ABOUT THE ARTIST
This month, we caught up with Sylvain Marc, a graduate of Estienne and Gobelins. Since graduating in 2006, he has worked as an animator, development artist, character designer and director in various studios like Framestore, Cartoon Network, Laika, Nickelodeon, Sony Pictures Animation, and more.
Many of Cartoons Underground’s young followers would like to know more about finding jobs in the industry. How did you start your career?
S: I was lucky to be hired directly on my graduation day at Gobelins by Framestore in London. Such a school as Gobelins is a real asset to get noticed and start in the industry.
What is your current role in your company, and what are your job requirements?
I’ve been freelancing for the last three years, so I work for different studios at a time. At the moment (and for the last two years and a half) I’ve mainly done concept design work for Sony Pictures Animation. I worked on projects such as Genndy Tartakowsky’s Popeye, Hotel Transylvania 2 and his next project there. In a few weeks I’ll be switching to Nickelodeon as a production designer on a project in development. I also do some work in commercials when I have the time to fit it in. Working remotly, the job consists in receiving a brief on a scene or character that needs to be designed, spend a few days on it, send the result over, and address comments, improve it, and move on something else. I would get reviews through Skype or phone with the director every few days.
PRODUCING A PILOT EPISODE – “VERNE ON VACATION”
“Verne on Vacation” stars an aspiring explorer (Verne) who spends his summer vacation on his Grandparents’ farm. Their farm is located on a magical island, and is populated by whimsical creatures, which Verne enthusiastically befriends.
What is your inspiration for Verne on Vacation?
The main inspiration was memories from my own childhood holidays, that I would spend in a farm in the South of France every summer. I would spend all my time with the farmer there, following him in his daily activities, whom I’m still in contact with and consider as a grandfather in spirit. I would roam around in the fields, the forest, fishing fishes, building tree houses, bow and arrows, and getting in all sorts of shenanigans from dawn to dusk. The feeling of freedom I had for two months there was amazing and would fuel the rest of the year in the grey city, only waiting for the next summer to come. Then of course, I’ve added a good layer of cartoon fun and fantasy. That’s the main inspiration for the whole concept of the show. But the pilot itself is more a little stand alone story within the world of Verne.
How did you develop your story?
I wrote a short outline for it first, and then fully fleshed it out at the storyboard stage. I also had the input of the development team members working at the studio.
What was your role in making the pilot (a director/producer)?
I directed it as well as designed it, made the backgrounds and animated a good chunk of it.
How did you find a team to help you with the pilot?
I asked to people and friends I knew and some people were part of the development team already there working with me. The animators Alf&Ale were friends of mine and responded to a request I posted on LinkedIn, saying I was looking for animators.
How did you find the money to produce your pilot?
It was financed by Cartoon Network Europe development studio.
Would networks typically give you the money you need to make an animated pilot, do you have to have to fund it yourself, or can you find an investor to help you?
I think this is pretty rare that a company funds a pilot as they did back then at the development studio. It was pretty unique it that respect. I know that Nickelodeon have a program to help funding pilots for projects, but the particularity of the development studio was that making our pilots was part of the job!
What other ways are there of funding a pilot, besides funding it yourself?
I’m not too sure about that. In France there are some subsidies you can apply for, funded by the government like the CNC. Otherwise there are crowdfunding platforms that can be used for that purpose, if you don’t mind spending time and some of the money collected on rewards.
How did you find the time to produce your pilot? For instance, how did you make a schedule for your team, and balance your job as you were making the pilot?
Well, it was completely part of my job, so I was full time on it for 3 months, the time it took to produce. I had the help of a great producer, Jen to help me schedule it all. The tricky part was that I was also animating, doing the backgrounds, designs etc, as well as directing and reviewing the work made by the animators. So I would spend the day on notes and do my own work at night. But it was a very small team and project so it was manageable.
How did you win an award for your pilot?
The studio entered it to the Cartoon on the Bay festival in Italy which happens to have an entry specifically made for pilots. This is rarely the case in other festivals, so it was tricky to submit, it’s not really a series, nor a short and doesn’t fit any categories really. So this one was perfect and it got the prize.
How did your fans react to your pilot?
It seems to have been well received. It’s hard to know exactly as this is only from online audience, so hard to quantify. But I still receive comments every now and then saying they wish to see more of it, even after all these years. So it’s nice, as this pilot was primarily made as an internal tool to get the project greenlit.
Did you try to pitch your pilot to studios/investors?
The project was pitched to Cartoon Network, obviously, having it made for them. After this 3mn short, they comissioned a full 11 minutes episode in an animatic form. It wasn’t greenlit as a series, but we were interested to transform it into a feature project, for a TV special. So for over a year, I’ve worked on reshaping it, the visuals, the story, working with a writer, Will Collins (Song of the Sea). We wrote the treatment for it, I did a whole new bible but the studio closed down a month before I was due to pitch it, shelving it in the process.
Since then, I’ve put it aside to move on other things, and I haven’t pitched it anywhere. I needed to take a break from it.
What are your plans for Verne on Vacation?
The treatment is there, I’m still fond of these characters and when I reopened my files some time ago, I still felt drawn to them, the little spark was still there…so I might do something out of it one day.
What do you think networks/production houses are looking for?
Fresh ideas, talents, individual and unique vision…but most of all…the miracle recipe for the next SpongeBob! (that’s my touch of irony)
Many of Cartoons Underground’s followers are interested in producing their own IP. Could you please describe how to pitch an idea after the pilot is produced?
Well, The pilot would be the most important pitching tool and it should speak for itself, if you can get to that stage. But you don’t necessarily have to have a pilot to pitch an idea. The very first stage can simply be a short Bible, with a few character pages, a concept for the show and possibly a few story outlines, that shows the potential of your characters on the long run. This already can tell a lot and get someone interested to produce a pilot.
How difficult is it to pitch a pilot to networks/production houses? (Do you need an agent’s representation or credentials?)
I’m not sure about agents. But I think having a blog and getting your work out there can get you some attention. If you’re good, you’ll get noticed.
What advice could you give to aspiring artists?
Do what you like doing, but most importantly do your OWN thing, not what already exists and that you like, it’s already there and there’s no need for another one. Get your work out there online, be ready to work hard, and be nice to people: animation is collaboration.