What is your name and your current occupation?
My name’s Guillaume Herent, I’m a CG character animator at Illumination|McGuff in Paris.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I need to choose between two jobs…Maybe my first day as a prosthetic technician ? When a guy entered the waiting room, removed his leg, handed it over to me saying “I need you to fix it.” Or this summer job in a nappies factory ? I was on the night shift, and the very first night, a nappy got stuck in the gears, the machines started to tremble, smoke, I’ve had to push the emergency stop button with the guy yelling at me “What the f*** did you do ?”
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Well, I’d say I’m proud of my job in general. Working on feature animations and have your name displayed on the big screen is something so rewarding. But to name a few, I liked working on “Valiant” ; although it was not a box office hit, I liked it because it was my first job in animation, in London, on a feature film ! I’m also very proud to have been part of the success of movies like “Despicable Me” and “The Lorax”.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was around 14 and, like every kid this age, I had no idea what to do in the future. The father of a good friend of mine once told me “there’s an open day at this CG school, Supinfocom, maybe you should go and have a look”. When I saw the amazing work that was done there, with the students having their short film screened in a theater at the end of the year, I was like “that’s it. I know what I want to do.” I never changed my mind since.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Valenciennes, a city in northern France, just a few miles away from Supinfocom, a renowned CG school. It’s a 4 year course, and at the end of the last year, there’s an examination where you show your short to a jury with professionals coming from big studios around the world. There were people from a London based studio, Vanguard Animation. They loved my short, they came to me after the screening and told me “We have a new project starting within the next few months, are you interested ?”. That was my first job as an animator on “Valiant”.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
When I leave work in the evening and when I’m back the next morning, I can’t stop thinking about animation ; how can I make my shots appealing ? How can I please the audience ? So a typical day is “what is the best way to do what’s best”. In a movie, there’s a story in every shot one animates, even if it’s only 2 seconds. And I try to tell this story.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
When I eventually manage to tell the story within a shot I just completed. When anyone who watches my work understands at first glance.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
It’s not always easy to have a shot approved. There can be so many possibilities to animate a character, and so many wrong ways to do it ! You can animate ten different versions before finding the right intention, that can drive you crazy sometimes.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
We animate with Maya.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness ?
My best memory is the Copenhagen Film Festival, back in 2004. My short “Pfffirate” was in competition there, and won the “Best Student Short” award. It was like the Academy Awards of Animation : the speaker opened the envelope, saying “And the winner is…Pfffirate !“. I was so astounded ! I walked down the stairs to pick up the golden statuette and thank a few people in the mic…It was like a dream !
A few years ago, I’ve had to choose between Jeffrey Katzenberg asking me on the phone to come and work for DreamWorks Animation, or stay with my girlfriend and drop my dreams of glory. I chose to stay with her, and today we are married, and we have the most beautiful baby ever ! And oh, in case Mr Katzenberg reads this interview : “Jeffrey, you can call me back anytime.”
I love telling stories and writing synopsis in my spare time. The first thing I wrote is an adaptation of my short “Pfffirate” into a children series, and I just completed another synopsis this June for a feature animation. I’m now trying to get in touch with people or studios to help me develop it, and that’s really the tough part about it. Producers, development executives… : feel free to get in touch !
I love D.I.Y. and making lamps out of any stuff ! I remember going in a dump on a rainy Sunday afternoon in autumn, in search of metal pieces to make an “industrial style” model.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Keep trying, never give up. There are many people wanting to do the same thing as you. You need to persevere, because as time goes by, some will give up, some will change direction, while you rise. Be the last one standing, be the one the doors will eventually open for.