World class art direction with Noémie Cauvin

Noémie Cauvin is a French matte painter and art director with a great variety of film and TV projects under her belt. From her formation years at Supinfocom in France to working with international clients while travelling between Asia and Oceania, we caught up with her to talk about her transition from graduate to full-time freelancer, her experience whilst exploring the different fields in animation and her approach when recreating environments for both commercials and film.

You studied at the French animation school Supinfocom, where you developed most of your skills in matte painting and concept art. Do you feel like formation years are key when it comes to starting a career in animation, or is it also about learning a few tricks by yourself?

I think formation years are essential because they give to the students a certain amount of time to learn, experiment and develop their own artistic style, fail, and learn from their mistakes. You can develop your own project without the money pressure. You connect with people that share the passion with you. You also get time to discover and understand this industry, and to think if you really want to be part of it. At the end, you are not signing for a “normal” 9 to 5 job. It can be intense, stressful and unstable. And you don’t have the maturity to deal with these kind of consideration when you are 18 years old. School gives you time for that.

Shell V-Power Nitro + Advert — Matte painting by Noémie Cauvin and Rafael Coronel Martin

On the other hand I think that school years are only the beginning of your formation.

When I was in Art school in Paris (the Ateliers de Sèvres), I learned how to draw, to unlock my (very scholar) creativity, and to take some distance from my work when it comes to critics, to avoid to be personally offended (probably the best lesson I learned in this school!).

When I was in Supinfocom, I learned 3D softwares, team work, the different steps of a film production. And I discovered which steps I like the most, and the ones in which I was terrible. And that’s already a lot.

But at the end, most of what I know in concept art and matte painting, I learned it while working, thanks to my colleagues who generously shared with me their knowledge, and their professional experience (especially Rafael Coronel Martin, senior matte painter and concept artist that I met at Painting Practice, in UK).

But even that is a small part of your formation! Technologies and software evolve constantly. So you have to keep studying to stay up to date. I also try to educate my creativity by reading, watching movies, going to exhibitions and cultural events, and traveling.

You graduated in 2013 and the past three years have been really busy for you, landing a variety of jobs in film and TV. Did this feel like a fast transition, from recent graduate to full-time freelancer?

I have to say, I didn’t see the time fly, and it was amazing. I have learnt a lot, and I had the chance to work on very interesting projects. I really enjoy working in this industry so far.

I have also been lucky enough to work in the same company in the UK (Painting Practice) for two consecutive years just after graduating from Supinfocom. It gave me time to learn and to grow. It was like a new school. It gave me the opportunity to get some experience, and to build a more interesting portfolio, before being thrown in the wild world of freelancers.

You have worked mostly as a concept artist, illustrator, matte painter and visual development artist. Were these fields you vocationally wanted to explore or did you fall into it by chance?

When I was student at Supinfocom, I had to make an animated short film from scratch on my own, and another one with four team mates from my class. Both times I really enjoyed being involved in the project from the beginning to the end. But I rather quickly realized that I much prefer the artistic part of the process than the technical part. I especially enjoyed art directing our graduation short film “Treo Fiskur”.

But I didn’t want to loose some job opportunities by restricting myself to a specific field (especially when you have just graduated). So I started in London as a generalist. After six months, I realized that I wanted to work on matte paintings and concept arts, and being involved in the creative process. So I started from there to work towards this goal.

“Treo Fiskur” short film art directed by Noemie Cauvin

With the Rio Summer Games just completed can you talk us through the process of creating Nike’s “The Last Game” concept art and where you drew the inspiration from.

“The last game” is an animated short film directed by Jon Saunders for the brand Nike, for the football world cup in Brazil in 2014. Painting Practice (the company I was working in at that time), was in charge of designing the look of the film. Everything from colors, mood, lighting, props and sets design. Among other tasks, I had to create some mood boards, sketches and concepts for props and environment design, modelling, texturing, matte painting, and projection mapping.

As an example, the temple of Football History was a very interesting set to design. It’s a secret treasure cave hidden under the famous statue of the Christ in Rio, that contains the history of Football from the beginning of time. We had lots of freedom to design this set (and lots of fun).

From my side, I took inspiration in my History of Art classes at school, and some exhibition that I attended to decline the world of football through different ages and civilisations. I also took inspiration from trophy cabinets, collectable cards and goodies, and treasure cave representation in cinema and literature.

Nike “The Last Game” — Production by Passion Pictures

Your matte painting work has brought you to recreating environments for both commercials and films. What does your usual workflow look like when working on these jobs?

It depends on the brief from the client, and the amount of information and materials they can give me to work on. Usually, I will start by a quick research of references for colors/lighting/textures. Then I will do either some sketches or a rough photo bash to work on composition. After that, I will start to build the set either from high res pictures or from a 3d built base. And then it’s a lot of painting, texturing, and a bit of compositing at the end.

What project did you have the most fun working on? Can you tell us a bit about the process?

It’s hard to choose! I had the chance to do some concept art and 3D layout on the feature film “Jungle Book : Origins” (directed by Andy Serkis). After a few months, I’ve been kindly invited to visit the studio where the film was shot, and I discovered the sets that were built from the designs we made. It was like being Mary Poppins who jumps in the drawing on the floor. I was walking in these giant jungle sets for the first time, but at the same time I knew them already. An incredible experience !

I also had the opportunity to do some set design and an animated sequence for a musical theatre company. Seeing your work screened on stage, and interacting with the music of the orchestra and the comedians is a truly rewarding experience !

You’ve collaborated frequently with Painting Practice. How do you come about collaborating with teams? Have you had a chance to try the Movidiam project management features?

I think collaboration and team work is the very base of what we do. And that’s what I like about this industry. We all have something to bring in to the project, and something to learn from the others. At the end, everybody in the team can say “I work on this shot”. It couldn’t be done another way with the same result.

At the moment I haven’t got the opportunity to try the Movidiam project management features, but I look forward to it.

How did you first come across Movidiam and what was it that made you sign up?

Someone from Movidiam sent me an email at the very beginning of the launch of the platform.

I found this initiative and voluntary to make creatives from all over the world collaborate together very interesting and exciting. And that’s what made me sign.

You’re French born, currently located in Sydney and working with international clients. Do you feel that remote collaboration is an intrinsic part of your career? How do you see Movidiam helping you in that aspect?

I love working while traveling! Also meeting people from different countries is very inspiring and help me to open my mind to different ways of working. That’s why I really like the idea behind Movidiam.

Where would you like to see yourself in the near future? Any professional ambition to tick off?

I’ve just spent a year traveling (and working) in Oceania and Asia. Now that I am back in France, I would like to spend some time doing some artworks inspired by my travels. I’ve got also a project of an animated short film that I would like to develop in order to apply for some artist residencies and animation production programs in France.

After that, let’s see where the wind will take me. But I definitely want to keep working while traveling! In a very far future I would like to become an art director either on an animated feature film, or theatre/musical theatre. But I’ve got a long way to go and lots to learn before reaching this goal. Exciting!

Find Noémie online: 
Movidiam:Noémie Cauvin


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