Creativity After Hours:
The Visual Evolutions of Michel Gagné

by Bob Miller

"I'm an artist and there's a voice inside of me that needs to speak to the world. That's why I do what I do."

Michel Gagné.

What Michel Gagné does is design and animate special effects for such movies as The Swan Princess, Demolition Man, The Iron Giant and the forthcoming Osmosis Jones. Including his short, Prelude to Eden, it's a body of work that has earned him three Annie Award nominations. Beyond his job, he creates paintings, sculptures and illustrated books, with each work reflecting a common theme.

"I'm a compulsive creator," he says. "The subject that fascinates me the most is creation."

"Prelude to Eden was the embryo of me trying to express myself. The theme of the film is about creation, and it was the beginning of my creation. So it's a fitting theme and a fitting title. Creation is a theme that I'm obsessed with. I read books about it. I always try to come up with my own theories. I'm doing a graphic novel right now, and also a children's book, that's based on creation. It's definitely a recurring theme with me."

Gagné himself was created in Roberval, Quebec, and he began his feature animation career with Sullivan Bluth in Ireland. After doing character animation on The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven, he switched to doing special effects for Rock-a-Doodle, moving to Bluth's unit in Burbank.

Watch a movie! A clip from Gagné's Prelude to Eden. Michel Gagné.

His Own Film
While on A Troll in Central Park in 1991, Gagné wanted to work on more compelling subject matter. Something besides dancing flowers and singing mermaids. Something that would combine the high-energy approach of anime with the fluidity of American character animation. Thus, in his spare time, he began his own short film, Prelude to Eden. It would be heavy in action, use dynamic camera angles and be animated entirely "on ones." As Bluth animators observed his pencil tests, they became intrigued and contributed to his after-hours project.

At first, since he couldn't afford the use of digital ink-and-paint systems, Gagné was going to cel-paint the film. Then he connected with Cambridge Animation from England, who came to Universal Studios in 1992 to market their new system, the Animo.

"They were trying to break into feature film," Gagné recalls. "My friend Jon Hooper hooked me up with Peter Florence from Cambridge Animation. I showed him the film. It was all done in pencil test and I didn't have a system to color it. I told them, 'If you can do that, you can use my short film to demonstrate your software.' They said, 'Great.' So the next thing I knew they set me up with these great computers and scanners. I didn't know how to use any of the equipment but in time I figured it out."

Prelude to Eden became the first high-resolution 35mm project rendered by the Animo. "They basically designed the system to accommodate me," Gagné says. "I had complete creativity and control, and I 'cel-painted' practically the whole thing myself. I had help from Jon Hooper, but I did the bulk of it."

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