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Michel Gagné Speaks About His New Short “The Saga of Rex”

Michel Gagné’s (An American Tail, The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, Ratatouille) short film The Saga of Rex was released online this week, adapted from his graphic novel of the same name, the film follows the daring cosmic adventure of a clever fox that has been abducted to the arcane planet of Edernia.

Originally published as a serialized story in volumes 2 through 7 of the comic anthology Flight, it was then repackaged as a trade paperback by Image Comics in 2010. The 4-minute short was funded by raising over $57,000 on Kickstarter last year and is to be the first installment of a classically drawn independent animated feature film that Gagné is planning. “I would like to believe that there are still some people out there who want to see good old 2D classical animation being done,” Gagné told Cartoon Brew. “I know that my big donors love this type of animation and want to see it continue. We can’t rely on the big studios to keep the art of 2D full-animation going, so it’s up to us.”

His 1995 film Prelude to Eden was created using the now defunct 2D animation software Animo, which had remained his “go-to” production software up until 2012 when he began looking for an update. He gave Toon Boom a try and was pleased with the results. “I quickly realized that I’d just upgraded my old Model T Ford for a car of the year.” So, with Toon Boom in hand, along with Photoshop, After Affects and Premiere, Gagné set out to see just how much progress could be made adapting The Saga of Rex for the screen. “I wanted to test my limits and see what I could do single-handedly in a set period of time. What you see here is about six and a half months of work.”

The short, which is subtitled The Animated Film Project Pt. 1 – Abduction is animated in pantomime, which is Gagné’s intention for the entire film. “I’ve toyed with the idea of adding narration to the film, but then again, I realized it would take away some of the mystery,” he said. “In a way, I’m not sure I want people to fully understand what is going on. I want them to ask questions and create their own meaning.”

  • Vixie

    Very nice, really enjoyed that. I have seen the book, it is amazing, and animating it brings it to the next level. I will be keeping an eye on this one and will see about donating to the next segment.

  • Matt Sullivan

    ToonBoom Animate Pro 3 & Harmony are fantastic. It kills me so many other animators may not have tried this software.

  • Ryan

    As an owner of all the Flight anthologies, I have to say that The Saga of Rex was what I anticipated the most while waiting for the new book every year. I wish I knew about the Kickstarter so I could have backed this. Here’s hoping for a second chance to throw some money at Gagne. And this time, for a feature!

  • José E.

    You are indeed wrong. Even though ToonBoom is being used to create cut out animation (and has a great system to create rigs and animate), it also has great tools for the creation of hand drawn animation. Independent animator who use this software work mostly with hand drawn, while cut out is used more at studios. Both ToonBoom and TVPaint are awesome.

  • Arigator

    It looks gorgeous, the colors, the effects, the characters… there’s one little thing that bugs me: some of the character animation looks a bit too “tweened” for my taste, for example when the green lizard moves his head (and tail) around 1:53 or when Rex takes a deep breath around 3:34.

    When Rex chases the butterfly at the beginning and gets caught in the beam (0:41-0:58, it was shown in the teaser trailer and therefore already done before the kickstarter) – that part looks to me like he did it all as frame by frame animation, at any rate the fox’s movement in this scene looks just so perfect and I dare say more “real” and vivid than the parts with the more flash animation style movements.

    I have to admit, I was not a backer (but I “starred” the project to put it on my kickstarter watch list) and I do not work in animation, so maybe it is easy for me to complain, because I did not pay for it and I probably underestimate how hard and time-consuming animating is, even if you use tweens.
    Aside from that, I really love the movie and am excited for the next part!

    • Ant G

      Great point and I agree. I don’t know if I was bias because reading the article first about keeping “2D full-animation going” hyped up the video too much for me, but seeing those lazy effects were a distraction to an otherwise excellent vid. It was a great introduction and was really well timed, but the cheap tweens took away from the video’s charm.

    • azzamckazza

      That whole beautiful thing was made by one guy! One guy!!! Let him tween a little.

      Jeezy Creezy.

  • Caitlin

    There is a LOT of tweening/puppeting animation in this. I’m actually really disappointed by that, as it’s not at all what I was expecting when I initially saw this Kickstarter. I assumed it would all be hand-drawn and it’s VERY noticeable when it’s not.

    • the Gee

      So he didn’t do the tweened/puppet animation well enough for your liking?

      That’s a drag. Somehow that casts a shadow on the rest of it?
      Below, he replies to “Arigator” who makes similar complaints.
      I can’t defend Gagne anymore than he can or his work does. Unlike “Prelude to Eden”, it sounds like he mainly did this (all of the heavy lifting AND all the redundancies which go into that that can easily lead to burning out) by himself.

      The mix of techniques are forgivable to me. What ever works well for the production means the next one will work better. And, the pantomime short has a story unlike ones which just have a lot of motion and cuts.

    • Michel Gagne

      Caitlin, I’m sorry you’re disappointed.

      I’m not sure I fully understand when you say ” I assumed it would all be hand-drawn and it’s VERY noticeable when it’s not.” Everything in the film is hand-drawn. Even the frame interpolation is done with bitmaps so that my line from Photoshop is fully retained. Do you mean, it doesn’t have a different drawing for each frame? In that case, you are correct. I did use animation cheats combined with traditional animation.

      I had to use the After Effects Puppet Tool in order to keep my sanity. I spent weeks upon weeks doing inbetweens and realized that it was not a good way to spend my time (something I shared with my backers on the production blog). If I want to do a feature film by myself, and tell a story with a vision, I need to be smart about it. I fully intend to have spectacular bits of animation, but I can’t sustain that level all the time, with only me as a crew.

      I have to pick my battles and I try to do it tastefully. You think I failed, and I accept that. Perhaps my rustiness with doing character animation has something to do with it (This is my first character animation since 1998!) and I will make an effort to focus more in this area as I go forward.

      One thing for sure, in order to do a feature film of this sort, single-handedly, I will have to resort to tricks, imagination and shortcuts.

      • Caitlin

        I do apologize if my initial comment was harsh; I have a LOT of respect for what you’re doing! And during the parts where it’s very noticeably hand-drawn, it’s beautiful. Definitely beautiful. I think I just led with too much criticism and not nearly enough acknowledgment of the achievements behind it, especially considering it was a one-person affair.

        That being said, I do think I personally would have preferred waiting a much longer time and eliminating any puppet animation, which I do think is jarring when played alongside flowing frame-by-frame hand drawn animation. That may not be totally realistic, I am now realizing.

        That all being said, again, I don’t have much room to criticize, and perhaps should have only stated that I wish it were more realistic in this case to incorporate only frame by frame, even if it was somewhat watered down or reduced to a much lower framerate, than incorporate both the puppet animation and the frame-by-frame.

        I’m still very much looking forward to following the rest of your work on this and definitely won’t be so quick on the trigger in future.

  • Matt Sullivan

    I use it for hand drawn. It was made specifically FOR hand drawn artists, but you can also use it for tweened stuff if you want to. It’s awesome.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Also, the next version of Animate & Harmony will have bitmap brushes. The recent version of Storyboard Pro just came out with that feature and it’s great. And the vectors will only act like vectors if you set the smoothing features on. otherwise it draws exactly what you want it to.

    • jmahon

      wow, I stand corrected, thanks for the replies, guys!

      I know it makes me sound like a stickler that I haven’t embraced vector lines but I’m always super set in my ways when it comes to drawing digitally…I’ll have to do some research and find out which animation program is best for mostly simple frame-by-frame animation but thanks, I was unaware it was good for that too!

      • Animator606432

        Digicel Flipbook is pretty decent from what i’ve heard, but is also limited compared to something like TVPaint.

  • Ferdinand Engländer

    Well, I highly doubt that it would be possible for one animator alone to do such a long project within a reasonable time without using some tricks. What are you guys complaining about? This is animated by one person! The many frame by frame animation that is in there is on Disney feature film level. And I think it`s understandable that he occasionally uses puppet animation so he can focus on shots that really need the frame by frame approach. Why should anybody waste time animating, cleaning up and coloring a flipping tail if there are more important (and challenging) run cycles and reaction shots to be done.

    • zac leck

      Well I’m a 3D animator, if that can be an excuse for my complaint. I love love love 2D animation, it’s what inspired me to pursue this career, but don’t have an eye for flash style tweener animation. Maybe I’ve just seen too many really bad animations in that style that I have a bias towards it. I agree with you though, the frame by frame that was there is great.

  • Michel Gagne

    Zac, although I raised $57k, only half of that amount went into the production (Kickstarter/Amazon fee, Rewards + Shipping took over 50% of the budget). Now consider that my wife worked full time for over a month, packaging, shipping and organizing the rewards. I worked full time (50+ hours a week for over 9 months (6.5 months for production + about 2 months preparing and running the campaign and another 2 weeks helping with the rewards). Then, add to this, budget for music + equipment and you will see that the amount is very minimal.

    I had to be selective on where I spent my time. The shot where Rex meets Aven (his purple counterpart) contained over 500 drawings. Each drawing (for each character) took over 20 minutes a piece per inbetween. For that scene alone, I spent over 8 weeks inbetweening, 7 days a week from morning until night. As I stated in my backers’ production blog (another time consuming aspect of this project), I needed to find ways to speed up my process if I ever wanted to get the film done, hence the use of puppeteering. Perhaps the problem is that I tried to do everything single-handedly (storyboard, art direction, layouts, background, animation, special effects, compositing, sound and music editing, all the way to final encoding) but for me, that was the point of the exercise: to see what could realistically be done by one person.

    Maybe the key would be to have a couple of inbetweeners to help me out, so that I could have more fully animated character scenes, but my current budget certainly did not afford me this. I did the best I could within the budget and time I had. And I’m going to do my best to make The Saga of Rex better and better as I move forward. I do listen to criticism, but I also have my limitations. I’m not a superhero, just an artist who’s trying to do his very best.

    • Matt Sullivan

      I’ll help ya Michel. I got Harmony :D

    • zac leck

      Thanks for taking the time to respond, Michel! I hope you don’t take my criticisms to mean I didn’t like it, I have a lot of respect for anyone who self produces their own short animation, and there was a lot I liked about it. The story and characters translated very well from the comics. It’s just that the puppeteering style of animation doesn’t do much for me. It’s unfortunate you couldn’t hire a couple inbetweeners like you mentioned, but what you did get done, mostly on your own is a feat to be sure.

      I was unaware there were so many fees associated with using kickstarter. I’ve been slowly laying out the ground work for my own animated short and I’ve always kept kickstarter in the back of my head as a possibility. In your opinion was the kickstarter process worth it? Besides giving the project exposure and getting half of that $57,000 to put towards the production, would you have handled anything differently or maybe budgeted in more time or man power?

      • Michel Gagne

        Without Kickstarter, I’m not sure “The Saga of Rex: The Animated Film part 1” would exist.

  • Killerjellybean

    Michel, your work is beautiful, as always. How you can get so much accomplished in such a short time all by yourself is nothing short of amazing. I can’t wait to see more in the future!

  • Ryan

    Recently completing my thesis film at school for animation has taught me one thing most of all. Management. It’s impossible to create an animated film without a few shortcuts here and there. I see some reasonable complaints (I don’t care much for the generic UFO shots myself), but I am still thoroughly impressed with Michael’s work so far. It’s an epic film. To the trained eye, the amount of work that’s gone into it shows. So I just want to say, keep up the good work Michael. Don’t be discouraged by the neigh sayers (They will always follow every great great piece of art). Keep the dream alive, and good luck!

  • Joseph

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • Matt

    As someone who personally knows Michel and has worked with him in the past for 9 years I find many of the comments down right ignorant. Some of you are saying you can tell when he uses one tool compared to another? I doubt it, I cannot tell, I think many of you are being critical to be just that…critical. Michel has never been one to use bells and whistles cause they are there, every frame is criticized by him over and over til he feels it is at its highest quality. I can’t even believe he apologized for his character work, stuff was amazing. Do most of you even grasp that the entire film is on one’s? So many here complain that 2d has been killed and here comes someone who single handily is trying to keep it alive and people become critical. I for one am glad he is finding ways to automate some of the inbetweens, have any of tried inbeyweening that stuff, it’s hard! We used automated inbetweening a bit on Iron Giant yet no one gripes there. We used many of the tools Michel incorporated in his film on Princess and the Frog and no one seems to mind that. Again, I am just shocked how the animation community becomes so harsh. Keep in mind this is the first short of an entire feature, be encouraging, give a dollar on the next round of funding and have Michel inspire you, he inspires me.

  • zac leck

    Anyone is allowed to have an opinion on style, quality, consistency, etc., regardless of their credentials or how many ‘masterpieces’ they have under their belt. It’s the double edge sword of working in the entertainment industry. You don’t think a lot of hard work by a lot of talented people went into your least favorite animated feature or short? And sometimes little things generate large responses, that one kink in the armor that lets the arrow in. Our own Amid Amidi here on the Brew often picks things apart with little remorse. It takes thick skin to make it in this business and ideally, the criticisms make you better.

  • zac leck

    And I think I double responded to you, sorry about that. This My Disqus layout is a bit confusing.

  • a

    Beautiful. I find it interesting how many people have posted harshly-worded, downright rude comments, and immediately apologized and backed down when Michel Gagne actually responded to the criticism. Goes to show that some people need to actually give their wording some thought before just posting pure negativity (as so many people tend to do on the internet).

    • Matt

      I also wonder how many of the nay sayers have even attempted making a film of their own especially on this level. Do they even work in animation or are they just harsh fan boys? I am glad Michel answers them.

  • Martin

    The music kind of took me out of it. There’s a lot of cool/weird visuals that would really lend themselves towards some creative sound design. Intriguing concept though! Looking forward to more.

  • The Duke

    Can see the game already too!!