The opportunity to study animation in France has been available for almost 40 years now. Some French schools have earned international recognition for their animation programs.

The first of these is the Gobelins School, widely known for excellence in traditional animation training. The best students of this school go on to work in leading American studios. Several years ago, this school began producing student graduation films, in addition to cinematic trailers for the Annecy film festival. These films give students greater opportunity to extend their studies past the technical aspects to include story-writing as well.

Supinfocom does much the same, except with computer-generated animation. A number of grand-prize winning student graduation films have allowed the Valenciennes-based school to open branches in Arles, in the south of France, and, more recently, in India.

The third highly-recognized school in France is La Poudrière, located in Valence. It was founded by the creator of Studio Folimage, whose headquarters are just next door. This institution’s curriculum offer many different exercises, such as TV and short film production, but its focus is on directing. La Poudrière’s alumni often find a promising career ahead of them: Benjamin Renner, director of the graduation film La Queue de la souris [The Mouse’s Tale], recently finished Ernest et Célestine, his first feature-length film, which arrives in theatres in France towards the end of this year.

Other schools, like Paris’ ENSAD (École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs) and Angoulême-based EMCA (École des métiers du cinéma d’animation), allow their students a great deal of freedom to express their personal creativity. This creativity has paid off and earned substantial recognition for student graduation films: The 2011 Annecy Grand Prix for best student film went to ENSAD and the year’s Special Jury Award went to EMCA.

Others, such as LISAA (L’Institut supérieur des arts appliqués), will base their education on the technical aspect of the field, thus opening doors for graduating students to find work with film studios.

It would be difficult to list every school in France—not to mention each school’s specialty—but the RECA (Réseau des écoles de cinema d’animation) was created to help simplify matters. It currently includes 15 institutions (though new ones could join very soon) who agree to respect a charter outlining the programs offered at each institution.

Programs last between two and five years. Most schools start recruiting at the Bac +2 level, which is the equivalent of the completion of a two-year post-secondary program, while some others recruit students right out of high school. In terms of price, aside from the rare completely-public schools, a year of study at a private institution can cost up to 8,500 Euros (more than $10,000 CAD).

For more technical information about schools in France, I recommend that you consult the RECA site or the excellent resources available via Fous d’anim.

FRENCH ANIMATION MARKET

 

If you can judge how well a particular cinema culture is doing by the awards that it wins, then French animated cinema is doing very well indeed: the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and the Short Film Palme d’Or in 2010, on top of the Grands Prix for best short film, best feature film, and best graduation film at the 2011 Annecy International Animated Film Festival…

French animated cinema is alive and well at the box office, too—more than 3 million people saw the film adaptation of the children’s book Arthur and the Invisibles, more than a million saw the movie based on comic strip star Titeuf, and more than 400,000 went to see a film d’auteur like Une Vie de chat. According to a recent Unifrance study, between 1998 and 2010, French animated films accounted for 41% of foreign films up for awards in Western Europe and 22.6% of these films in North America. It also bears mentioning that 85% of the films produced in this particular period were distributed around the world!

There’s been no shortage of success online, either. Patrick Jean’s Pixels has more than 4 million views on DailyMotion alone. Alexandre Dubosc’s Food About You has over 1 million YouTube views…

Things are going pretty well for French animated series as well. In 2009,a report published by the Centre national du cinema et de l’image animée states that roughly one-third of French audiovisual programming sales take place on the international market, while the volume of animation produced in France represents less than 10% of the total hours of entertainment produced in continental France. France is Europe’s leading producer of animation and the third-largest producer in the world (after the United States and Japan).

That’s all well and good, but cinema is more than statistics. France’s animated cinema is receiving its fair share of artistic accolades as well.

Some part of the credit is surely due to the energy of France’s various animation schools (see animation school text), but it also important to recognize the value of diversity within French animated cinema.

The creators themselves are quite a diverse group. Many filmmakers in France have studied at animation schools, but live-action filmmakers are branching out into animation in ever-greater numbers (Patrice Leconte, Cédric Klapisch, and so on), as are creators with backgrounds in comic books (Marjane Satrapi, Tardi, and so on). There is also significant diversity in terms of style. This is true in many countries, but it is less common among feature-length films. That said, there is no comparison between the Arthur series of films and Persepolis, or between Zarafa and Le tableau

France also maintains a preferential financing system with regard to this field. Many foreign authors have their works produced in France, bringing with them their different cinema cultures which, in turn, enrich animated cinema in France (Le Roman de Renart, the first feature-length French animated feature, is the work of a Polish filmmaker who began his career in Russia…).

This diversity extends to the level of production as well. Given that a significant number of independent production houses recently came together to form a collective unit, it seems obvious that each complements the others. The production style of Je suis bien content is completely different from that of Autour de minuit, as is Papy 3D’s style from Sacrebleu’s. An author in France can find a production house that bests suits the film to be made. The same is true for feature films, whether low-budget productions developed by La Fabrique (e.g. Jean-François Laguionie’s next project) or Les Films de l’Arlequin (e.g. Florence Miailhe’s first feature-length film) to the major productions of Gaumont and the like.

Given the limited number of theatres and television channels that present animated entertainment to the public, it seems obvious that French animation will soon have to address the issue of distribution. If the market in France is limited, then it seems obvious that the future of these films is exportation to other markets. As the UniFrance report showed two years ago, the majority of French animated feature films released abroad generally attract a sizeable audience. This international distribution, accomplished in collaboration with production houses abroad, increases the visibility of these films.