Michel Gagné was born in Québec, Canada. As a young man,
he studied animation
at Sheridan College School of Visual Arts in Ontario, Canada.
In 1985, he began a highly successful career drawing characters, special effects and conceptual designs for companies such as Don Bluth Animation, Warner Bros., Disney, Pixar, Cartoon Network and many more. Gagné's work has appeared in films such as The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated short films, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, An American Tail, and numerous others. His 3 ½ minute independent short film, Prelude to Eden, is a favorite among animation students and teachers, and has played in festivals throughout the world.
In 2005, he created, produced and directed a series of 12 Insanely twisted Shadow Puppets interstitials for MTV Networks. The shorts premiered on Nickelodeon's Halloween Shreikin Weekend in October 2005, and can be seen on http://www.insanelytwisted.com/.
Michel was honored by the International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, with four Annie Award nominations. He continues to design and consult on major film projects.
Teaming up with his beloved wife Nancy, the creator made the jump to print in 1998 with his critically acclaimed first book, A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex, and the birth of GAGNÉ International Press. Since then, the library has expanded to include many more releases, solidifying Gagné's reputation as an independent publisher. Titles such as The Mystery of He, The Great Shadow Migration, The Bird, the Spider, and the Octopus, Frenzied Fauna: From A to Z, The Towers of Numar, Parables: An Anthology, Freaky Flora: From A to Z, Odd Numbers and the highly popular Insanely Twisted Rabbits have earned Gagné a worldwide following.
In 2001, Michel's premiered his ongoing comic series ZED to critical acclaim. A year later he was invited to write and illustrate a 40-page Batman story for DC Comics. His bizarre and highly controversial tale, Spore, was serialized in Detective Comics #776-780. Michel is also a regular contributor to the hugely successful comic anthology Flight.
Among his other creative endeavors, Michel has experimented in on a variety of projects in various media including video games, art shows (paintings, sculptures and mixed-media), trading card games, etc. He lives peacefully with his wife and two dogs, in the Pacific Northwest.
How did you come up with characters for the Prelude to Eden as well as the idea for the short?
Prelude to Eden was my great animation experiment. At the time I started this project, I’d been working for Bluth for over 4 years. Although being there was a tremendous learning experience, I wasn’t that thrilled with the kind of animation I was doing. The Bluth style is fine, but what I really wanted to do was the "Gagné" style, or at least find out what the Gagné style was. Prelude to Eden was the film that helped me find my own sense of storytelling, timing, motion and design. It was total artistic self-exploration.
I started the film in 1991 after coming back to America from a 4-year stint at the Bluth unit in Ireland. I’d just transferred back to the LA branch and I was pretty depressed. 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.
At first, I wasn’t sure what story I was going to tell. I just started. I'd always wanted to animate an atom with electrons spinning around over a black background. I don’t know why. It’s an image that stuck in my mind. So the film starts with an energy blast from which a spinning atom emerges. From there, I went to a purely instinctual mode. I let the film evolved from my subconscious in a manner similar to a modern painter improvising an abstract painting.
How long does it take you to make Prelude to Eden? What was the process?
The film took around 4 ½ years from start to finish. The basic premise I started with was something like this: before there was life on Earth, or before there was even an Earth in the galaxy, or before there was even a galaxy in the universe, or, indeed, before there was even a universe at all, there was an epic battle between opposite forces. The outcome of this epic clash created the spark, which triggered the explosion known as The Big Bang.
I did most of the animation, although I can’t claim the full credit. Back in 91 or 92, some of my animator friends saw the pencil test of what I’d done, and they offered to contribute some animation for it. Those guys volunteered their time and I’m 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. The entire film was animated at 24 drawings per second, so it took a really long time to draw the whole thing.
When I made the decision to go color, I got great help from a talented art director, named Barry Atkinson whom I met at Don Bluth Studios. He did a wonderful job, orchestrating the colors of the environments and creating truly memorable settings. Other people that deserve mention are Shirley Walker (Batman: The Animated Series), who created a powerful symphonic piece to perfectly accompany the visuals. I was so impressed with her composition that I ended up hiring a full orchestra to record the massive score. Another friend, Joe Campana, created the fantastic multi-layered sound effects track.
What were some of the challenges in making the short?
One of the major challenges was trying to get the film done with my small budget. In 1993-94, when I was ready to ink and paint and composite the film, the technology was not nearly as advanced as it is now. Traditional ink and paint on acetates were still used by most studios. Disney had an ink & paint software called CAPS, and there were a few studios offering color and compositing services but the price was exorbitant – especially at film resolution. I knew I didn’t want to ink and paint on acetate. I couldn’t. It would have taken me 10 years! Besides, I had planned everything with digital technology in mind.
I was at a standstill until my good friend Jon Hooper introduced me to a couple of English gentlemen from Cambridge Animation (UK) who were designing a new ink & paint software called Animo. They needed a film to test and developed their technology and I needed software to finish my film. I signed a contract with them stating that they could use the film to promote their software, as long as they provided me with all the necessary equipment to finish it. It was a win-win situation. Jon and I started painting and compositing in his bedroom on his NEXT computer, sending feedback to Cambridge Animation every couple of days. They basically designed the system to accommodate me. Eventually, Cambridge Animation got me an office in North Hollywood and there, I spend about six months painting and compositing the film. Jon was my guiding light throughout the whole process, sharing all his extensive computer knowledge with me.
Prelude was the first 35mm film resolution project using Animo. Once the film was fully colored, I needed to output all the files on 35mm film. This was an extremely expensive process - way above what I could afford. At the time, Cinesite was eager to break into the feature animation market. So once again, I used my win-win argument and gave Cinesite the right to use Prelude to Eden to promote their new technology in exchange of free services.
It was shown at Siggraph and screened to various studio executives. Cambridge Animation started with software that was unusable for feature film purposes, and thanks to our feedback, they were able to get their program into shape and sell it to major studios in Hollywood, including Warner Brothers Animation, Dreamworks Animation, Rich Animation and many more. Cinesite also used the film successfully to market their Cineon technology. Everyone benefited from the collaboration. In the end, I was able to complete the film with roughly $27 000, which was my life saving at the time.
Do you have any another animated shorts in the works?
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 interstitials were featured on Nickelodeon’s Halloween Shriekin Weekend between October 15th and 31st, and premiered on line on November 1st, 2005 at http://www.insanelytwisted.com/. I’m hoping create more shorts or possibly a half hour piece in that style in the future.
What are some of your favorite animated shorts?
I love the films of Frederic Back. The Man Who Planted Trees is a big favorite. I’m also a huge fan of Oscar Fischinger, particularly his early black and white abstract films. I like the more experimental type of animation. I’m not a big slapstick cartoon fan. I’d rather watch artsy fartsy stuff.
What led you into the animation?
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.
What advice can you give to a person wanting to make an animated short?
Build it and they will come. I know that line is pretty clichéd by now, but it seems to always work for me.