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Interview with the Michel Gagné - August 15, 2002
Insanely Twisted Ideas:
An interview with artist Michel Gagné

By Matthew J. Phillion

Even if you are not yet a fan of his comics, you have probably enjoyed Michel Gagné's work and not even realized it. This multi-talented artist is an award-winning animator runs his own

publishing house, Gagné International Press, and his work can be found on comic book racks everywhere. His recent film work includes the visually bizarre "Osmosis Jones" and the highly popular "The Iron Giant."

With another book coming out and an upcoming project for DC Comics in the works, Gagné is a busy man. But he was kind enough to take the time to talk with Small Press Magazine about comics, filmmaking, and insanely twisted rabbits.

Gagné's interest in animation began at a young age.

"When I was 16, I saw "Lady and the Tramp," and that was it, I fell in love with animation," said Gagné.

After completing high school in Québec City in Canada, he trekked to Toronto to attend a 3-year animation program at Sheridan College.

"Around that time, I saw 'The Secret of Nimh' by Don Bluth, and it blew me away," said Gagné. "I had to work for the guy who did that."

Upon graduating college, Gagné flew to Los Angeles and found work as an assistant animator on Bluth's "An American Tale." He was quickly moved up to an animator position on their next picture, "The Land Before Time."

From Don Bluth Studios, Gagné moved to Rich Animation, Available Light (a live action FX house), and eventually landed at Warner Brothers Animation, where he worked on some of his favorite projects.

"Despite the heavy corporate management of Warner Brothers Animation, I really enjoyed my stint there," said Gagné. "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."

He 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, including "Osmosis Jones."

"'Osmosis Jones' was particularly fun because I was given a lot of freedom to create the look of the effects," said Gagné. "I had a blast coming up with crazy concepts like cellular smoke, molecular fire, weird organisms and lots of really cool microscopic shit."

His favorite film project was "The Iron Giant."

"I loved designing and animating some of the effects for it 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," said Gagné.

It was during his time with Bluth that Gagné started his "great animation experiment," "Prelude to Eden." The four and a half year project began in January of 1991, when Gagné moved to LA after a 4-year stint in Ireland.

"I had recently broken up with a girlfriend, and I was all around very depressed," said Gagné. "I essentially started Prelude to Eden to give myself a purpose, to create something."

The film began with a tiny spark:

"When I started, I wasn't sure what story I was going to tell. I just started. I had 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," said Gagné.

Initially planned as a solo project, "Prelude to Eden" grew, requiring additional artists. Fortunately, Gagné brought on board a number of friends and animators, Nasos Vakalis, David Brewster and Mark Koetsier, who wanted to participate in the creation of a few of the giant robots scenes.

"To ensure the film looked like it was animated and drawn by a single hand, I proceeded to clean-up, inbetween and retime at will all of the scenes, to give them the Gagné style," siad Gagné. "The film was animated at 24 drawings per second, so it took a really long time to draw the whole thing."

Art director, named Barry Atkinson orchestrated the colors of the environments creating truly memorable settings. All the drawings were painted and composited in a software called Animo, which Gagné's friend Jon Hooper introduced him to. Prelude was the first 35mm film resolution project using Animo.

"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 finished it," said Gagné. "It was a win-win situation. Jon and myself started painting and compositing in his bedroom on his NEXT computer. Eventually, Cambridge Animation, the folks who created Animo, 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."

Once the film was fully colored, Kodak Cinesite outputted all the files on 35mm film. Gagné gave Cinesite the right to use Prelude to promote their new technology, resulting in them doing the job at no cost.

Shirley Walker (Batman: The Animated Series), created a powerful symphonic piece to perfectly accompany the visuals. Gagné was so impressed with her composition that he ended up hiring a full orchestra to record the massive score. Another friend, Joe Campana, created the fantastic multi-layered sound effects track.

Prelude to Eden received an Annie Award nomination (animation's industry equivalent of the Oscar) in 1996 for outstanding achievement in an animated short.

Gagné's move to comics was a fairly natural move.

"I've been a fan of comic book literature my whole life. Doing comics has been in the back of my mind for a long time," said Gagné. "I just felt that I needed the right type of story for the medium. "ZED" became that story. The funny thing is, I initially conceived "ZED" as an animated series, but then I just didn't want to deal with the logistics of animation. I thought comics would be a more intimate medium and the vision could be kept purer."

The experience so far has been both good and frustrating.

"I really like publishing books, but publishing comics is kind of a pain in the butt. The pamphlet format doesn't have much of a shelf

life and the sale venues are a lot more limited than books," said Gagné. "One of the things I like is the fact that I don't have to wait a year to get the story out and I can keep in touch with the readers through my letter page. I'm committed to publish "ZED" up to issue 8 in comic form, then we'll see what happens."

"Issue 4 of "ZED" was solicited in July's Previews and will ship to stores in September. The hardcover and soft cover trade will hit stores one month later. I intend to do the second story arc (5-8) next year."

Gagné's comics tend not to fall into a particular genre of style label. Sometimes described as children's books, they are definitely more complex than any one "title" can describe them. How does he deal with the labeling of your projects?

"Bill Liebowitz, owner of Golden Apple Comics in LA came up with the perfect term, 'Graphic Storybook,'" said Gagné. "I liked that a lot."

For the uninitiated, Gagné describes his books as "weird, funny, conceptual, cute, scary and offbeat." His artwork can be seen on his website (, where they can even read his entire book, "A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex," online.

Despite his wildly imaginative style, Gagné finds inspiration from everyday things.

"I walk my dogs one hour every day. I use that time to come up with concepts and plot ideas. When I look at my wife, I get inspired," said Gagné. "There's inspiration everywhere, it's hard to pin point one source in particular."

There was a more unusual inspiration for "Insanely Twisted Rabbits," a collection of sketches of, well, insanely twisted rabbits.

While Gagné was working at Bluth, he saw a little observational sketch his friend Dave Kupczyk had done of his pet rabbit, Fudge.

"He added a couple of fangs and said to me 'That's Fudge, evil Fudge!'" said Gagné.

Not to be outdone, Gagné went back to his desk and scribbled a picture of an enraged deformed mutated rabbit.

"I brought the drawing to Dave and said, 'Now that's an evil Fudge!'" he said.

Deformed rabbits became sort of an addiction. Gagné drew the little beasts during his spare time, and eventually Kupczyk joined him in a contest to see who would draw the most "bizarre creature." Michel's sketches were published by Gagné International Press in 2001.

"A Search for Meaning: the Story of Rex" is a sort of "stylized autobiography" for Gagné.

"It's really the story of my life up to age 32," he said. "I had recently married my soul mate Nancy, who had a huge impact on me. She opened my eyes to many possibilities and encouraged me to travel a path of spiritual self-discovery. The book was definitely part of my search."

The book was inspired when a production assistant on "The

Quest for Camelot," Scott Grieder, suggested Gagné should do a children's book. Gagné was open to the idea, suggesting Grieder write it and Gagné illustrate.

Gagné drew the first image, a cute fox staring at a strange creature. He gave it to Grieder and said, "this is your starting point, write something about it." Over the next couple of weeks Gagné produced image after image, and in the end wrote the book himself.

"He told me he felt relieved that he actually didn't have to write it," said Gagné.

Gagné will be diving in to a different sort of genre this fall: the superhero comics. He has been invited by DC Comics to create a five-part, 40-page backup story for Detective Comics, due out in November, starting with issue 776.

"It's a completely insane Batman story," said Gagné. "They gave me complete freedom to write and illustrate the whole thing. What more could I ask for?"

Moving from film to comics is essentially about people. As in, the number of people the artist works with every day.

In animation, Gagné was working in a building with a crew of 300-400 people, on projects that lasted for 1-2 years. It allowed him the chance to get to know the folks he was working with

To work on comics, he had to switch over to very small teams, partially in isolation.

"People usually work at home, so it's not like the animation community where people work in big buildings for years," said Gagné. "I'm relatively new to this industry so it's hard for me to judge, but so far, I find it a welcome change. I like the artists I've met and I love attending conventions. I feel a lot more connected to my audience also, which is great."

Any pet peeves about working in animation?

"One thing that bugged me though is that there's always a sense that you're working on somebody else's baby. If the movie is good, then it's encouraging, but if it's a turd like 'The Quest for Camelot,' then you just have to pinch your nose and hope the next one is better," said Gagné.

Comics allowed Gagné to find both a voice and a measure of control over his projects.

"The whole time I worked on movies, I didn't feel like I really had a voice as an artist. Let's face it, unless you're at the top echelon of production, you're a cog in the wheel that helps the huge machine move forward," said Gagné. "Some people are totally OK with that. They like to contribute and that's fine for them. I guess I'm a bit of a megalomaniac 'cause I want my own artistic voice to be heard. At the end of 2000, I said goodbye to the big studios, and became a full time independent, dedicating most of my time to Gagné International Press."

As a card carrying member of both communities, does he have any feelings on the future of either industries?

"I am very optimistic," said Gagné. "I think they will keep changing and diversifying, and that's a good thing."

When he's not creating intergalactic comic mayhem or on-screen magic, Gagné is also a noted artist of a number of other forms.

Gagné rattles off some of his influences: Picasso, Jack Kirby, Moebius, Yves Tanguy, Yerka, Oscar Fishinger, Miyazaki, Don Bluth, Walt Disney, George Lucas… and others too many to name.

His other influences include "my beloved wife Nancy, my dogs Star and Nova, looking at nature, seeing Manowar in concert, going to museums and looking at other talented artist's works," he said.

Gagné's repertoire also includes painting and sculpture. He began painting after a lifetime of cartoons after seeing a Kandinsky exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Art.

"I painted and sculpted like a maniac for about 3 years
from 1996-99 and had several art shows," said Gagné.

He toyed with a number of mediums, including acrylic, collages, inks, wood, mixed-media, charcoal.

"I was obsessed," said Gagné. "I guess you could call it obsessive-compulsive behavior. I developed a kind of visual linguistic that, later, segued right into my illustration work. It's all connected you know. It's all part of an artist's search. I look at my books as an extension of my fine art. To me, the whole experience was a form of therapy as well as moving forward as an artist."

Beyond continuing with "ZED" and his upcoming with DC, Gagné has a full slate of projects coming up.

A new hardcover graphic storybook is set for release early next year called "The Towers of Numar," an off-beat science-fiction tale about god, the creation, and a "far-out concept."

"I've been working on this project off and on for about two years and I've made a commitment to myself to have it released before April next year," said Gagné.

"ZED" #5-8 is tentatively set to be released next year. In film work, Gagné is designing special effects for a Pixar film by Brad (The Iron Giant) Bird. And, of course, this prolific artist always has a number of additional projects on his plate.

"I never know which one is gonna go into high gear and get finished," said Gagné. "It all depends on what my next burst of inspiration will be."

For more information on Michel Gagné his website at:

You can also click here to check out our review of Zed.

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Copyright © 2002 Rorschach Entertainment and/or its contributors