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Conversation with Kristof Serrand, Character Animation Manager at Netflix

24 March 2022 Portraits
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You were initially destined for comics then you branched off to animation, why this choice ?

 

In fact, I fell into animation by accident. At the beginning I wanted to do comic books, and entered Gobelins somewhat by accident. At the time doing comics was not very popular and there were no specialized schools.

 

So I started my studies with a preparation for the Art Academies then I passed the exams but I failed them all.  I tried again the following year because all my friends went to the Arts Décoratifs de Parisand so I wanted to go there, but I also submitted Gobelins. I failed the Arts Decos again but I was taken at Gobelins.

 

At the time it was not at all like now,  the school was not well known, there was a very small section,  we were 20 students in all (10 per year). I became addicted to animation when I saw my first pencil test on screen.  That's the magic of animation, it's seeing your drawings come to life.

 

 


What has been your journey from leaving school until today and your position of Character Animation Manager at Netflix ?

 

I did my military service and I was lucky enough to be able to practice animation there because it there was a studio at the ECPAD (the army cinema department). I entered the Gaumont studiosright after. My leaving school coincided with a peak of activity thanks to the plan image of Jack Lang and 2 or 3 feature films that came out at the same time.

 

I stayed at Gaumont for 5 years, then the studio closed and I worked on advertising as a freelancer then with Paul Grimault and Jacques Demy. After a few years I went to London because Steven Spielberg had opened a studio, Amblimation which closed its doors too after 5 years. That's where I went to Los Angeles to DreamWorks where I stayed for 25 years before returning to France for Netflix.

 

 

 

 

You then went to Netflix, why this choice ?

 

After the departure in 2016 of Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the founding fathers of DreamWorks, the studio has become a  ittle different. It is still a great studio but it wasn't the same anymore. The projects were different, and I wanted to come back to France.

 

Many producers left following the sale of the studio. There are a lot of female producers in animation both in France and in the United States, it started here with Jacqueline Joubert when the TV programs  were assigned to women because they are the ones supposed to take care of children ! The producers of Kung Fu Panda, Dragon, Madagascar left and they took the direction of major studios like Paramount, MGM or Netflix, like Melissa Cobb who now runs Netflix Animation. Many artists have also left for Netflix, there has been a real migration. I had a lot of friends there who knew I wanted to return to France and I was called and offered to take care of the Netflix productions  in Europe.

 

My job is mainly to support Netflix projects that are created in Los Angeles and which are then manufactured by partners around the world. Netflix does not yet produce directly but they are in the process of setting up a studio in Los Angeles. I am assigned to Europe but Africa and the Middle East as well, although most of the productions are made in Europe. The partner studios intervene at different stages of production depending on the project: they can be self-managed, partner managed or licensed. I usually step in once the concept phase is over,  I can do animation tests, draw overs, I can participate in the choice of the partner studiohelp on staffing, give master classes

 

 


Are you still animating ?

 

Yes I went back to 2D animation actually, my thing has always been the artistic. I don’t like when studios are trying to turn artists into managers. My job is supposed to be artistic management, but I always tried to keep animating, because this is what I like.

 

I have always tried to make time to do it, in the evenings or on the weekends, in this business, we do not count our hours,  and it could be our Achilles' heel, the studios sometimes take advantage of it. The problem also is when you stop practicing, you lose credibility as artistic supervisor, I started to animate on the Asterix series by Chabat, I took out my albums and got back to it.

 

 

 

 

With Asterix, the circle is complete !

 

That’s true ! I started reading Asterix when I was a kid then I worked on three films at Gaumont, I also worked with Uderzo and at DreamWorks we hired Didier Conrad who is now Uderzo’s successor ! I am really happy to be with Asterix again at Netflix.

 

 

 

 

You remained very attached to the school, you gave lessons for years, what does the Gobelins community mean to you ?

 

For me, the Gobelins school represents a lot, that's where I discovered animation,  and now it has become the best school in the world, it is a game changer. When I joined the school, it was embryonic but it was the only school that offered animation training. I started giving lessons at Gobelins in 1986 and I had Patrick Delage, Pierre Coffin, Louis Clichy… as students.

 

When I started working, and the studios asked me if I knew any animators, my network was Gobelins so I recommended former students. It started with Gaumont,  Then with Paul Grimault and that accelerated when I left for Amblimation in London. When Spielberg set up his studio we were just 3 animation supervisors. I contacted the student graduates of the years 1989 to 1993 and almost half of them went to Amblimation at some point. I calculated that I might have helped hiring almost a hundred Gobelins alumni altogether.

 

 


Is it important to maintain this network ?

 

When I helped to hire former students, it was not only because they were Gobelins alumni,  it was mainly because I knew they were good, I had already been able to see them at work.

 

With globalization, the network is increasingly important. Students often ask me for advice on how to get a job in Hollywood. I always advise them to try to contact someone their age, that has been hired recently, they will know much more than I do ! They will be so happy to tell them about what they went through, and give them all the tips  (how to get a visa, how they got hired…)

 

 

 

Interview by Sophie Jean




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