The place where your favourite cartoons are brought to life
TEXT: DEBORAH CICUREL | PHOTOS: GOBELINS
Next time you turn on your TV to watch a cartoon, or head to the cinema to watch an animated film, pay attention to the credits: chances are there will be at least a few alumni from the world-famous animation department at French visual arts school Gobelins.
For over 50 years, Gobelins has stood at the forefront of image creation and is part of the Paris Ile-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry. One thousand students are enrolled every year, including 500 apprentices and many trainees in further education. The school offers courses in photography, printed communication and plurimedia, animation, graphic design, motion design, interactive design and game design.
Gobelins, which has campuses in both Paris and Annecy, was at one time the only school in the world teaching animation. The animation department was set up in 1974, and teaches the subject intensively, covering everything from character design, production and storytelling to directing, film design and animation techniques, in a range of courses, from two-week summer programmes to four-year masters degrees.
The school trains students rigorously for their future careers, teaching them creative, technical and professional skills. As well as learning the mechanics of animation in detail, the school trains people practically to get into the industry and places a strong emphasis on teamwork.
Gobelins is extremely well-regarded when it comes to recruiting new character animators. Unlike film directors, story boarders and art directors, only one of whom is usually required for a project, the needs of this particular industry require a crew of animators on the animation profile.
“Many of the studios we speak to say that they get a lot of applicants for animation jobs, but that they simply don’t have the specific level of animation that Gobelins provides students, which is to be able to bring spirit and life to the characters,” says Moira Marguin, head of Gobelins’ animation department. “We make sure that all our students have an extremely high level when it comes to character animation.”
The school has an international outlook, with students from all over the world – from Asia, North America and South America to the Middle East, Europe and Africa – competing for places on its highly-regarded programmes. Three years ago, Gobelins introduced animation classes on long-term programmes in both English and French, paving the way for international students without a grasp of French to apply for the courses. Prior to this, prospective Gobelins students had to learn French to be able to join the programme. Now 30 per cents of its 1,000 students are international.
Both the long-term programmes and the shorter summer schools only accept students with drawing or 3D-software experience, and who are determined to become animators once they graduate, so if you are keen to dive into the world of animation but have no prior experience, there are also online courses in both English and French for beginners. This is also the second session of the school’s five-week Mooc Anima Podi programme, which enables students to learn the basics of animation for free online. Gobelins has close relationships with schools around the world, from the Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark to the Communication University of China in Beijing and Calarts in the US.
“We have been asked to set up Gobelins schools around the world, but we would rather have a range of nationalities coming to study in France,” says Moira Marguin. “We currently have 18 nationalities in our masters programme, and we really want to share what’s happening in France with our international students: having a mix of nationalities is a good way to bring more creativity, new ideas and novel ways of telling stories for both our French and our foreign students. The two-week summer school is a great trial period for those who have never lived abroad and who don’t know if they will like living in Paris.”
Students go on to be successful across the board, working with world-famous names like Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Pixar, DreamWorks, Bluesky, Laika and Sony. One alumnus, Kristof Serrand, is the head of animation at DreamWorks, while another, Pierre Coffin, co-directed the films in the Despicable Me franchise.
A team of international Gobelins alumni, all from different countries, from Spain to India, recently won the Best Student Film Award at the Annie Awards in Los Angeles – the equivalent of an Academy Award in the world of animation – for their graduation film entitled Best Friend, about a lonely man addicted to a product offering him virtual friends.
“We have alumni working on high-profile projects all over the world, and today there is no animated feature film in Europe or around the world without at least one Gobelins alumnus in the credits,” says Moira Marguin.