Exclusive interview with Vincent Chansard – Part 1

Thanks to Iluvatar, we get the opportunity to publish an interview between him and famous animator Vincent Chansard. Impressing fans and industry professionals alike, Vincent Chansard has been an action ace on several big productions. In this first part of the interview, we get to know about his school background, the difference between western and Japanese productions as well as delving deeper into his work on One Piece.

The interview was conducted in French and translated by Blou.

To start things off, can you introduce yourself and perhaps talk about your school background?

I’m Vincent Chansard, storyboard artist and animator. I mainly studied animation at Gobelins l’école de l’image in Paris.

*Les Gobelins is the most prestigious animation school in France and recognized in the world. Some of the graduation projects posted on their youtube channel even reached million(s) of views.

So your studies were mainly focused on animation? Did you opt for these in order to become an animator?

Hmm… well I could write a book about the curriculum taught at the Gobelins, but to keep it short, we learned a little bit of everything without focusing on anything in particular. Though, there were indeed a lot of technical animation exercises, especially during the first year where we did all our exercises on paper with an animation table. After the first year, we started producing films in teams. After finishing high school, I was planning to draw manga or comic books. In fact, I didn’t even know that animation was a thing (at least it didn’t come to my mind). It’s during my preparatory animation school time that I (re)discovered the medium and at the end of my first year, I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue. Though, I admit that I didn’t necessarily want to become an animator at first. In France, the highest achievement you can attain when pursuing a traditional animation curriculum is to become a storyboard artist, character designer or art director. For a long time, I tried to do character designs, but I was simply following my surroundings and trends. After a few years, I started listening to myself much more and ended up going the path of animation and storyboard.

*”preparatory school, consist of two years of study […] which act as an intensive preparatory course […] with the main goal of training students for enrolment in one of the grandes écoles.” (Wikipedia, November 2021)

How many years did you spend in education?

After one year of preparatory art school, I failed all the entrance exams I was aiming for and did one year of preparatory animation school. Afterwards, I did one year in a school called Georges Méliès where I was allowed to join the second year directly. And then, it was Les Gobelins for 4 years.

Vincent’s graduation short film “Pour La France”

That seems like a long time. Would you say your time spent in higher education prepared you enough for your professional career? What about Japanese productions where the pipeline differs a bit from the western way?

It’s true, I took my time, but I needed that time to find myself, both artistically and personally. It took me many years to understand I wanted to be an animator. I was continuously self-reflecting, meeting new people and rediscovering movies and series from my childhood that were keys in my artistic development but that I had forgotten because they weren’t part of the common references in my school environment. And…well, as you can imagine, the western industry and the Japanese industry are pretty far apart

I guess it wasn’t your plan to work in the Japanese animation industry?

Funnily enough, even a year and a half before graduating from Les Gobelins, I was doing animation exercises with characters from Japanese series, yet I had no plan to work in the industry. The idea didn’t come into my mind for even one second. The fact of the matter is that the idea of joining the Japanese industry isn’t even a topic of discussion here. Generally (and I do mean generally), Japanese animation is respected, but in my entire course of study, I only met one person who wanted to work in the Japanese industry.

One of Vincent’s animation exercises using characters from My Hero Academia

To go back to your question, Gobelins (and Calarts where I did my academic exchange in my 4th year) were clearly leading me to work on western productions. However, I want to say that my time at Les Gobelins was an opportunity for me to experiment and improve on my own. The exercises have very generous deadlines (for example, one month to draw a rough cut), there’s no homework, and we were allowed to leave school at 5pm everyday.  Basically, even if there were some exceptional teachers, when I graduated from there my demoreel didn’t have anything I had done specifically for school. 

Another obvious point, and perhaps the most important as a student, is the salary. It doesn’t even compare. The average salary in France is two times the minimum wage* and contrary to Japan where you’re paid per cut, it’s consistent. When you graduate from a school like Les Gobelins (and let’s not even mention American schools like Calarts), it’s common to have a student loan to repay. So the idea of working at a loss is inconceivable, especially when the workload is so much heavier in Japan.

*minimum wage is around 1500€ / 1700$ in France

Indeed, salary is important, especially in some countries (like France) where earning 4-5k yen for 2-3 days of work is simply unsustainable. So how did you come to work in the Japanese industry? Was there a particular show, movie or artists that inspired you? Or was it an opportunity that came to you?

My inspirations constantly change. I’ve always been inspired by Japanese works and artists, but none made me want to work in Japan. In fact, despite how much I loved them, I felt the opposite about working there. If I had to give some works that particularly inspired me…Sailor Moon was one of the first anime I watched at my grandparents’, and is to this day my favorite anime. There are also Triggainax productions that I discovered in preparatory art school and broadened my horizons at a time when I only knew Disney and Nicolas Marlet. I started to see Japanese productions and artists as a source of inspiration again. However, the real trigger was the Leagues of Legends CM directed by Shingo Yamashita.

Were you directly contacted by Mr. Yamashita?

Yoshihiro Watanabe, the producer, acted as a bridge between me and Hiromitsu Seki, the action supervisor for this work. In his own words, Yamashita-san saw some of my exercises posted on sakugabooru. I was really lucky to be contacted, and as you can imagine, it was a rather intense first experience… Back then, I was working on my graduation project and was one of the few who were doing it alone, since I was doing my exchange at Calarts at the time, and as you can imagine, doing a short film all alone with the expectations from the Gobelins is tough. Now add a freelance job for one of the most popular games in the world, under a director I looked up to as my idol…as you can probably guess, my nights were quite short.

Expanding a bit on that, my cut (since all the freelancers had one or two cuts) was, according to their words during the meeting, the only one that needed to be changed from the storyboard. Don’t ask me what that meant, I’m not sure they knew themselves. I redid the cut three times, and each time the feedback was completely different: all while I was learning the Japanese way of doing things. And there was that damned dragon…the hardest design I’ve had to animate even to this day. I hope that one day Riot Games will allow us to publish production materials, to show how hard it was to draw all those scales with the shading and highlights, especially for my first time working with Japanese designs. It was an amazing first experience, but hard nonetheless. But words can’t express how thankful I am to Yamashita-san for taking the risk of trusting a student like me who had never worked for a Japanese production. And of course the same could be said about Seki-san who patiently supervised me. Working alongside some of your heroes is always a delight.

Indeed, it sounds like it was quite hard to do these projects at the same time.

(laugh) Yes, my fourth year was really intense. Between that freelance job, my graduation film, the storyboard for The Witcher movie, my personal projects in my free time, all of that while adapting to Calarts, it was quite tiring. Nonetheless, I will remember it as a fantastic year.

Now that you mention it, I’m quite surprised to hear you were working on the storyboard for The Witcher movie while you were still studying since it came out recently. Pretty telling of the difference between (pre)production time for western and Japanese projects.

Regarding the Witcher, it shouldn’t be overlooked that even though Studio Mir made the project, it’s still a Netflix production. There was a lot of back and forth between the time I got the rough script and when I sent the final storyboard. I actually visited Netflix HQ during my time at Calarts and it felt very laboratory-like. There are many wildly different projects, and I feel like they don’t hesitate to put a lot of budget and time into the pre-production phase.

Was it hard to switch between western and Japanese productions during your first experience with Mr. Yamashita? Is it still the case now, or have you gotten used to it by now? Also, thinking about it, I feel like your workload these days is evenly split between western and japanese productions. Am I correct?

It was hard at first, but as you can imagine, you get used to it. Well, my ratio might surprise you, but while it varies from moment to moment, it’s closer to 75% for western productions and 25% for Japanese ones. I do my work hours for French projects (5 days/week, 9AM-17PM), and then I work on anime in my free time.

Since you were mentioning it, do you often ask to modify the storyboard so that it suits your style better?

It depends on the production, studio, and/or scene. When I started working on Japanese productions, I was terrified at the mere idea of changing the storyboard, to the point I was even reusing all the drawings in the board as key poses. I worked that way for several productions like FGO Babylonia or Gleipnir, but at some point, I wasn’t satisfied with my cuts.
All the cuts I did on the side or on French productions were much better, and I couldn’t understand why. I was wondering how other freelancers made such great cuts on anime. The solution was rather simple, and thus I started experimenting on BORUTO, changing one cut, then a few more, then an entire scene, and from that point, my scenes became much better, and the Japanese studios I kept working with progressively gave me more responsibilities. Since then, I’ve always asked to change the storyboard.

Vincent’s scene in Boruto #217

However, there are two types of exception to that rule. The first one is when the storyboard is perfect, and there’s little or nothing to change.. For example, the part storyboarded by Hiroto Nagata in the fourth episode of Madoka Magia Record Season 2, or Megumi Ishitani’s storyboard for One Piece 957. The second type is when I work with an employer/studio I’m not familiar with. In those cases, I follow the storyboard, as was the case for My Hero Academia #109.

You said on Twitter that One Piece is one of your favorite manga. How did it feel to work on such an amazing episode? Is there an anecdote you could share about it?

One Piece was a big part of my teens, and perhaps one of the reasons I started drawing when I entered high school. Having the chance to work on One Piece and being able to draw characters like Doflamingo, Moria, and Blackbeard, who all appeared as I was reading One Piece volume by volume, is an indescribable feeling. I remember crying when I learned they wanted me to animate that scene. Well, I still struggled quite a lot because I didn’t get any corrections on about half of my cuts, thus I had to figure out alone how to clean One Piece’s particular style, but it’s one of those moments in your career where you look back, consider your fares and successes, look back how far you have come, and all you can think is that it was well worth it. As for the anecdote: I remember Ishitani-san suggesting that she might get blamed because her storyboard looked too much like a finished product and was “too animated”: An instance of that can be found in the cut with Buggy at the end, where his motion was thoroughly depicted. I really hope that the result and all the praise this episode received made whomever complained change their mind about it. Considering recent developments, I’d like to think so.

Vincent’s incredible scene in One Piece #957

The fact that you didn’t get corrections on some cuts is interesting. While it gave you more work, it also gave you the opportunity to get used to the style, and perhaps it could be an asset for an eventual future participation on the series.

Indeed, it’s a good thing to not get corrections as it means the staff trusts you. However, when you are as self-conscious as I am when it comes to your drawing level, and you’re drawing characters you hold dear, you tremble at the idea that every stroke is final and no one is going to fix your mistakes. For the cut involving Doflamingo and the kumas, I would have liked to have some corrections. But indeed, now I can draw Blackbeard pre-timeskip or Gecko Moria and Doflamingo the next time they appear (laugh)

This concludes our first part of this interview, stay tuned to read the next part where we will go more deeply about Vincent’s work on Boruto as well as discussing the state of today’s Japanese industry.

Part 2

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