The creative journey: Olivier Pouchelon, writer-director
Atelier de Sèvres is celebrating its 40th anniversary—40 years at the service of contemporary creation, in all areas of art and animated film. Forty years of graduates who have now become recognized artists in France and around the world. Discover the portraits of these former students who are a real asset to our establishment today.
Olivier Pouchelon, author-director, Atelier de Sèvres student in 2007.
Interview by Nadine Vasseur
After high school, Olivier Pouchelon spent a year in a multimedia school which trained in production professions. It was here that he discovered the various animation professions and understood that it was artistic creation rather than time and budget management that interested him as a career. He then enrolled at Atelier de Sèvres to improve his drawing skills and prepare for the Gobelins entrance exam. "At the time, there weren’t many of us in animation and the training was less advanced than it is today, but I have very fond memories of the year I spent there—particularly of the overall atmosphere. The majority of the students were very talented and it was very stimulating. Healthy competition lies at the heart of a good school, in my opinion."
At Atelier de Sèvres, Olivier Pouchelon trained in perspective, nude drawing and animation techniques, but failed the entrance exam to Gobelins twice. This did not stop him from soon joining one of the most important French animation production companies, Xilam. "While training for the Gobelins entrance exam for the second time, I took a test at Xilam. It was about creating the scenery for the series Mr Bébé. They took me on and soon after they also asked me to work on the characters.” Ten years later, Olivier Pouchelon is still with Xilam where he has worked on numerous productions and recently produced his own series. "Working on Mr Bébé was very interesting because the series uses visual references from the 1950s—those of the famous animation studio United Productions of America, better known by the acronym UPA. This studio was founded by Disney alumni who had had enough of Disney and who were very interested in 20th-century art, Cubism and Picasso. Their films really turned the rules of animation on their head: they are very bold, using unusual colours, and are actually not very animated. Their style has influenced many series since the second half of the 20th century.”
Olivier Pouchelon is also a fan of fanzines, those cartoon publications influenced by punk culture. His references are mostly from the underground culture that originates from the United States but that is also found in the work of many French illustrators. “I am of course thinking of and his aesthetics of ‘defects’. He's a great illustrator who makes so-called ‘ugly’ things while being very artistic. And what's more, it's hilarious! This underground style is very present in animation for adults, like Rick and Morty, South Park and The Simpsons. Today, The Simpsons seem conventional to us, but it’s actually very underground. The colour code is brown and purple, the characters are yellow, everything is a little messed up. It’s actually pretty radical!"
Up until this point, Olivier Pouchelon has only worked on children's series where there is less creative freedom and the style is more standardised. After Mr Bébé, he worked on Hubert and Takako, which tells the story of the extraordinary friendship between a peaceful pig and an overactive fly. He then worked on the sets and characters of FloopaLoo Where Are You? “All of these films were made by Hugo Guittard, who is my mentor in many ways. He was the one who taught me the trade and allowed me to touch upon all areas of animation.” He then produced his first series, Coach Me If You Can, the first episodes of which were released in late 2018, and he was pleased with the stylistic innovations he was able to bring to highly formatted series for children. "It started out as a football-themed brief. I’m not interested in football at all, so I pitched a story that takes place in this environment but which isn’t about football at all! It takes place in a small football club, focusing on a former football star who has been transformed into a ball by a wizard. To get his body back, the ball must turn a child, who loves playing football but isn’t very good at it, into a champion. It’s basically a classic Cinderella story. But I was able to bring in elements of Tezuka, who is kind of the godfather of manga—the hands, for example, are in the shape of balls. I love that! In the beginning, my producers did not understand these ball hands: they did not see how they could grab objects. However, this is a style that has existed since the 1950s and it is actually quite simple. I also wanted the football character to be nothing more than a faceless ball. They were concerned that this would make the character not credible and that viewers would find it difficult to relate to him. But in the end, I was able to convince them and they accepted it.”
Olivier Pouchelon's aim now is to launch a series for adults. “What’s interesting about adult formats, in addition to more creative freedom, is that they make it possible to tell a story in the form of a series of ten 22-minute episodes, while children's series are made up of 11-minute episodes that are independent of each other and broadcast in any order. I love to tell stories and so of course it's exciting!"
About the author
Nadine Vasseur is a journalist and writer. In addition to producing the Panorama programme on France Culture for 15 years, she is also the author of numerous books of interviews and art books including "Les Plis" and "Les Incertitudes du corps" published by Editions du Seuil. In feuilleton de dix épisodes de 22 minutes, 2019, she published "Simone Veil. Vie publique. Archives privées" with Tohu Bohu Editions.