Michel Gagné's Long Biography
This Bio was last updated in December 2005
I was born in 1965 in a small town called Roberval in the province of Québec.
I really believe that I was always meant to be an artist. For all I know, I was drawing in the womb. 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 wouldn’t play with my brother. I’d rather sit at the table with papers and pencils and draw all day. I was pretty introverted as a child and I didn’t mind being by myself. I read comics, watched sci-fi shows on TV and lived in this total fantasy world.
I was 11 years old when I saw the original Star Wars. At that moment, I knew I would somehow be involved with movies when I grew up. Then at the age of 16, I saw Lady and the Tramp and that’s when I decided to become an animator. Animation seemed to combine my love for movie making, fantasy and drawing. A couple of years later, I saw The Secret of NIMH and I decided I was going to work for Bluth.
When I turned 18, I moved to Oakville, Ontario (Canada), where I began studying classical animation at Sheridan College.
This is where I learned the basics of animation, such as timing, squash and stretch, lip sync etc… I got to make my own short films from storyboard to final color, which taught me how to put films together. Meddling with other students who had a common interest was highly motivating. I had such a great time. I look back at the three years I spent there as a very fun period of my life.
While at Sheridan, I completed two short films. I eventually sold both of them to cable TV (HBO and Showtime) and one of them was even theatrically released across the US and Canada as part of The 23rd International Tournée of Animation.
After completing Sheridan’s three year animation program in 1986, I took the plane to California to go meet Don Bluth. Of course I never met him on that trip, but I was persistent enough to leave a videocassette of my student film A Touch of Deceit with the receptionist. I returned to Toronto and got a job at a small animation outfit called Light Box. About a week later, I received a phone call from John Pomeroy, one of Bluth Studios lead animators, asking me if I could start the following Monday.
I packed my bags and flew back to California where I immediately began work, as an assistant animator for Linda Miller, on An American Tail. I graduated to animator on the next picture, The Land Before Time, and ended up working on six features over a period of six years. I worked in the character animation division on the first three films and in the special effects department on the last three.
Bluth was my breakthrough into the film world. I was right out of college so everything was new and exciting. I met and worked with a lot of great animation artists and absorbed a lot of knowledge. I see the Bluth period as the formative years of my animation career. During the six years I spent there, I learned how animated features were made. I refined my drawing abilities and I gained confidence in my animation skills. This new confidence expressed itself in the short film Prelude to Eden, which I started on weekends and evenings while at Bluth.
Prelude to Eden was my great animation experiment, a project that was four and a half years in the making. The film received an Annie Award nomination (animation’s industry equivalent of the Oscar) in 1996 for best animated short and became very popular within the animation community. The film’s popularity within the industry resulted in several job offers.
From Don Bluth Studios, I moved to Rich Animation, Available Light (a live action FX house), and eventually landed at Warner Brothers Animation. I was initially hired to head the special effects department on The Quest for Camelot and stayed in a lead position for seven years, working on 4 feature films. Despite the heavy corporate management of Warner Brothers Animation, I really enjoyed my stint there. As an added bonus, I was able to take 3-4 months off between pictures, so I got time to work on my own stuff too.
I loved designing and animating some of the effects for The Iron Giant such as the “lake / tidal wave” sequence and the “dome of doom” explosion on top of the ocean. Working with visionary director Brad Bird was very inspiring.
Osmosis Jones was another highlight because I was given a lot of freedom to create the look of the effects. I had a blast coming up with crazy concepts like cellular smoke, molecular fire, weird organisms and lots of really cool microscopic stuff.
While at Warner Bros., I began experimenting with new mediums at nights and on weekends. The inspiration for this unexpected direction in my personal art came after seeing a Kandinsky exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Art in 95. I painted and sculpted like a maniac for about 3 years from 1996-99. I was doing very weird and abstract stuff. Very different from the cartooning I was used to.
I had my first one-man show Contested Borders at the Warners Brothers ARC Gallery. I was scared to actually show that stuff at Warners because I'm thinking, here are these cartoonists and I'm there with this wild artsy-fartsy stuff. They're going to throw tomatoes at me. Surprisingly, it went really well. I sold quite a few paintings at the opening, so that was awesome. I couldn't believe that people would actually buy my crazy experiments. It was very motivating.
I toyed with a number of mediums, including acrylic, collages, inks, wood, mixed-media, charcoal and participated in several group and one-man shows. I was obsessed. I guess you could call it obsessive-compulsive behavior. Through these artistic experiments, I developed a kind of visual linguistic that, later, segued right into my illustration work. All my creations are interconnected. They’re all part of my search. To me, the whole thing is a form of therapy.
The story of how I got into publishing started in 1997, while I was working at Warner Brothers Feature Animation as a special effects supervisor. One of my production assistants, Scott Grieder, really enjoyed my art and suggested that I do a children's book. The thought of illustrating a storybook sounded pretty cool, so I told Scott, "I'll draw it and you write it." I quickly scribbled a drawing of a cute little fox facing a strange creature and gave it to Scott. "This is your starting point, write something about that," I said to him.
Two weeks later, before Scott had a chance to begin writing, I had completed twenty more illustrations. "Here's more inspiration for your story," I said while handing him a stack of photocopies.
Another fifteen to twenty days later, I called Scott to tell him that the book was finished and that I'd written the whole thing. I couldn't stop myself. It just poured out of me. I was glad to hear that Scott felt relieved to have the burden off his shoulders.
A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex was finished in December 1997 and published in July 1998 as a signed and numbered limited edition of 1000. And that’s how I began my journey as an author and self-publisher.
Since then, I’ve written, illustrated and published several books and comics including The Mystery of He, The Great Shadow Migration, The Bird, the Spider and the Octopus, Insanely Twisted Rabbits, Frenzied Fauna: From A to Z, The Towers of Numar, ZED and Freaky Flora: From A to Z. I’m in love with self-publishing and I see myself being active in that medium for a very long time.
One of my childhood’s dreams of doing a mainstream comic came to fruition in 2002. Around Christmas 2001, I received an email from DC editor, Matt Idelson. Matt wrote that he was a fan of my work and asked me if I'd consider doing a project for DC. After some reflection, I decided that I could do something really cool with Batman. There are many iconic qualities about his universe; the Bat-symbol, Gotham City, the Batcave and Batman himself. When I thought about all the possibilities, it put a big grin on my face. So, I wrote back and told him I'd like to do a full color 32 page story (which ended up expanding to 40 pages) with the Dark Knight. I asked him to let me write, pencil, ink, color and letter the whole thing, warning him that this would be a most different and outrageous version of the character. In a vote of confidence, Matt agreed.
The story entitled Batman: Spore was serialized in Detective Comics #776-#780 and was very controversial with the Batman fans. It definitely ruffled some feathers.
In 2003, I fulfilled yet another dream of mine: being part of a Star Wars project. In December 2002, I received and email from Genndy Tartakovsky, the director of Samurai Jack. He wrote that he was a fan of my work and asked me if I'd be interested in designing the special effects for a series of 20 Star Wars shorts, he was producing. I told him that the admiration was mutual, and being a big Star Wars fan myself, I’d be delighted to be part of his team. Six week later, I flew down to Burbank to meet with him. We went over the storyboards, talked about the direction of the show and sealed the deal. The Star Wars: Clone Wars short films were an absolute blast to work on.
I was signing at the Golden Apple Booth at Wizard World 2004 in Los Angeles when a young and talented artist named Kazu Kuibishi stopped by my table with a big binder in his hands. He proceeded to tell me how he’d been putting together this comic anthology called Flight. He opened the binder and wow! I was blown away! When he asked if I could do a story for volume two, I was very flattered and agreed right away. I’d wanted to do a 150-page graphic novel with my little fox character, Rex (introduced in my first storybook, A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex), for quite a while. Although the desire to do it was pretty intense, I needed an extra push to get it going. Flight offered me a perfect vehicle to serialize my story. “Inner Sanctum” from Flight 2 was the second chapter of my big epic that keeps expanding with each new volume.
In November, 2004, I flew to Los Angeles and pitched a series of shorts animated pieces called "Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets" to the big networks. The idea was pretty crazy, but I was hoping that someone would be brave enough to give me financing. To my delight, 6 months later, I had a signed deal with MTV Network. The series of interstitials was featured on Nickelodeon’s ‘Halloween Shriekin Weekend’ between October 15th and 31st. They premiered on line on November 1st, 2005 at www.insanelytwisted.com.
Even though my main focus is now on my personal work, I still enjoy collaborating with movie studios and freelancing for various studios and publishing companies.
People often ask me where I get my inspiration. Well, without a doubt, my wife Nancy is my greatest source of inspiration. She’s totally smart in ways that I’m not. I think we complement each other pretty well, although I drive her nuts a lot. My dogs are also very inspiring. I love to take them on hikes as often as I can!
As far as thinkers, I think Deepak Chopra is awesome. He changed my whole perception of spirituality. Artists who have inspired me include Jack Kirby, Eiji Tsuburaya, Steve Ditko, Picasso, Kandinsky, Yves Tanguy, Yerka, Oscar Fishinger, Osamu Tezuka, Miyazaki, Don Bluth, Walt Disney, Ishiro Honda, George Lucas, Moebius, writers such as B R Bruss, Richard Adams, H G Wells, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, M A Rayjean, Philip Wylie, and many more...
Other influences come from looking at nature, seeing Manowar in concert, reading science fiction novels and comics, going to museums and checking out other talented artist’s works.
I'm happy as long as I'm creative. I get a different kind of satisfaction with each medium. I love it all. Wherever the inspiration takes me is where I try to be.