Gary Fouchy, Yohann Auroux Bernard and Sebastien De Oliveira Bispo are all graduates from Supinfocom Arles school of animation. All from the South of France. Le Fat is their graduation film from 2011. The three met at school, and started working together on the project in the beginning of their last year. "We all wanted to work on a cartoony comedy," Fouchy explains, "and making animals inflate and float around sounded like a good idea."
The idea came one day while listening to a song by the French band les VRP, where a farmer sings about the fact that everything in his farm became fat. We thought that it would be amazing to show this in a short film, and started working on the concept from there. During the thinking process, we chose to make the characters inflate instead of becoming fat. It gave us funnier situations, better visual surprise, and a stronger contrast with the ‘down to earth’ initial environment.
Only the title remained ‘FAT’ as a little joke. We defined the rules of our new universe and created situations involving the animals. It required a lot of work on defining the different characters' behaviour and how they could interact with each other. We also considered the poetic dimension of the floating figures and tried to play with it as much as possible.
The idea was to create a nice blend between 2D and 3D. Once the characters and buildings were modelled, we started experimenting. Because the textures played such a key part in the final look, they were all digitally hand painted using Photoshop. We went through a lot of different styles before settling for this one. At first we had something much softer, with lots of gradients. Then we decided to sharpen everything up and let some brush strokes appear, in order to make the whole thing look more like paint than 3D. We wanted things to appear detailed up close but flat colors in the distance, in order to blend with the other elements and the overall style. We had to define main colors and then go into those flat surfaces and add details, colors and tone variations.
There are eight different characters in the project, plus all the duplicates and the inflated versions. By the time we had them all painted and rigged, we were really short on time to do all the animation ourselves. We asked a couple of students in the year under, Bastien Letoile and Lucas Morandi, if they wanted to help us during their work experience period. They accepted to join the team for two months, during which they did a great job animating most of the animals. We were able to refine all the characters' expressions and behaviour in detail. The dog is one of the most successful examples. He appeared very early as a key character during the development of the film. He's just like a normal dog, expressive and very stubborn, and maybe that's why people relate to him easily. He's also the character that is the most affected by his transformation. Once inflated, he can't run around and preserve order around the farm anymore.
We wanted to achieve a nice 2D look but we needed to keep just enough volume to really feel the roundness of the characters. Compositing was the core of the rendering pipeline. The characters were rendered in 3D and the backgrounds painted in Photoshop with a 3D base. We used a very small amount of shaders so we could ensure most of the elements seemed alike. The self-illumination pass was the starting point for each shot. We had a lot of different passes in order to add detail, change colors, and balance the 2D/3D ratio in After Effects. We used V-Ray for all the lighting, switching between very sharp and very soft lights to get a good mix.
The program is set in five years, two years of foundation studies, and three years of superior cycle. It’s possible to join after the foundation studies if you have done two years of similar studies elsewhere. The first cycle consists of a lot of different courses, you get to practice drawing, sculpting, study the history of Cinema and Art in general, various animation techniques and you also learn to work on concepts and ideas. Starting from the third year, the program focuses much more on 3D. You go through a lot of exercises and have to make a one minute animated short film by yourself. It allows everyone to work on every single aspect of a production. The year ends with a work experience of two months in a company. The second year starts with a whole new set of exercises, exploring more advanced 3D techniques (fur, particles, matte-painting, render engines, etc). You can also choose a little bit more of your specialty by following certain modules (writing, FX, stereoscopics). Then you have to take part in a project involving a team of students and an illustrator, to produce around 35 minutes of animation that focuses on adapting the illustrator’s graphic style into 3D. In the meantime, you have to work on your final major project: develop an idea and build a folder containing visual elements and situations. All the projects are presented together and a dozen are chosen to become the graduation movies of the following year.
Teams are formed and everyone has to go on a second work experience for two months. When everyone gets back, the production of the final projects begins. The third year focuses only on the graduation film. Frequent reviews and exchanges are made with the teachers. There’s a lot of help between students as well. Everyone works hard to get to a final result as good as possible.