École Supérieur des Métiers Artistiques

From the classroom to Hollywood

TEXT: MARTIN PILKINGTON | PHOTOS: ESMA/MATHIEU DUCROS

When the first of ESMA’s three locations, Montpellier, opened in 1993 it met a need for training in contemporary artistic crafts, a philosophy that’s seen courses like animation and computer-generated cinematography added since then. Its employability figures, and a host of awards and accolades, show the founders got it right. “When we started there was very little provision for education in the applied arts field in France,” says pedagogical director Isabelle Teissedre: “There was a clear demand in areas like graphic and interior design, and photography. That coincided with a lot of young people looking to gain expertise in this type of work, and finding it extremely hard to obtain a place. There really was a gap waiting to be filled.”

Following the success of the Montpellier site a second was opened in Toulouse in 2008, and a third in Nantes in September 2013. “Some teachers give classes at more than one site, and we have a healthy exchange of ideas between the three – we have the same curricula and the same academic calendars, which makes cooperation relatively easy,” she says.

Contemporary design for contemporary designers

All the schools are housed in decidedly contemporary buildings, with state-of-the-art facilities that make the transition from education to real-world application easy, and on-campus accommodation is possible at all three. With some 500 students at Montpellier, the same number at Toulouse, and around 300 in Nantes (where only the first two years’ intakes are in place) they are relatively intimate, exclusive even, institutions.

Most students are French, but every intake contains a sprinkling of international arrivals, from Belgium, Luxembourg, the U SA, China, North Africa… And the international aspect works both ways, “We have former students, French and otherwise, currently employed in Britain, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, the USA and even New Zealand,” says Isabelle.

Constant evolution

Working in frontier fields brings special demands: “The teaching and learning experience is constantly under review as the areas in which we work evolve technologically and culturally.

“Technology is progressing so rapidly that it can sometimes happen that our students are more aware of changes than those established in the industries where they go to work. In that way they can bring real added value to the workplace when they start,” states Isabelle. recent figures show that such knowledge is appreciated by the market – for example, an extraordinary 95 per cent plus of graduates from the cinema animation course were employed within a year of graduation.

Special effects, special success

The low-tech days of special-effects genius Ray Harryhausen are long gone, with those working in that sector needing cutting-edge IT skills – along with genuine creativity – to succeed. ESMA graduates are doing just that, never more clearly demonstrated than with wins for alumni of the school at the VES (Visual Effects Society) Awards in Los Angeles, the SFX equivalent of the Oscars. “Alexandre Allain, from the class of 2008, working with colleagues won one category in 2014; and we just learned that Philippe Moine, who only graduated in 2013, won another on 4 February this year,” says Isabelle proudly.

Amazing though those achievements are, an appearance at the Oscars themselves takes some beating, especially when the invitation comes thanks to a student film. Five of the 2014 graduation class, Matéo Bernard, Matthias Bruget, Jonathan Duret, Manon Marco and Quentin Puiraveau, made a charming and funny animated s hort film – Sweet Cocoon – as their final year project. They were delighted to win ‘Best of School’ prize with it, then went way beyond delight when they learned subsequently it would be part of the Oscars Ceremony programme – and that they’ll be in LA to enjoy the occasion.

“They have been on the national news, they are going to the Oscars,” says Isabelle: “Everyone at the school could not be happier, it is wonderful for them – and not bad publicity for us!”