis Jones. At that point though, I was getting pretty sick of working for studios. When I thought of the logistics of putting an animated show together, it made me kinda sick. I just didnít want to deal with a bunch of suits telling me what I should do with my story and my characters. Thatís when I decided to go the comics route. I could have complete control over the whole thing since I would be publishing it myself. No executive to make everything politically correct. You know, I have a very rebellious way of looking at art. I donít want to prostitute myself, and thatís why I do what I do. I believe in my vision and I want to keep it as pure as I can. ÖI hope I donít sound like a total egomaniac.


-And, finally...  Why rabbits?
 

MG:  I dunno. Iíve always had some weird attraction to rabbits. My favorite book growing up was Watership Down, which is a novel about rabbits. I mustíve read it at least 6 times. My 3rd year student film was about a rabbit. Then, thereís the Insanely Twisted Rabbits book. Rabbits are so innocent looking, I love distorting them and making them scary. Itís a nice contrast. You take something sweet and you turn it into something grotesque. Demented cuteness. Itís just fun to play with that concept.

You can check out more 'Insanely Twisted Rabbits' at his official site.  While you're there, please take time out to read 'Search for a Meaning,' which is available online to read from cover to cover!

 

 

          

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