SIGGRAPH: Spotlight on the 2022 Prize Winners

***This article originally appeared in the August ’22 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 322) ***

The Seine’s Tears

Best in Show: The Seine’s Tears
Director: Yanis Belaid
Pôle 3D, France

Paris during the events of October 1961, when French police brutally repressed Algerian protestors, is the backdrop of the powerful short The Seine’s Tears, directed by Yanis Belaid.

The director, a graduate of the French digital and creative school Pôle 3D, recalls, “We were inspired by the short music video In My Heart by Pedro Conti, and also used the acclaimed 2016 movie Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini) as a reference for stop-motion rendering. Regarding the direction, we used references from live action cinema. We used an on-board camera and wanted it to be an entire character in the film. We analyzed how Films like The End of Watch or The Blair Witch Project used that camera style to recreate it. We wanted the viewers to feel like they are in the protest with our characters, to have the point of view of the Algerians and of all those people who came to demonstrate that night.”

Belaid and his team of eight began work on the short in September of 2019, and it took them about two years to finish their project. All the animation was done in Maya. “To create this stop-motion look, we did some animation research and, after some tests, we finally chose to develop a script that copies at 80% the previous key,” explains the director. “This way, the movement stays fluid so the motion blur can be calculated, but it still has this jerky quality .We also had a tool to reuse the foreground animations in the crowd, mostly in the second part of the film in the stadium. It helped us create density without having to animate everything.”

The director points out that he wanted to cast light on the tragic events of October 1961 in Paris. “These events are still quite misunderstood in France,” says Belaid. “We wanted to get viewers to learn more about them after the screenings. Putting the spotlight on this historic event was the very point of our project.”

Yanis Belaid

He also says he remains positive about the future, despite the fact that the subject of the short is quite eye-opening. “We try to give hope for the future,” he says. “Therefore, I like the second part of the short best because it is way more festive and colorful! We wanted to make a contrast between this festive act and the violence and sadness of the first part of the film. In a short film we don’t have much time to develop the narrative aspect. But what’s interesting is to find the writing techniques that are the most effective. We spent a lot of time thinking about what we deeply wanted to say. This process of thinking, research and creativity stimulated us during the whole conception stage of the film.”

Looking back at the experience of making the short, Belaid calls it “a human adventure.” He adds, “To put it all in context, we made this short during our final two years of school. It allowed some people in the group to discover themselves, professionally speaking, or to solidify their professional desires for the future. Personally, it definitely validated my desire to be a director.”

Belaid mentions Pixar’s Toy Story and Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series as two of his biggest animated favorites. “As a kid, my hero was Batman from the TV series. I’m still a big fan, and the credits still make me dream today. The animated film that rocked my childhood was Toy Story. Even to this day, I find this movie so well written and intelligent.”


The End of War

Jury’s Choice: The End of War
Director: Lei Chen

Tsinghua University, China

​About two years ago, Lei Chen, the director of the SIGGRAPH Jury Prize-winning short The End of War, set out to make an anti-war short. “My inspiration mainly came from Käthe Kollwitz’s wood prints and her life. Her works always depict the effects of poverty, hunger and war. During WWI, her son Peter joined the army and died. I read her diary and realized that it could make a short story. The source of art inspiration is the Soviet propaganda art in the Cold War period, which gives the short a touch of irony.”

Since the short was an experimental project, Chen insisted on doing most of the work himself. “But some of my friends and other students helped me out from time to time,” he says. “Donald Chen helped me with some modeling, Wen Bo Mi did the music and Darren Dai did the sound design. There were about 10 people who helped me with the short. I mainly used Maya and ZBrush — ZBrush was definitely the most important tool for this project. And the good thing about Maya is that you have the freedom to build a customized pipeline from scratch.”

Lei Chen

Chen mentions that one of his biggest challenges was finishing the short in time. “You always run out of time,” he points out. “Because of the frame-by-frame nature of the project, it is unbelievably time consuming. As to my rough evaluation, that was supposed to be two year’s work while I had to finish the project in early 2022. So I was working for more than 15 hours a day in the last months. I had three days off for the Chinese New Year and I dreamed that I was working for three nights in a row. I was a bit scared, but the ‘symptom’ went away on the fourth day, because I went back to work again!”

Now that the world is able to watch and enjoy his short, Chen says he is pleased with the project’s visualization of the battle scenes. “But to be honest ,everything could have been better if I had more time or money,” he adds. “The best part of working in animation is that you pretty much have full control of it. Working on shorts, every time when I hit the ‘play’ button, I feel what I felt when I drew my first animation in the corner of the pages of my primary school textbook. Animation is magic!”

When asked about his animation heroes, Chen mentions Jan Švankmajer, Aleksandr Petrov, Kihachiro Kawamoto and Hayao Miyazaki. He notes, “My favorite short film is Petrov’s The Old Man and the Sea.”

Chen hopes audiences will appreciate his creative art style when they watch The End of War at SIGGRAPH. “To be very frank, I thought the anti-war topic was even a bit cliché nowadays,” he explains. “But the Russian invasion of Ukraine just proved me wrong. I hope people get some insights after seeing my film. We should never take peace for granted.”



Best Student Project: Yallah!
Director: Nayla Nassar
Rubika, France

When Nayla Nassar’s father was a young man growing up in war-torn Lebanon, he had to go to a swimming pool for a test, oblivious of the bombings and strict citywide warnings. “He went there, only to find himself in a bathing suit, with goggles on, right in front of a huge bomb hole,” says Nassar. “This image was way too surreal not to make a short out of it!”

Her father’s fascinating experiences in Lebanon inspired her student project at Rubika, which has received the Best Student Prize at SiGGRAPH this year. Nassar and five other students worked on the short from September 2019 until June 2021. “We had great guidance from our teachers at Rubika, and we received generous help from a composer and three sound designers, who gave life to our images,” she notes. “The short was made in CGI, using Maya as our main software. The concepts, matte paintings and most of the textures were done with Photoshop, but Substance Painter came in handy when it came to painting characters and automating our buildings’ textures. We used Arnold renderer to calculate the images and Nuke for compositing.”

One of the greatest challenges for Nassar and her co-directors Edouard Pitula and Renaud De Saint Albin was nailing the right tone for the short. “We had to find the right balance between the reality of war and the joy and hope that still exist there, and that we wanted to put first,” she notes. “On a more technical level, we made a lot of effort to make the city detailed and full of life, while still having our characters fit with their background.”

Nayla Nassar

Nassar mentions the 2006 feature Tekkonkinkreet by Michael Arias as one of the short’s key visual sources of reference. “The city is depicted so precisely,” she says. “On a more personal note, I’m a huge fan of I Lost My Body by Jérémy Clapin, as well as the work of Sylvain Chomet.”

She says one of the biggest lessons she learned from the making of the short was how to trust the process. “By process, I mean teamwork and going through production step by step, but always being careful not to get lost in the details or new ideas that won’t fit the main intention for the short.”

Nassar points out that the opportunity to connect with her father’s childhood through this film has been quite amazing. “It’s going to sound cheesy, but I love that it’s so personal to me and speaks to so many people at the same time,” she offers. “People’s reactions to the short have been extremely nice and gratifying. We also had great fun creating my dad’s character from pictures of him as a young boy. In more general terms, I love the liberty that you have when you work in animation. There’s no limit with animation, you can always push things further — and with short films, there’s less pressure, more room for experimentation.”

Finally, the director hopes her short will bring a smile to people’s faces. “I hope they’ll want to find joy and resistance in simple things, like Naji did by going for a swim that day!” she concludes.


The award-winning films will screen in SIGGRAPH 2022’s Computer Animation Festival in the Electronic Theater both in Vancouver and online (August 8-11). Learn more at




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