In a fancy Parisian Café of the sixties, an uptight businessman is about to pay the check when he finds out that he's lost his wallet. To save time he decides to order more coffee...
French Roast is a character driven short animated film about appearances. Without any dialogue, the story is told through character animation, music and sound.
Fabrice, when did you start creating French Roast?
I started working on the idea of FRENCH ROAST a few years ago. At the time, I was working abroad and I think that my nostalgia of Paris played a big part in getting the film's idea. I started with a simple story line - a man who loses his wallet and can't pay the check in a restaurant - and developed the plot around it. Very quickly the businessman and the tramp were born and the other characters came as the story built up.
How long did it take to create French Roast?
In total, it took 6 months of development, on and off, and then a full time year of production with a team of 65 artists and technicians at Pumpkin Studio.
Where is your studio located?
Pumpkin Studio is a small animation studio located in Montreuil, near Paris. Montreuil is quite famous in french film history for having been the place where Georges Méliès built the very first cinema studios in 1896.
However the production of FRENCH ROAST didn't start at Pumpkin Studio, but in a school. In fact, as I was still searching for a production company to finance the film, I was able to start the production a group of students from an animation school called « Ecole Georges Méliès »... a funny coincidence! The students worked with me during the summer of 2007 and that's when Pumpkin Studio arrived to take over.
Who were the artists that helped create the style of the film?
How where you able to work with Nicolas Marlet?
As the story got more defined on paper, I was eager to start working on the look of the film and especially on the character design, so I could begin to draw the storyboards with the proper look of the five protagonists. This was very important for me because the story asked for a very choreographed staging, with a lot of interactions between the characters, and the constraint of a camera shooting a single shot in one axis only. For all those reasons, I needed to know exactly how the characters were going to look like.
At the time, Nicolas Marlet was already a close friend and asking him to create the characters' design for my film was quite obvious. Moreover, his graphic style was fitting perfectly with the story and with the atmosphere that I wanted to get.
My wife, Aurélie Blard-Quintard, designed also some of the secondary characters in the film. You can visit her blog here: http://aurelieblardquintard.blogspot.com/
For the set design, I asked Louis Tardivier to create the backgrounds for the film.
I wanted the background elements to get a certain amount of looseness in their shapes and contour lines, which was perfect for him as it is his natural way to draw. The aim was to make the background more organic and graphic, and thus more in harmony with Nicolas' designs.
I showed Louis a lot of Ronald Searle's drawings that I had pined on my wall at the time I was writing the story. I gave him also a lot of pictures from books about parisian cafés and restaurants, as well as tons of photos that we took with the students during our location scouting in Paris. Photographers like Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Willy Ronis were a great inspiration to recreate the parisian life of the sixties. The films by french director Jacques Tati, which always fascinated me on an aesthetic level, were also an important reference.
From the drawings that Louis had done, we started building the set in 3D. Then a digital matte painting was created by Julien Georgel. We used a technique called “camera mapping” which allowed us to project the 2D painting directly onto the 3D model of the set, thus preserving a very stylized and painterly look.
What type of design style where you going for?
I really wanted to go for a stylized look. I love animation because it's a medium that gives you the freedom to create characters and environments that don't exist in reality and then to make them believable for the audience. Realism was never a goal in the creation of the film's look... on the contrary.
How many different versions of character designs did you go through?
Not too many. I think Nicolas likes to work around one idea to explore the possibilities of shapes, patterns and textures. That's what happened on FRENCH ROAST.
First we talked a lot about the story. I had written a complete description for each character and this helped Nicolas in getting what kind of mood I was going for. The film being a comedy relying essentially on characterization, but being also of a short length (the film is less than 8 minutes long), I wanted to make sure that the characters were clearly portrayed from the very beginning of the movie. Since I didn't have any dialogue nor enough time to establish the five protagonists as well as I had done in my word processor, character design seemed to be the only way to achieve that.
So Nicolas started to draw in a large sketchbook with a colored pencil. He drew one page for each of the five characters, proposing different variations. He added colors and textures using pencils and ink. It was really at that moment that the film's look was born. I didn't have to ask for more, as those first sketches were absolutely fantastic, full of life... the characters were there.
At that point, I just had to pick the versions that I preferred, the ones that felt best for the story. Retrospectively, I realize what a luxury it was!
Being the Director, did the final look and feel of the film meet your expectations?
It actually exceeded my expectations...
In fact, establishing the look of FRENCH ROAST took more than a year. I had a pretty good idea of what I was aiming for, but I have to say that I always tried to leave some space for the artists to bring something to the visual aspect of the film.
The work done by the texturing department for example has been crucial in concretizing the painterly look that I wanted for the characters, as much as the matte paintings did for the backgrounds.
Also, the modelers did an amazing job in translating Nicolas' designs into 3D, preserving successfully the stylization of his original drawings. Creating the tramp's hair and beard has been a pretty big challenge, because I really was pushing to get the original graphic style back in 3D... and it was eventually quite successful. Cloth simulation, special effects, lighting and compositing... all played also a huge part in the process.
That is why the final look is actually more satisfying than what I ever could have imagined.
Have you been able to receive some awards for the film?
FRENCH ROAST has been traveling a lot for the last 6 months and has been screened in about 20 festivals as of today. The film has won 3 awards, among them “Best Animation” at the Foyle Film Festival in Northern Ireland, and “Best animated short” at the Atlanta Film Festival. It has also been selected at SIGGRAPH 2009 and is in competition in the “Best of Show” category, which is really great!
What film are you planning to do next?
At the moment I am writing a new story for an animated film. I am also working on a script for a live action short... which is something I really want to do.
Is there a way to buy French Roast on DVD or Blu-ray?
Not yet. The film is still touring the festivals all around the world. I assume it will get a dvd release quite soon.
To contact the director:
The film's website:
The film's production blog (in french only, sorry)
A link to look up where the film will be screened next:
I'd like to thank Fabrice for giving us a little more insight to his wonderful animated short. I can't wait to have my own copy of the DVD or Blu-ray. I'll be sure to let everyone know as soon as it is available. (Here's hoping they have a lot of cool special features, with even more insight, on the disk).