Oscars: Animated student film very close to selection

During their last year at ESMA in Nantes, Nicolas, Louise, Yasmine, Melanie, Maxime and Leo were working on a short animated film. ‘I’m a Pebble’ traveled across the Atlantic to qualify for the 2022 Oscars. Students-turned-young graduates share how they got there.

They won’t be walking down the red carpet with camera flashes and waiting for results, between stress and excitement, no, this Sunday March 27th, six former students of the Higher School of Artistic Professions and the directors of the cartoon “I’m a rock” will not go to the Oscars. However, approaching…

Animated film as a study project

It all started in 2019. The small action then completed its third year at ESMA in Nantes. In September, they will begin their final year of study in 3D animation.

He devoted a whole year to creating an animated film. And these 12 months will not be too long to make a seven-minute short film. “Since the end of the third year, we have been thinking about this graduation project. Everyone has to submit a script in the form of a pitch, then the teachers choose those who will be selected,” explains Yasmine Bresson, 27 years old. Then, we expressed our wishes depending on the projects that we prefer, and we were divided into groups.

At the initiative of “I am a pebble” by Maxime Le Chapelin. His idea of ​​making an otter his main character appealed to several students. “I immediately liked it, and I became a co-author of the script”continues the young graduate.

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Leo Coulombier, 24, also preferred the line “I am a rock” for the film’s poetic side. More interested in coding, software side and less drawing that he “masters less than Yasmin for example”, the student very quickly finds his place in the team. “The teachers also divided us by character and our skills,” he says.

After the script, the six students quickly agree on the atmosphere they want to create. “We wanted to create a drawing effect, something different, so that the visual part supports the story, since this otter is looking for its own personality, it needed to be blurred in the drawing,” explains Yasmin.

If there’s an idea this had to be put into practice thanks to the software. It is Leo, among others, who adheres to it. According to Yasmin, therefore, the project is also created gradually, depending on what is technically possible. “I created a whole algorithm for this effect,” explains Leo. — At school we learn the basics, but a project is an opportunity to do something for us, to get out of our comfort zone.

“I’m a Pebble” depicts a small otter who has lost her family. // © Screenshot

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A whole team is working on a short film

Finished the layers, drawings on the boards to make an animated film, The computer is an indispensable assistant. “It’s true that it’s not very sexy to be aware that we spend time at a desk,” admits Yasmin.

The student still presented the script in the form of animatics for the first time : a sequence of drawings that allows, in particular, to estimate the time of a short film. This is followed by sleight of hand between team members, each more comfortable on some of the techniques they have learned over the years, such as lighting, compositing, texturing, rendering, modeling, rigging…

If teachers are present to accompany them on their project, students are completely “self-managed” with timetables, “Excel spreadsheets, checkboxes, deadlines” as well as a touch of stress and fatigue… Even if two graduates say so, the project was carried out in the right atmosphere. “Group cohesion is very important. The teachers told us it was a marathon, so we didn’t want to exhaust ourselves with the task.“, Leo recalls.

After writing the script, the students worked on the color and texture of the film.
After writing the script, the students worked on the color and texture of the film. // © Screenshot

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Dozens of Oscar nominations.

After a few months, there is a result. Bulle, the little otter, has really taken shape. “She lost her parents, she tries to throw her family into the rocks, but she realizes that she may not really belong to her. The point is to accept your family for who they are.Leo sums up.

The film leaves several possible interpretations. Desire was made possible by the lack of dialogue. “The most difficult thing was to make this pebble empathic, without words“, admits Yasmin. “We really struggled with this voice-over, whether it needed to be added or not, we rebelled against the teachers, we were afraid that it would break our thing,” adds Leo.

Various decisions that may have given them the right to be noticed when the film was released at the end of 2020. There are dozens and dozens of nominations at various festivals on the counter. Before receiving some prizes and in particular, the HollyShorts Film Festival, which unknowingly automatically entitles them to an Oscar.

“It all stopped there, but it is very rare to get a suitable student project, so we are very happy,” says Yasmin. It’s a race for the nomination, the team doesn’t even seem to be looking for it. “We were surprised. This is the icing on the cake.We don’t think about it when we make a film. We think it’s good that the film is going around the world. But whether we have prizes or not … I don’t really care. I remember the good times better and I’m proud of this project“, says Leo.

As for understanding whether the film could have been a springboard for entry into the world of work… two graduates say they didn’t need it. “It’s a small environment, everyone knows each other, the network is important. We know how everyone works and we help each other,” says Yasmine, who is now based in Montpellier, where she continues to lead short film and video game projects like Leo and is thrilled to transition from player to designer. Video games are thus another outlet for these graduates. It’s not just the Oscars that matter!

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