This is an interview with animator Kosal Sok, a VFX supervisor at French animation studio Ankama Animation. His work is featured in all of Ankama’s productions – Wakfu, Dofus, and the recent Dofus, livre 1: Julith movie.
Note: This interview was translated by Artem Pavlov for our blog.
– Hello Mr. Sok. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to work at Ankama Animation.
Hello! I’m Kosal Sok. I work at Ankama Animation, in Northern France. My main job is to supervise 2D special effects – things like fire, explosions, smoke, water, lightning, and of course magic! We animate 2DFX using Adobe Flash, but draw frame by frame, like in traditional animation. I’ve also had the opportunity to practice as a character designer, storyboard artist, and even as a director. I started at Ankama 9 years ago, in 2007, when the company decided to make their first TV show – Wakfu – based on their game of the same name. I didn’t know much about Wakfu (or their other game, Dofus), but I liked the style and their team was looking for animators so I said to myself “Ok, lets try!” and 9 years later, I’m still there ^^
– How did you realize that this was your calling? Where did you get your education?
Actually, working on special effects is just a coincidence! When I was an art student at LTAM Gobelins, I was not specifically interested in it. I had probably animated one or two smoke effects and some drops of water, but that was all. My first special effects work on Wakfu was just to lend a hand because we didn’t have an FX team for it. I was able to do that because the first episode we made was a comedy one, so it had very basic 2D FX. Later on, the show became more and more about action and fighting and it eventually became my official job to make 2D FX, so I had to work hard to learn how to do it. I did most of the FX work alone on the first 13 episodes before we created a special FX animation team of 4 people. That’s our story! ^^
– What was your main job while working on Dofus, livre 1: Julith?
On Dofus, I supervised 2DFX like I did on Wakfu seasons 1 and 2. Basically, I defined the style and method of work for each type of FX – like smoke, water, fire or magic – by making references for the rest of the FX team. Since I’m also a member of that team, I did animation work on a lot of scenes in the movie, too.
– What challenges did you face while working on the movie? Were you faced with any tasks that became a real challenge for your skills?
It was the first feature film for Ankama Animation so we weren’t sure we were capable of the work, especially since there were high quality expectations. It’s important to say that while it was a movie, it didn’t have a huge budget (I don’t remember exactly, but it was around 7-8 million euros), so we had to find a way to be really efficient while making the work better than what we did on Wakfu. In theaters, screens are so much bigger than television so we had to put a lot of attention into the small details. In general, I think we learned a lot about making FX more “readable”, with better silhouettes and expressiveness.
– Since movie production takes a long time, how was it to fit it into the schedule?
I don’t remember exactly how long it took to produce the movie. I think it was a little bit more than one year. The story and pre-production took longer, especially the script, since the writer, Anthony Roux, is also one of the CEOs of Ankama and always has a million things to do. Because the budget wasn’t very big, we had to work fast. Usually on a movie you can expect to have more time to do things than on TV show, in order to make it higher quality. This was true on Dofus, but not all the time. I remember near the end of the production, we had to work as fast (or even faster) than we do on Wakfu! If you’re looking for a peaceful job, it’s not in animation! ^^
– How many people worked on the film, and were there freelance artists involved?
Around 100 people worked on the film, I don’t know the exact number, sorry! The main team of Ankama Animation was in Roubaix (a city in Northern France), but there was also a small team in Paris. We also had some help from Canada and some freelance artists to make the team bigger.
– When making the film did you use 3D graphics or were all of the problems solved using 2D?
Some locations (especially the stadium) were modeled in a very rough way in Google SketchUp to give references on perspective for the layout and background artists. There is no real 3D work in the movie. Some shots look like they contain 3D backgrounds, but actually, they’re just 2D backgrounds with a lot of work done in After Effects! We did some tests in order to see if we could use 3D techniques for the movie, but we didn’t choose to do so in the end.
– What are the main stages of working on a movie from the VFX supervisor’s point of view?
There were several different stages of production on Dofus. First, there are backgrounds. Initially they will be lineart only or lightly shaded in black and white, and then they are colored in with Photoshop. Meanwhile, the characters are animated using traditional animation techniques in TVPaint. Sometimes, there’s only about 3 or 4 key poses for one shot, if the character doesn’t move too much. But most of the time, it will be a very complex animation, with lots of key poses and in-betweens and complicated timing. After that comes clean-up, coloring, and final in-betweening with Flash. When backgrounds and character animation are done, we can start to add 2DFX using Flash, and put it all together using After Effects for composition. Of course, before the production there is pre-production (script, character design, background research, props, storyboarding…) and after that, post-production (film editing, sound, music, dubbing…).
– Which moments in the movie are your favorites? Did any scenes make you proud?
My favorite scene is obviously the fight between Kerubim and Julith! Everything in it was so intense and it was a lot of hard work. Plus, we didn’t have a lot of time (we worked on it during Christmas), so it’s almost a miracle that the result works so well! One reason why I love this scene is it’s a fight at night. I usually prefer night scenes because shiny effects will be more visible. I’m also proud of all the flashback scenes; we used TVPaint instead of Flash on those scenes, even for coloring, in order to make them more “traditional” looking. The result is interesting.
– How was the film received by French audiences?
Honestly, it didn’t have a very big audience, and there are several reasons. But in general, French animation feature films usually never get a big audience, even in France, because it’s so hard to try compete against so many big movies with a huge marketing budget. There are a lot of great French animation films like “Long Way North” or “April and the Extraordinary World” (Avril et le monde truqué) that did not meet expectations, too. But Dofus received a lot of positive reviews from the public and we still hope to make Dofus, livre 2 one day. We’ll have to wait and see…
– What project are you working on now?
I’m currently working on Wakfu season 3 as the VFX supervisor, as usual! I can’t wait to see all the finished episodes. Everybody learned so much during the making of the Dofus movie that we can clearly see improvements everywhere.
– Can you share with us and our readers a few tips or advice from a professional in the animation industry?
A difficult question! I think it’s really important to observe the world around us. It’s a little bit “cliché” to say that and that’s why I think it’s easy to forget. Each time I go to the sea, I can spend hours watching waves. It’s the same when I see fire in a chimney! I’m trying to analyze what I’m watching – why things move the way they do – but it’s also important to just watch and fill your memory. I think when we go back to work, memory will help us find the right direction. The second advice is that you have to be very serious in your work – you have to try and improve every day, always push yourself to be the best you can on everything, even the small meaningless jobs. Sometimes, the best you can do is not enough for what you’re trying to achieve. At those times, you need enough humility to finish the job and move on. You have to say to yourself, “OK, I did my best, it’s not perfect because I’m not a genius but I will do better next time!”. The most important thing is to not give up and leave unfinished things behind you. This advice is very general but I’m using it myself every day. I am a professional but I still need to learn and improve in animation, drawing, color… I think I will be an eternal student.
This is the end of the interview. Thanks for reading, and I wish you the best!