Tim Tom Lands on Top

One of the highlights of SIGGRAPH 2003 (July 27-31) is the screening of Tim Tom, the Jury Award-winning student film, directed by Christel Pougeoise and Romain Seguad, former students at Supinfocom in Valenciennes, France. (The school also took home the Siggraph Jury Award last year with the short Le Deserteur).

The four-minute CG-animated short centers on two characters who want to meet but are hindered by their creator, a giant omnipotent hand. With nods to the masters of the past and their animation techniques, Tim Tom brings life into characters whose emotions and thoughts are expressed through their notepad faces. Our French correspondent George LaCroix recently caught with the student animators to find out more about their popular project:

Animag: This has been quite a year for you. Did you expect such a reaction to your film?

ChristeL: We’ve been very lucky, but in one way, it is too much. You cannot really take it all in when that happens.

Romain: In fact, this is strange because we never thought at all about any awards when we were making the film. We would have been happy just to be selected in festivals and were hoping that our film had a chance to be screened, like in Annecy this year.

In addition to SIGGRAPH, you have also received recognition at other international festivals too, right?

Romain: The Sundance Festival, because Tim Tom was considered as a regular short, not categorized like animation or computer film.

Christel: In addition, we had the surprise to win the “Youth Prize" given by a children jury at Auch Festival. It was unexpected that a black and white project, which is a bit old-fashioned, managed to impress the kids.

How did you end up working together?

Romain: Christel and I were both students at Supinfocom’s four-year program. During the third year, every student presents his project to a jury. Fifteen scripts are selected from a total of 40 proposals.

Christel: It was Romain’s project that was selected, not mine. In this case, the students whose scripts weren’t selected had to work on someone else’s project. For me, there was no question that I wanted to work with Romain, because his project was competely animation-oriented. However, it was a bit difficult to convince Romain.

Romain: In the beginning, I wanted to make this movie alone. The idea was to make a very simple story, so I thought I could manage it alone.

Christel: Nevertheless, I kept insisting.

Romain: Yes, and I must say I am glad that she did: She brought many ideas and a critical sense to Tim Tom. We had manydiscussion, and I soon discovered that it was very important not to manage such a project by yourself. However, a small team allowed us to keep a strong style without compromising our ideas.

How did you come up with the story?

Romain: In the beginning, I had too many ideas and it was difficult to make a choice especially to squeeze all these ideas in a very simple movie. Thierry Pochet, a professor at Supinfocom suggested that I put al my ideas together in a very simple concept. That is exactly what I was trying to do: The concept became clear–having two characters in a single set. The idea of puppet scenery came very naturally and it was easy then to build a scenario around it. I had already drawn the character Tom as a figure with a note pad instead of his head. Then I designed Tim.

Tell us about your process.

Christel: We used both writing and sketches.

Romain: Christel was a big help in focusing on the heart of the scenario: two characters in one set, playing outside of the photo film, in a composite scene mixing reality, like the hand of the puppeteer, and 3D virtual images.

Who are your references and inspirations?

Romain: The main references are Cava’s La Linea, Georges Meliès, Starewitch for Fetiche Mascotte, Jan Svankmajer, George Pal, Norman McLaren, Michaël Dudok de Wit…

Christel: We discovered that we loved the same kind of animation. We were fans of the Aardman animation and the work of Nick Park, as well as Osamou Tezuka, especially his Broken Down Film.

How did you decide on using Django Reinhard’s music?

Romain: I actually discovered Django Reinhardt recently. I like his kind of music. I enjoy street music, circus themes, Manouche and gypsy style, perhaps because I play guitar myself.

Christel: We decided on Django earlier on. We put the music very early on the animated layout so we had the possibility to create a close relation between the storytelling, the soundtrack, the body acting and the facial animation. We were very concerned with timing and rhythm.

How did Tim and Tom become so believable?

Christel: It was difficult to pass from the 2D drawings to the 3D computer characters. We found the solution after having built 3D puppets in volume with clays, material and cardboard. It was easier to start the modeling.

Romain: Our ambition was to characterize Tim and Tom each with a different behavior.

The character setup and the rigging need detailed attention to enable you to master your animation. That’s why they move, walk and run differently: Tom is small, a bit nervous and jumpy with quick reactions. Tim is taller, with long legs, moving more slowly and smoothly than Tom. The same thing was true for pre-rendering and texturing. Tim’s costumes are made out of clothing material, while Tom is dressed in leather. We also paid close attention to the 3D materials and the lighting.

Can you tell us more about the short’s lighting?

Romain: We wanted to recreate the ambiance of a traditional puppet-animated film. We watched a lot of these kinds of films to analyze the lighting, to find a way to obtain from the computer the same aesthetic quality. We made a lot of tests before we had the feeling that the lighting environment would match the spirit of the film.

Christel: We obtained this result by working both on the lighting and the hand-made textures.

Which tools did you use to create the animation?

Romain: We made our movie on a PC using Windows 2000 Pro. We used Maya for the animation and Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere.

Christel: In addition, for the final editing and postproduction we used Soundforge and Edit.

How long did it take to make this film?

Romain: Approximately one year. For the pre-production, from the basic synopsis up to the animated storyboard in 2D, it took five months. Then it took three months for the 3D animated layout and six months for production and postproduction.

Since you have completed your studies, what are you working on now?

Romain: I am working on a 3D computer-animated short film for a TV series, which will be broadcast in October in France.

Christel: I work in a studio specializing in 3D computer images, but we mainly use motion capture. I miss key-frame animation and hope to come back to it soon.

How do you feel about your learning experience at Supinfocom?

Christel: It has been a great experience: I loved the idea of working in a group of so many different individuals. Sharing one’s knowledge with others is very rewarding.

Romain: During these four years of study, you can learn about a lot of technological means dedicated to the creation of images and sounds, and even try them hands on. It is a place where you can understand what it really means to create individualized content.