Igor-Alban Chevalier

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Igor-Alban Chevalier or “The Black Frog” which is the nickname most people use in the industry.  As for my occupation, depends… I am a creative tool box I guess… or as I like to call myself: a mercenary world builder. Sometimes Director, sometimes Animation Production Designer, most of the time VFX Art Director, Concept Artist or Storyboard Artist.  And in my free time I sculpt, write and draw graphic novels.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?Nothing crazy really, I just survived until I got to get the jobs I was looking for.  So, I struggled a bit but not by killing chickens in a nugget factory, or by being a caretaker at the morgue or by working on oil rigs in the middle of the ocean like some of my friends. But more by just doing way lamer versions of the job I do now… or by sleeping on good friends couches a lot.  I must say, that I would have wished having tried other things, but where I grew up wasn’t really the kind of place where one could be adventurous.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?Well, there is a big ongoing project called “Tusk” with Whisper Pictures. It’s a high profile 3D animated feature on which I am co-writer and Production Designer. We’ve been working on it for years now, developing it with my good friend and Director/VFX Supervisor Tim McGovern (Tron, award on Totall Recall). It is a bit of an adventure in itself and I’ve had a lot of creative freedom on it, which is great.  There’s also a gritty Sci-Fi muppet TV series I wrote and designed Called “Boom Spectrum Space Pilot”.  I directed the trailer for it and the production pulled the plug without real logic. This was a bit devastating since I really went hard into it, sleeping 4 hour per night for 7 months straight, preparing all the infrastructure for what would have been the following show.  It’s a shame, I am still convinced that this thing could have become cult. The good thing is that it was my first job at directing and it taught me I could actually do it. And not too badly too. I had a wonderful time on set with a very talented crew and we kind of found ourselves a new family if you will. I know that If I want to direct something else one day, I just have to call them and they will all jump on it again in a breeze. I’m considering calling them soon for a live action feature this time.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from France Originally. Champagne. Except for the Boom Spectrum episode that took me back to Lille (North of France) for seven months 4 years ago, I didn’t really go back there in the past 20 years.  My background is in comic books. Animation is only a DNA strand away. Creatively it’s all the same, only the medium is different. That could also be said for video games and films. This is why I started working on comics, then on video games, then went to London to work for 4 years at the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to later getting involved with 3D animated features alongside VFX guys with 20 years of experience in the film industry.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
When I’m working on a production I wake up at 6 to go running for an hour, take a good breakfast, read my mails until 8:00 or 8:30 where one usually starts the day in the art department.You all finish around 7, sometimes later depending on the rush and the producers or directors state of mind then you go back to your hotel room, have a nice evening in the city with your fellow artists and go to bed. When I’m working at home it’s pretty much the same, without so much of the friends part and with more online networking to find the next gig and more sport to keep the freelance pressure manageable.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Writing worlds and making nice images. Because this is the way I truly travel. But also meeting new people, be it on productions, online with new clients or when I am called as an instructor for an industry related workshop around the world. The work we do make us all brothers in a way and that’s nice.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
When I have to deal with people who have more power than wit. Because they are destroyers of dreams.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I work with Adobe Photoshop, Pixologic’s Zbrush and Google’s SketchUp on my Macbook pro laptop. Technology got to the point where now, in a way, it is easier for people with less skills to do the kind of job I do. More and more what producers want to see – because producers are not necessarily the most artistically savy of the lot – are photorealistic images. It’s easier for them to see what their money buys if you give them an illustration or a concept which looks as if it is a screenshot taken directly from the future movie.  So what we call photo bashing for mood illustrations and 3D based imagery with Zbrush — for creature design for example — tends to take over the industry a bit. And that’s the sort of skill that a technician just coming out of school could relatively easily develop. So I adapt, I slowly learn these things too. You have to if you want to stay competitive.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Having to spend half of my time having to sell myself or sell ideas rather than spending it actually making them and getting them out. I like making stuff and I hate wasting time.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would
you do it?
For animation the only thing I can think of is the way most studios still run on the old script format rather than – Like Pixar — making movies based on a strong story reels developed by story artists and storyboard artists. This would make much more sense. You can tell if the movie works straight away and because of the constant animators’ input it is always funnier.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Thrice, once in London, and twice in L.A..  And funnily enough, in all occasions, it was “stop motion animation greatness”.  I had the chance of meeting Tim Watts – who had spent 2 years on his claymation short The Big Story – starring Kirk Douglas – three times — He was a good friend of Richard Dolan a friend of mine working for the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Camden at the time and we passed by his house one day for a chat. lovely dude, a real clay genius. The Brothers Quay — street of crocodile – whom I went to see at a rare lecture in L.A. — they hadn’t shown themselves to the public in 8 years. These guys are amazing.  And the great Henry Selick – Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack And The Giant Peach – whom I found myself alone with in a confined space at AA the big Hollywood talent agency because a producer wanted to match make us to do some obscure project together. It all wizzed in a David Lynch like blur, where I was not completely sure what had just happened when it was over. None of us followed through. I couldn’t even tell you why.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
In London, I had to live penny less in squats for 6 months before I could get my first job in the movie industry.

Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Yes, “The Dynamo Press”. Last year I decided to buy back the rights of all the books I had published in the States and in France and republish everything alongside new titles under one roof with my own publishing company. Go and check it out. www.thedynamopress.com

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I guess… I have been doing martial arts for now 15 years and I have developed my own reality based self defense fighting system called CROTAL which I teach 4 times a week.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Work your ass off. Work on your skills. Never stop learning. Be nice to others. Work on yourself. Don’t let anyone bring you down. Don’t give up. Know what you’re worth and ask accordingly.  You can do whatever you set your mind on doing, just go at it with all you’ve got. But then, careful what you wish for because you will get it 🙂  That’s it for the Little Grasshopper bullcrap 🙂


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