Q&A with master animator Michel Gagne, part 2. Another in a series for fans and Furries.
by Patch O'Furr
Dogpatch Press interview series: Artists, animation directors, DJ’s and event organizers, superfans, and more…
Animator Michel Gagne talked about his movie, The Saga of Rex, in Part 1. In Part 2, he says more about the movie and his overall career. He also says that his 2004 Anthrocon Guest of Honor experience is the only Furry experience he’s had. But there’s plenty of reasons to consider him a fan and inspiration to things we also love…
Finished Watership Down last night. Read it 1st time in High School and it became my fav book. Reading it again, I think it might still be.
— Michel Gagne (@GagneMichel) September 26, 2014
Michel Gagne Q&A, Part 2
(Patch) – Will the movie stick closely to the Saga of Rex graphic novel, or are you playing with adaptation?
(Michel Gagne) – It will be an adaptation but we will definitely keep the spirit of the graphic novel. As I mentioned previously, at 40 minutes we would have been able to stick pretty much to the graphic novel but now that the running time has expended to the 72 minutes requirement, we need to beef up the story.
Was there anything you learned by publishing the graphic novel that pushed you to do a movie, or was that your plan before you started the book?
Back in 2004, I was doing a signing at the Golden Apple Comics Booth at the Long Beach Wizard Con. Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet, Daisy Kutter) came to my table and showed me a binder containing the artwork for a comic anthology he was putting together called, FLIGHT. I was very impressed with it. Kazu was familiar with my work and hoped I’d be a part of future volumes, so when I suggested using my Rex character, which I had previously created for a book that was published in 1998 called, A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex, he was very receptive. One of Kazu’s goals with Flight was to help artists build their own graphic novels in manageable chunks. Not sure if anyone else took advantage of that, but I, for one, saw a golden opportunity.
When I did the first 17 pages for FLIGHT vol. 2, I had no idea where the overall story would take me. By the time FLIGHT vol. 3 rolled around, I had figured out the overall outline with its main themes and concepts. Within that framework, I kept improvising and coming up with new ideas as I went along. From 2005 to 2010, I did a new chapter every year and progressively built the story over six volumes of FLIGHT.
The Saga of Rex was very loosely thumbnailed, and in some cases I didn’t even thumbnail at all. I’d go straight ahead with cleaned up and colored pages without knowing exactly what the next page would be like. This method of working would be impossible in mainstream comics, but for a project like Rex, being serialized in FLIGHT, it worked well. I found that it kept me constantly on my toes creatively and allowed new ideas to sneak in and surprise me. It made the whole process fun, unexpected and never boring.Once the story was completed, I repackaged the whole thing, added a few pages and sent a mock-up to Image Comics, to see if they would be interested in publishing the graphic novel. I was delighted to get a very enthusiastic response from Image Comics’ publisher, Eric Stephenson, and the book was quickly added to their pipeline. The complete Saga of Rex was published by Image Comics in the fall of 2010.
While I created The Saga of Rex graphic novel, I literally saw it as a movie in my head and treated the whole thing as a fully art directed storyboard. I saw the characters, the effects and the landscapes move in my mind’s eye, and tried to convey as much of that feeling as I could on the pages. The transition to film seems to be the next logical step for the project.
You’re doing amazing, high-level animation using Toon Boom’s software. They’re based in Montreal- do you have friends there, and can you say anything about support you’re getting from their company?
I don’t have any personal friends at Toon Boom, but I do find the people I’ve had interaction with very nice and helpful. I think that software is amazing and a dream come true for a guy like me.
How about from Canadian culture in general?
Most of my family lives in Quebec, and I personally lived the first 20 years of my life in both Quebec and Ontario so I do feel a strong connection to Canada. Even now, I only live 20 minutes from British Colombia’s border and my wife and I often vacation there.
Growing up in Québec, I was exposed to a lot of European French cultures (Bédés) as well as experimental animation from the National Film Board of Canada. I think it helped to open my mind to doing things not so mainstream. I’ve been told that my experimental short films, Sensology and Synesthesia have a strong NFB feel, so I guess these influences can still be seen in my work.
Do you have a favorite work in your career, and why?
It’s hard to pick favorites because I much prefer looking ahead than looking back. I’m much more excited about the future than the past. Doing art is about the process. That’s the part I enjoy. Once the project is done, I move on. But if I had to pick just one as a favorite, I would have to choose my graphic novel, ZED: A Cosmic Tale. That’s the one that gives me the most joy every time I revisit it.
As an indie artist, I’ll bet you really value fan love. Can you share one thing you’ve learned about attracting it, since you started working independently?
I’m super glad some people like my work and I always try to be gracious. I don’t know that I’m doing anything special to attract it. I mean, I have a website I update weekly (or at least I try), I respond to my emails, and I make some appearances at conventions, but nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t even like the word, “fan”. Makes me feel too much on a pedestal. We all have our own talents. I’m just lucky I’ve found mine and I have the passion to nurture it.
You were Guest of Honor at Anthrocon 10 years ago. Your con report said – “I will take weird over normalcy anytime. Nancy and I had such a good time. We’ve never been treated better at a convention.” I’m not aware whether you have had much interaction with furry fans since then. Have you gained any interesting experiences or opinions about them since then?
That was the only furry experience I’ve had so far. I have fond memory of it and thought the people were very nice. It was a lot of fun.
As far as I can tell, you’re based not too far from Seattle’s popular Rainfurrest convention. Do you have any tie to it, or just furry fans in the area, or would you welcome that?
I have no ties with Rainfurrest and I don’t know any furry fans in Washington, I’m afraid. But then again, I have a pretty small circle of friends in Washington and most of them are completely unrelated to my industry. They think of me as a mad scientist.
Your wife Nancy is mentioned as being key to helping manage what you do. Many artists seem underexposed to the business and management aspect, especially in school and while struggling to get a foothold in the art world. Is there one word of advice you’d give them?
I actually feel like the young filmmakers and artists of today have amazing tools at their disposal. I wished I would have had access to some of the software available today when I was in school. There are a lot of opportunities for young artists to promote their work through the internet via social media, YouTube, etc. I know I’d make the most of that if I was starting up in the business.
One piece of advice: remain humble and hungry to keep learning. Nobody wants to work with a know-it-all jerk.
Would you like to end with any words about Nancy’s support?
Nancy and I are a good ying and yang. I need someone who uses the other part of the brain—the one I don’t use. She fills the gaps where I’m lacking and allows me to pursue my vision in a harmonious environment. In a nutshell, I love her.