Interview: Xavier Sailliol, Animator & Director
Born in Paris, Xavier Sailliol discovered video games and animation films at a young age. He later decided to combine his two main passions, acting and drawing, to become an animator and then an animation director. He studied at Les Gobelins, an art school in Paris, and worked on famous TV shows such as Rick and Morty (season 2 & 3) and The Amazing World of Gumball (season 3).
You’ve been in the industry for over 4 years now. How did this all start?
I’ve always been passionate about doing fun things like acting, drawing or playing video games. Years ago, as I was browsing the web, I discovered many short films from students who attended Les Gobelins. They were perfect and inspired me to pursue a career in animation. Before attending Les Gobelins, I went to several schools: Lycée Jean-Pierre-Vernant in Sèvres (next to Paris), ESAAT in Roubaix and EMCA in Angoulême.
A couple of years later, I had the incredible chance to work on the feature film Ernest and Célestine as an intern. Patrick Imbert was the Animation Supervisor and he taught me so much despite being really busy. He even gave me the opportunity to animate a full sequence of the movie! It was an incredible opportunity, and I’m super grateful.
It’s very difficult to be accepted at Les Gobelins, a renowned Parisian art school. How was your experience there?
It was special because I had been directly accepted in the 3rd (and last) year of the animation program. From my experience in applying to Les Gobelins, the most important steps in the application process were both the book and the oral interview. I used all my projects from ESAAT and EMCA to demonstrate a strong sense of maturity and professionalism. I showed them my ability to work alone and with teams, and my ability to embrace different graphic styles.
The icing on the cake was the sound quality of my work (I believe sound is at least 50% of what makes a good movie). My friend Florian Calmer, a very talented self-taught sound designer, worked on almost all my animations, even the exercises, which allowed me to focus and refine my animation technique. I am very outgoing, so the oral interview went fine, but I made sure to offer up some clever references to cinema, theater, painting, sculpture and books.
Studying at Les Gobelins was very different from my 2 years at EMCA. I arrived with 3 other students in the last year of the program, so we had to fit in a class where everybody already knew each other really well. Second, we had to focus on the technique. We started with a few 2D and CG animation exercises, and almost right away, we started the 6-month graduation film project. I ended up working with 4 nice classmates on our movie Annie, a very colorful love story between a guy, a dog and a girl.
The experience of making Annie was very challenging. We had a lot of pressure because we wanted to make a movie as good as the one that inspired us when we were younger. Even though this is a student project, my goal through that exercise was to learn and make the most of it. Along the way, I managed to be tactful, unifying and reconciling, which is really important in this type of project because under time pressure there are sometimes huge egos to deal with.
You’ve worked on two shows since, one of them being the 2nd season of Rick & Morty, an American adult animated science fiction sitcom. What have been your best take-aways from that project?
I am a huge fan of Rick & Morty. It was thanks to Les Gobelins, who relays job offers from international partners, that I had the opportunity to travel to Vancouver to work on the show. The show’s headquarters are in Los Angeles but the studio, Bardel, where Rick & Morty is animated, is in Vancouver. I love Rick & Morty because it’s a show for adults and it breaks with the common idea that animation is for kids. Despite the amount of puns and jokes, the show discusses serious philosophical themes like religion, racism, love and even the meaning of life.
Throughout this experience, I also learned what it meant to work at Bardel in Canada. Bardel is a huge studio, they have more than 600 employees, and despite my limited time there as a full-time employee, they did their best to make me feel at home. After a long day of hard work, we went to pubs, and we talked. All of this improved my English, and gave me a chance to experience the Canadian culture first-hand. My biggest surprise was observing that there wasn’t much difference between how we produce animation in France and how it’s done in Canada. I am now more convinced that many 2D TV shows I love, like Steven Universe, Over The Garden Wall, The Amazing World of Gumball, Clarence, Archer or Mr. Pickles, are made the same way.
My experience in Canada was breathtaking. The people are warm, welcoming and respectful. From everyone’s smile to the perfect cleanliness of the streets, I never felt insecure. Canadians to me are like Human 2.0.
As we all know, finding opportunities as a freelancer can be challenging. How do people find you?
Honestly, I don’t know. I always get many opportunities. It’s possible that being an alum of Gobelins has helped me a lot. As soon as I graduated, I applied for the Cartoon Network TV show The Amazing World of Gumball in London. I knew it would be the best way to practice my English.
When I came back to France, more opportunities came along, but I realized after a while that I wanted to do more than be an animator and started to explore different fields, from designing to storyboarding. For short periods, I had the chance to work on ads, music clips, TV pilots, short films, openings for championships and more. My name became progressively more visible in the industry.
People can also find me fairly easily. My book is online, I update my show reel every year, I have a blog, a Vimeo channel, and a YouTube channel where I display my latest works. There’s also the usual CreativeList, LinkedIn, Zerply, Facebook, Tumblr, and Cinely. I basically try to be everywhere I can. If you want to get the job of your dreams, my best advice would be to “go get it” by paying close attention to job opportunities, and by being friendly, open-minded, self-confident, proud of your work, and obviously ready to start on a moment’s notice.
One way to improve your chances is to be able to sell yourself properly and stay updated about everything that’s happening in your networks. There are plenty of Facebook groups for animation artists. If you always do your best, and people like both your work and working with you, they will always call back. It’s one of the reasons I want to work for studios that produce content I feel passionate about.
And to be honest, it’s been a long time since I have actively looked for a job, which gives me plenty of time to chill, to work on my own projects, to play video games, to garden, to play with my cats and to do sports.
Any upcoming projects?
Yes! I am currently working on a personal project called Knight Duel. It is a 2D traditional short animation movie with violence, a bit of blood and a lot of humor. I usually work with Laure Fauvel, my girlfriend. She is an awesome retoucher and photographer. If you want to know more, all you have to do is to type in my name on YouTube.
More on my YouTube Channel:
Je suis acteur, réalisateur, animateur, monteur, cascadeur et surfeur! Je me fais plaisir en espérant vous faire…www.youtube.com
Who should we interview next?
Wow, so many people! I would love to know more about Seth Boyden. He is a huge inspiration to me. And these people too: Patrick Imbert, Antoine Antin, Cédric Villain, Laure Fauvel, Sophie Guerrive, Aude Picault, Taylor Price, Evan Breen and so many more.