The Making of Michel Gagné's
Prelude to Eden

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's been stuck in my mind ever since I saw "Our Friend the Atom" back in high school. So the film starts with an energy blast from which a spinning atom is created.

From there, a basic premise emerge: 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.

The film took around 4 ½ years to complete from the moment of conception to the delivery of the final 35mm print.

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.

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 us. 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 to Eden 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 the film to promote their new technology in exchange of free services.

In the end, I was able to complete the film with roughly $27 000, which was my life saving at the time. Paying for the symphony orchestra was my biggest expense.

Prelude to Eden was shown at Siggraph and screened to various studio executives around the world. 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.

The film received an Annie Award nomination (animation’s industry equivalent of the Oscar) in 1996 for best animated short.

Running Time: 3 Minutes and 36 Seconds.