Animation World Magazine, Issue 3.2, May 1998
Pierre Ayma. Courtesy of Alain Seraphine
Pierre Ayma passed away quite suddenly last month. We wanted to pay a tribute to this personality of the French Animation industry, with remembrances from Pierre's friends and former students. In 1975, Pierre Ayma founded the Animation Department of the CFT Gobelins school, the main animation school in France. For more than 20 years, Pierre expressed his passion for animated films through his teaching and with his involvement in many other animation related projects. His commitments had a permanent focus point: to give to young people the means to express and develop their talent. I worked with him for a few years at Annecy International Animation Festival, where he was involved in the International Film Project Competition. I was always struck by the quality of his commitment. Despite the difficulties, despite his outspokenness, Pierre was always there.
The following testimonies strongly illustrate his passion and generosity and pay him back well.
Animation World Network
Pierre, his first name was that of the founders.
And he was one of them, he who, after so many years put together in Europe, stone by stone, image by image, animator after animator, the edifice of this art of animation which has become, thanks to him, a profession, a passion and an industry for those who live in France on what they learned from him and thanks to him. I will keep the essence of what Pierre left: a force. The force with which he built his teaching. The force he gave to those who fight today so that animation may live. The force which, after he is gone, will be set into motion within us as we continue his work.
Will we live up to it?
We all owe something to him.
Upon the French professionals request, in 1975, Pierre Ayma founded the Animation Department of the CFT Gobelins school. This marks the beginning of a long venture which is still alive and well.
Pierre succeeded in creating a curriculum acknowledged by professionals worldwide. All of the classes who spread out into small and large production studios alike display the vitality of his work. Pierre became a personality that could not be ignored in the animation world and this certainly contributed towards the radiance of the school. His main concern was that each student found his place in the industry. He leaves us a past full of a life-long passion in the service of education. Everyone in the animation industry benefits from it and it will remain an example for all the people who met him and for the school's team who ensures its continuity.
The team of the Animation Department - CFT Gobelins School
In 1975, Pierre Ayma launched the first courses in animation cinema within the framework of the Center for Technological Education of C.C.I., on Boulevard St. Marcel in Paris. That's where I met him, when I came to present my portfolio in hopes of being accepted as a student. I was scared to death to find myself once again in a moderately engaging scholastic milieu, but Pierre was quick to reassure me, and took me to the spaces designated for the future students.
Aside from the animation desks that were flagrantly new, the rest of the material consisted of "pegbars" borrowed from the Center's printing department, an animation stand tinkered together from metal corners, a camera borrowed from a colleague, and a 16mm projector of Biblical age. That is how I began my education, together with seven other true believers, under the benevolent encouragement of Pierre. Over two years, the respect that we had for him transformed into camaraderie and friendship. Thanks to his enthusiasm, he knew how to create not only a motivated team but also a group of good friends. During that time Pierre upgraded the equipment. The first editing table appeared soon, then a genuine animation stand, etc... You should see what kind of equipment the students get today! Also Pierre involved professional animators in our education, and arranged regular visits between them and us.
Pierre Ayma, not content to manage his animation department, never feared to give aid and counsel to his flock. More than one student, me among them, took little jobs to survive, in the studios or elsewhere, thanks to him. He pushed me to take my first job at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons in the United States, and when I returned, convinced the director of a Parisian studio to hire me.
His pugnacity, his rigor in his work and what he expects of others, was seasoned with a dose of cold humor, or completely off the wall behavior when the opportunity presented itself... or sometimes even if it didn't! After our education was completed, the good relationship between us continued through friendly visits to the CFT where we would exchange news, and in the better moments, when he had the time, it would border on sophisticated insults which would leave us bent double with laughter and tears running from our eyes on both sides of his desk. Under his cane have passed many neophytes. He actively participated in all the important moments in French animation, and lost his health doing so.
Animation has lost one of its most solid pillars, and we have lost a pal.
Student from the first year at CFT Gobelins (1975)
Drawing by Pierre Lambert April 1998
I had the pleasure to see Pierre again a few days before he passed away. It was during a writing seminar organized by Cartoon (European Animated Film Association) in Vienna.
At midnight, we both wandered in the small streets, recalling memories from 20 years ago when I was a student in animation at the CFT Gobelins, which he was then running.
In 20 years, thanks to Pierre Ayma, this school has gained an international reputation, training animators who have found their place in prestigious studios such as Disney, Universal, Pixar and DreamWorks. I am proud I have taught to some of these students. I owe this to Pierre Ayma who succeeded in putting talents together and pulling the French professionals to an international level.
Thank you Pierre.
End of the 1980s
The Village Titan Ecoles partnership contacts René Borg, one of the directors who made a mark in French animation films, for training aimed at young interns within the framework of an experience led by the Village Titan Ecoles, which is working on creating the school of Fine Arts of La Réunion.
René Borg facilitates my meeting with Pierre Ayma, founder of the Film Animation Department at CFT Gobelins, school of the Paris Chamber of Commerce. So, I meet with this dynamic personality from the world of film animation, who is respected in professional as well as institutional circles. A friendship is born; agreements are signed between Village Titan and CFT Gobelins to facilitate training for the youth of La Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar.
Pierre Ayma loved to say, "We don't have the right to train for `unemployment or exile,' hence the need to encourage the development and creation of an industrial environment in the field of film animation in Réunion."
This mad idea is launched in partnership with the Village Titan. Pierre brings a certain number of personalities to Réunion: representatives from the SPFA, CNC, Media Cartoon, Mr. Robert Heintz from AFDAS, and a number of producers. Debates take place with representatives from local groups. Thanks to Pierre's charisma, network of talent and trust which he has instilled, producers join us, like Eva Production and Rooster. As of June `94, training is begun for 70 people.
The young trainees are working and the new animation production studio called Pipangai sees the light of day. Aware of the fragility of this new industrial enterprise, Pierre works night and day over long distances to bring business back from Asia to France; making bringing business back to France a reality, and above all to make this business last. He facilitates the advancement of traditional animation Pipangai know-how into knowledge about the new digital resources of today, because he believes with every fiber in him that the development of filmmaking has to be not only the training of people, but also the continual advancement and learning of the latest techniques.
Training in the new technologies begins.
Pipangai delivers 60 x 26 minute episodes to PMMP and Gaumont with a staff of about 150.
Always thanks to Pierre, the transfer of technology was able to happen from CFT Gobelins to Village Titan.
Today, the "Indian Ocean Institute of the Image" has been created. This institute, modeled after CFT Gobelins, is training, of course, in the field of film animation, but also in the fields of television, graphic design and multimedia occupations.
In recent days we were still working with him on the placement of our young interns, who after two years of training would present their work to a professional European jury for approval of their talents and do a rigorous apprenticeship with French and European studios.
Shortening distances and working in the industry at the world level, the introduction of new technologies have proven him correct today. Along with Village Titan at the Cartoon Forum in Arles during a press conference, Pierre was able to show and demonstrate that teleteaching, or long distance teaching, would be a guarantee to facilitate the development of quality teaching and financial backing through and thanks to the institution of a network of different teaching establishments for animated cartoons in Europe.
This was, of course, the great project which motivated him of late, and on the eve of his death, by telephone with us on Réunion, he let his feelings be known about this project of a network of European schools: "This is a project I've been nurturing for 30 years [and] neither distance nor economic reasons, much less administrative constraints, will keep me from finally getting it going."
Thanks to the friendship he shared with us and to his interest in the experience led by Village Titan, Pierre made our island into a meeting place. He was at our side to bring to life "The Crossroads of the Indian Ocean Image" which in `95 gathered over one hundred professionals, producers and broadcasters.
The employees of Pipangai, Village Titan, the Institute de l'Image, [and] the school of Fine Arts of La Réunion can only bow their heads in homage to this uncommon man, and thank him for allowing us to see beyond our volcano, for helping us live the adventure of `toons, and break out of our island isolation.
We can say that with Pierre Ayma we got into film, and that the dream became reality. Pipangai today employs a staff of over 200, and the Institut de l'Image is preparing tomorrow's talents in the field of animation, 3-D animation and multimedia. As part of the schools accredited by the Ministry of French Culture, the school of Fine Arts is becoming the school which trains the auteurs, the directors of animated cartoons and multimedia.
Apart from his passion for animated cartoons, his great professionalism, his conviction in the worth of training people, the spirit of integrity which motivated him, what set Pierre Ayma apart is a great generosity and great sensitivity which emanated from him and which he bore lightly. His friends, his colleagues, his former students, the professional world, we all have the duty to continue, each at his level, the work of a man who knew how to put his energy, his passion and his talents to the service of all. We certainly have more to learn, to exchange, [and] to share so that this profession grows and spreads in France and in Europe.
Such was the fight of Pierre Ayma.
Fine Arts School of La Réunion Island
Photo courtesy © Jean-Louis Rizet
Our friend Pierre has left us. Like many in our profession, I owe him an enormous debt. He knew how to communicate his passion for animation to us, to guide us, warn us, encourage us to start up crazy, but always deeply human, projects. We must all continue his work. I had run into him just before his passing. Full of fire, he had a new project he wanted to bring us into and I had taken this picture as proof of his determination and good humor (Tuesday, March 17, 1998, at 10:00 a.m.).
See you soon, Pierre!!
Ramses. Pev. TouTenKartoon
Pierre Ayma: A Devil of a Man
In 1983, when I finished my first professional short film, Story of a Clown, my producer, Julien Pappé, advised me to go meet Pierre Ayma at the Department of Animation at the CFT Gobelins, because he thought that I would be able to teach at the school. Hardly convinced of the idea, seeing my young age, I nevertheless risked knocking on the door of this gentleman, a proven authority in the world of animation. From the first second of our conversation, I was charmed by the smile, the malice, the mustache, and the good-nature of Pierre, who had, among other things, that incomparable gift of immediately putting his companion at ease. After testing out my knowledge, he hired me right there and then, and that was the point of departure for a long friendship that never failed over fifteen years.
Conscious of my handicap as a beginner in the medium, Pierre Ayma quickly became my chosen counselor, and even if some illustrious people like Norman McLaren, Rene Laloux and Julien Pappé had the goodness to lean over my cradle, it is Pierre Ayma to whom I owe being able to practice my métier as animator in France and elsewhere in the world. During all those years, at any hour of the day or night, Pierre encouraged me, counseled me, consoled me, reassured me, and told me off with a bashful charm of a father that dares not speak all the love that he bears for his children.
His infectious enthusiasm, his innate sense of appreciation for others, his generosity, his honesty, his visceral rejection of corruption, his cool humor, his professionalism and his explosive anger have been for me a model of life and comportment with my peers. By himself, and often against opposition, he raised French Animation to its just value, and I know of no one in our profession who is not indebted to him for something.
Forcibly refusing all honors and thank-yous: "If you mention me in your credits, I'll never speak to you again!..." (sic), Pierre Ayma's only happiness was to see animators and filmmakers succeed with their projects. For, not content just to head a school with all the vigor that one knows, Pierre would help every animator in difficulty, freely giving his energy to each person that asked for his help.
Pierre was Voltairian: he could have taken part in the Callas affair, or that of the Chevalier de la Barre.
Now that he has left us, who will protect us from fate? No one can tell me now that no man is irreplaceable...
My friend Philippe Hervieux and I kept close to Pierre Ayma in the last days of his life. He asked us to complete the training of thirty apprentices before they participated in the Mediapole adventure in the town of Arles, with the cooperation of the new Arles Animation Studio. A certain number of problems had obliged Pierre to draw back from the project that he had tried to finish for two years. He had put a great deal of effort into it, and we devoted all of our energy to keeping it going as long as we could, this last promotion of artists that he had rigorously pursued. When he announced to the apprentices that he was leaving for reasons beyond his control, his farewells were drowned out by spontaneous applause, and he was very moved. In a short time, these young people had understood the dimensions of this man who never compromised, and who never hesitated to launch their program, even if it meant using his own personal money to advance the costs. But that wasn't the best part. Even though he had to step aside from the project, Pierre continued to telephone us to find out how our apprentices were doing, calling each of them by name. He didn't have anything to worry about. His last project continues to do him honor.
A few days before his death, Pierre invited us to dinner in a restaurant situated not far from his village of Puget on the Durance. Mireille, his wife, Philippe Hervieux and I never doubted that he had gotten us there to deliver one of his last messages of friendship. Over the course of this dinner, the laughter and wine flowed, Pierre threw himself into one of his favorite sports, which consisted of merrily pulling my leg to the greatest delight of the other guests. Then, the tone got serious and Pierre said to us, speaking of the apprentices, "Take good care of them. I've seen in their sparkling eyes how much they love this profession..." Finally, during dessert, he told us the dream of his life: to create a space that would be like the Villa Medicis for Animation, where all filmmakers could come and shoot their films without any constraints, financial or aesthetic. Then he took us home to his house, we drank a glass for friendship, and then with a certain pride he showed us his new office with a superb bay window that opens on this Provence which he loved so much. And there, once again, he spoke of unheard projects with an enthusiasm and a force that wouldn't let us suppose that this would be the last time he would flash his boyish smile at us. Of course, we all knew that recently Pierre had serious medical problems, but his courage and his discretion about his private life didn't have the time to tell us that his health wouldn't permit him to animate anymore, and that he was about to make us orphans, that devil of a man...
Director and Musician
Translated from French by William Moritz and Nancy Gilmour.
Drawing by the students from his last class. Courtesy of Jean-Louis Bompoint.
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